The study of power relations is no longer primarily located in political anthropology, but extends significantly into the analysis of language use and psychoanalysis, as in the work of Derrida, Lacan and Kristeva. Attempts to link the conventionally political with the psychoanalytic have been few and mainly undertaken outside mainstream social anthropology (e.g., Legendre, 1976; Sagan, 1985). However, given the current view in anthropology of power as immanent in society and not the main or sole property of particular institutions, it is worth trying to relate apparently separate dimensions of the expression of power relations: put simply, do individual physical and sexual movements and gestures inform socio-political developments, or is the relationship the other way round, or is such a distinction ontologically false? I take a particular local-level case of Islam which I examine intensively in order to raise rather than answer this question.
While there is no single expression of Islam, there are certain general features which are commonly cited in the literature. A principal one is the prohibition on anthropomorphic and animal pictorial and sculptural imagery. Neither people nor animals, and only rarely plant life, may be represented. Instead, representations take the form of abstract designs in mosque architecture and of Arabic calligraphy. The prohibition may be assumed to stem from early Islamic attempts to suppress all previous forms of animistic worship (shirk) and of the deification of humans, as in the Christian view of Christ as consubstantially God.
There are many implications of this generally held prohibition in Islam at the local level. I will deal with only one here. This is that the ban on representing the human body pervades, I suggest, much Islamic thought on what is held to be appropriate religious and social behaviour and, moreover, results in hidden personal and interpersonal tensions which extend to conflicts of Koranic interpretation and, ultimately, to political contest.
I will take as my particular example the case of maulidi celebrations on behalf of the Prophet’s birthday. As is well known, throughout the Islamic