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In Amma's Healing Room

Gender and Vernacular Islam in South India

Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger

Publication Year: 2006

"[I]t is extremely salubrious to see the ways Islam works in the lives of ordinary people who are not politicized in their religious lives.... No other book on South Asia has material like this." -- Ann Grodzins Gold

In Amma's Healing Room is a compelling study of the life and thought of a female Muslim spiritual healer in Hyderabad, South India. Joyce Burkhalter Flueckiger describes Amma's practice as a form of vernacular Islam arising in a particular locality, one in which the boundaries between Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity are fluid. In the "healing room," Amma meets a diverse clientele that includes men and women, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, of varied social backgrounds, who bring a wide range of physical, social, and psychological afflictions. Flueckiger collaborated closely with Amma and relates to her at different moments as daughter, disciple, and researcher. The result is a work of insight and compassion that challenges widely held views of religion and gender in India and reveals the creativity of a tradition often portrayed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as singular and monolithic.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

This book is an ethnographic study of Islamic practices centered around a Muslim female spiritual healer, Amma, who lives and practices in the South Indian city of Hyderabad. Her healing practice represents a form of vernacular Islam as it has taken root in and grown out of a particular locality. Two features are particularly noticeable at this site of vernacular ...

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pp. xv-xvii

For a book whose research and writing has spanned over a decade, the network of family, friends, colleagues, and supporting institutions to which thanks are given extends far beyond what can be contained by the written page. I first offer my deepest gratitude and honor to Amma and Abba and their family, thanks for who they are and for opening their lives ...

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A Note on Transliteration

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pp. xix

I have transliterated the Dakini Urdu language (a vernacular form of Urdu based in the Deccan region) Amma, Abba, and members of their healing community used according to a standard system for other South Asian languages (such as Hindi and Telugu). I have avoided transcription of Urdu and Arabic words according to their literary forms, preferring to ...

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Introduction: Called to Amma’s Courtyard

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pp. 1-35

In January 1989 I was quite literally called to Amma, the Muslim female healer who is the focus of this book, by the green flag that flies atop her courtyard.1 Many years later now, another set of flags marks the gravesites of Amma and her husband, Abba, and brings some level of closure to this project. Flags fly above many small shrines of the green-painted graves ...

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1. Setting the Stage: The Healing Room, Its Actors, and Its Rhythms

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pp. 36-63

Amma’s healing room is a small crowded bustling crossroads of domestic and public spaces, personae, and discourses, a crossroads of ritual and storytelling, social and economic exchange, and family disputes and negotiations. As one enters the courtyard outside the healing room, one often sees a crowd of patients leaning into the door way of the room, ...

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2. The Healing System

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pp. 64-105

Amma specifically excludes cancer, heart troubles, typhoid, and polio from the classification of illnesses over which she has control (all diseases that have, incidentally, directly affected members of her own family).1 Many patients come to Amma with very specific complaints: infertility, high fevers in children, disobedient children (including teenage sons who do not work but just ...

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3. Patient Narratives in the Healing Room

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pp. 106-135

Individual patients come to the healing table with unique circumstances and present their problems to Amma in narratives that give depth, character, and variation to the “same” diagnoses. Many patients say that they chose Amma over other healers because of her patience in listening to these narratives, and Amma herself says that “understanding” is what is ...

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4. Negotiating Gender in the Healing Room

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pp. 136-167

Many of Amma’s patients say they come to her specifically because she is a woman whom they experience to be more loving and understanding than male healers. It is, in fact, her gender that most distinguishes Amma as a spiritual healer and her public authority that most distinguishes her as a woman. Her commanding presence and articulate voice break commonly ...

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5. Religious Identities at the Crossroads

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pp. 168-200

While Amma asserts that gender boundaries are impenetrable and rigid, the second half of her assertion maintains that boundaries of religious identities are permeable—that there are no true differences between followers of different religious traditions: “There are only two castes: men and women. Hindus, Muslims, Christians—they’re all the same.” I was ...

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6. Immersed in Remembrance and Song: Religious Identities, Authority,and Gender at the Sama

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pp. 201-234

On the twenty-sixth of each Muslim lunar month, the courtyard of Sheikh Hussain Qadiri, Abba, is transformed from the open-air “waiting room” of Amma’s healing room into a magnetic center of spiritual power drawing together a core group of disciples of the aging sheikh. The occasion is the ...

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Conclusion: Vernacular Islam Embedded in Relationships

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pp. 235-240

In other teachings, he emphasizes that what most distinguishes human beings from animals is their ability to recognize and enact kinship relationships. The ability to form relationships is given to humans by God, and furthermore, according to Abba, the only way humans can truly know and experience the love of God is to witness and ...

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pp. 241-250

A few months later, one of my Indian-American students at Emory wanted to go to Amma to ask for help for a particularly persistent psychological illness and asked for directions to the healing room. I was reluctant to send her, but when I spoke with her and her mother and realized that they accepted and lived within the worldview in which ...

Appendix: Death and Difference: A Conversation

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pp. 251-254


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pp. 255-258


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pp. 259-274

Select Bibliography

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pp. 275-284


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pp. 285-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780253112019
E-ISBN-10: 025311201X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253347213

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 22 b&w photos, 1 figures, 1 index
Publication Year: 2006