Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice

By Sonja Luehrmann | Go to book overview

BARAKA: MIXING MUSLIMS,
CHRISTIANS, AND JEWS

ANGIE HEO

ACROSS THE ARAB MEDITERRANEAN WORLD, Muslims, Christians, and Jews have long shared a terrain of prophets, wonder-workers, and holy intercessors. Every December, Jews and Muslims celebrate the festival of the Moroccan rabbi Abu Hasira in the Nile delta city of Damanhur. When Christians and Muslims convene every August in the Delta village of Mit Damsis, it is Saint George the Martyr to whom they make their appeals for exorcisms and healings.

These special saints, dead or living, are known to carry baraka, an Arabic term common across traditions that registers a family of concepts in English: blessing, holiness, charisma, divine power, potent force. To take baraka from the saints who left their holy traces in Egypt, pilgrims travel to the places where their bodies once were. Baraka is treated like an interpersonal substance, not unlike the Melanesian magic of mana, which has inspired many classic anthropological theories of religion (Firth 1940; Hocart 1914; Mauss [1902] 1972; compare Mazzarella 2017). Fluid and tactile, baraka is conveyed via media like water, oil, dust, air, electricity. Wellsprings and caves where the Virgin Mary and Christ child stopped to rest from their flight from Israel offer sites for accessing the physical remains of their presence.

In the city of Musturud on Cairo’s gritty industrial perimeter, the feast of the Virgin attracts thousands of Muslims and Christians to the ancient well of “sweet water” and the underground grotto where the Holy Family drank and slept. Wound around the church like a fluid ribbon, queues of people waiting inside guardrails, men on one side and women

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