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Sufi Narratives of Intimacy

Ibn 'Arab?, Gender, and Sexuality

Sa'diyya Shaikh

Publication Year: 2012

Current gender debates in Muslim societies, including questions of women’s rights in marriage and divorce, the politics of hijab, and women’s leadership of ritual prayer, are underpinned by specific, paradigmatic assumptions regarding human nature, gender, and the mandates of Islam. In this feminist analysis, Sa’diyya Shaikh undercuts these paradigms by arguing that Sufi discourses offer contemporary Muslims rich, multi-textured, and largely untapped resources with which to engage ongoing challenges of gender equality. As Shaikh demonstrates, in particular through the illustrative example of the writings of thirteenth-century Muslim poet, mystic, and legal scholar, Muhy? al-D?n Ibn al-‘Arab?, Sufi thought ultimately asserts that men and women are equally capable of attaining divinely ordained spiritual completeness. Indeed, in Ibn al-‘Arab?’s writings, though in many ways reflective of the normative gender assumptions of his era, this basic assumption appears as a foundational tenet of the Islamic understanding of human nature. By focusing on gender in Ibn’ al-‘Arab?’s works, Shaikh interrogates the ways in which love, sexuality, marriage, and related gender dynamics are conceived, imagined, and created in the Islamic tradition. In doing so, she constructs from within the Islamic religious tradition an alternate frame through which to view and understand Islam’s core ethical values.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

This book has been a long and full journey. My traveling companions along the way have been invaluable. First and foremost, this book would not have been possible without the love, support, and perseverance of my husband, Ashraf Kagee. He has balanced his academic career with a genuine commitment to sharing household...

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Introduction: Tales of Contention: Muslim Gender Imaginaries

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pp. 1-33

Once upon a time, a wise and generous story unfolded. This is how it might be imagined.1 It is Cairo on a sweltering afternoon, and the faithful are streaming into a beautiful, simple mosque. The Friday (jumuʿa) prayers are about to begin. In the courtyard, people take their ablutions in the cool fountain water that provides welcome...

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Chapter 1. Craving Completion: Sufism, Subjectivity, and Gender before Ibn ʿArabī

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pp. 35-60

Springing from the heart of Islam’s spiritual reservoir, Taṣawwuf, or Sufism, can be described as the process by which a believer embraces the full spiritual consequences of God’s oneness (tawḥīd).1 The goal of the Sufi path is to enable a human being, through the cultivation of virtuous excellence (iḥsān), to commune directly...

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Chapter 2. Charting Ibn ʿArabī’s Religious Anthropology

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pp. 61-94

It is a beautiful starlit night. Ibn ʿArabī, a Sufi teacher revered throughout Muslim lands, is within the sacred precincts of the Kaʾba, the cubelike focal point of Muslim prayers in Mecca.1 This evening, the house of worship is characterized by a feeling of almost intense quiet despite the large number of devotees. Savoring the...

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Chapter 3. Mysticism and Gender: A Hermeneutic of Experience

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pp. 95-112

Ibn ʿArabī’s sophisticated cosmology, his profound understandings of human nature and the processes of spiritual transformation for men and women alike, and his sometimes radical gendered legal positions were birthed from within the complexities of his experience, both mystical and mundane. Using the insightful...

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Chapter 4. Reading Gender and Metaphor in Ibn ʿArabī’s Cosmos

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pp. 113-139

In engaging the tension between perspectives that challenge traditional gender stereotypes and those that reiterate normative conventions, feminist readers encounter a set of more nuanced methodological and theoretical considerations. At the outset, it is imperative to situate Ibn ʿArabī’s teachings on gender within...

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Chapter 5. The Poetics and Politics of Adam and Eve

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pp. 141-172

Now that I have charted Ibn ʿArabī’s gender principles macrocosmically, I proceed to explore some of his other teachings on men and women, including their relationships of love, desire, sexuality, and marriage. In particular, I focus on a number of interweaving creation narratives, primarily that of Adam and Eve, which form...

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Chapter 6. Witnessing God in Women: A Different Story of Creation

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pp. 173-202

This chapter explores the ways in which Ibn ʿArabī propels the reader into a different realm of imagining gender by presenting powerful antinomian images of the feminine, sexuality, and women. I begin by examining his depictions of the divine feminine and his related claim that God is most perfectly witnessed in women. His argument...

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Chapter 7. Ibn ʿArabī and Islamic Feminism

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pp. 203-228

In this final chapter, I outline how my approach to gender in Ibn ʿArabī’s work differs from other contemporary interpretations of his work. In the process, I highlight and reiterate how his central teachings offer unique ways to engage the process and goals of Islamic feminism. I conclude with some reflections on how Sufism...

Appendix: Selected Poems from the Dīwān Ibn ʿArabī

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pp. 229-231

Notes

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pp. 233-254

Bibliography

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pp. 255-265

Index of Qurʾānic Verses

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pp. 267-

Index of Traditions (Aḥadīth)

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pp. 269-270

General Index

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pp. 271-285


E-ISBN-13: 9781469601939
E-ISBN-10: 1469601931
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835333
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835331

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

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Subject Headings

  • Ibn al-ʻArabī, 1165-1240 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Anthropology of religion -- Islamic Empire.
  • Women in Islam.
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