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Sufis and Saints' Bodies

Mysticism, Corporeality, and Sacred Power in Islam

Scott A. Kugle

Publication Year: 2007

Islam is often described as abstract, ascetic, and uniquely disengaged from the human body. Scott Kugle refutes this assertion in the first full study of Islamic mysticism as it relates to the human body. Examining Sufi conceptions of the body in religious writings from the late fifteenth through the nineteenth century, Kugle demonstrates that literature from this era often treated saints' physical bodies as sites of sacred power. ###Sufis and Saints' Bodies# focuses on six important saints from Sufi communities in North Africa and South Asia. Kugle singles out a specific part of the body to which each saint is frequently associated in religious literature. The saints' bodies, Kugle argues, are treated as symbolic resources for generating religious meaning, communal solidarity, and the experience of sacred power. In each chapter, Kugle also features a particular theoretical problem, drawing methodologically from religious studies, anthropology, studies of gender and sexuality, theology, feminism, and philosophy. Bringing a new perspective to Islamic studies, Kugle shows how an important Islamic tradition integrated myriad understandings of the body in its nurturing role in the material, social, and spiritual realms. Kugle examines Islamic--particularly Sufi--conceptions of the human body in religious writings from the late medieval to early modern period of Islamic history. He explores the network of Muslim mystics who played a significant role in shaping Islamic culture during this formative period, as these Sufi saint-teachers served as moral exemplars and, often, political leaders. Religious literature from this period often treated the saints' physical bodies as sites of sacred power, Kugle argues. He illustrates by pairing each of six prominent saints with a part of the body to which they are frequently associated in the literature (breath, lips, heart, etc.). With each chapter, he also addresses a theoretical problem. Islam is often described as particularly abstract, ascetic, and uniquely disengaged from the human body. Scott Kugle refutes this assertion in the first full study of Islamic mysticism as it relates to the human body. Examining Sufi conceptions of the body in religious writings from the late fifteenth through the nineteenth century, Kugle demonstrates that literature from this era often treated saints' physical bodies as sites of sacred power. Islam is often described as abstract, ascetic, and uniquely disengaged from the human body. Scott Kugle refutes this assertion in the first full study of Islamic mysticism as it relates to the human body. Examining Sufi conceptions of the body in religious writings from the late fifteenth through the nineteenth century, Kugle demonstrates that literature from this era often treated saints' physical bodies as sites of sacred power. ###Sufis and Saints' Bodies# focuses on six important saints from Sufi communities in North Africa and South Asia. Kugle singles out a specific part of the body to which each saint is frequently associated in religious literature. The saints' bodies, Kugle argues, are treated as symbolic resources for generating religious meaning, communal solidarity, and the experience of sacred power. In each chapter, Kugle also features a particular theoretical problem, drawing methodologically from religious studies, anthropology, studies of gender and sexuality, theology, feminism, and philosophy. Bringing a new perspective to Islamic studies, Kugle shows how an important Islamic tradition integrated myriad understandings of the body in its nurturing role in the material, social, and spiritual realms.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword

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pp. ix-x

Why make Islamic civilization and Muslim networks the theme of a new series? The study of Islam and Muslim societies is often marred by an overly fractured approach that frames Islam as the polar opposite of what "Westerners" are supposed to represent and advocate. Islam has been objectified as the obverse of the Euro-American societies that self-identify as "the West." ...

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Preface

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pp. xi-xiv

I have had the good fortune of learning from many profound teachers. Some have been teachers about Sufism in Western universities, while others have been Sufi teachers far from any university. One such sitting was especially memorable though brief and I never learned the name of this custodian of the Sufi shrine at Borabanda, on the outskirts of Hyderābād, India. ...

Note on Transliteration

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction

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pp. 1-42

This book discusses Islamic images of the human body from the distinct perspective of Sufi understandings of Islam. In particular, it examines the role of saints and their bodies in Sufi communities, stressing that in pre-modern times saints were figures central to religious life in Islamic societies, in which they often played the role of political leaders and moral exemplars. ...

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1. Body Enshrined: The Bones of Mawlay Idrīs

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pp. 43-80

The Qur'an insists that there is life after death, announcing the inevitability of resurrection in ways that inspire both awe and dread. In the verses above, an unnamed man passes by a ruined city and cries out in despair, "How will God bring this to life after its demise?" God causes him to fall into a deathlike state for a century and then revives him to give him firsthand knowledge of God's power ...

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2. Body Politicized: The Belly of Sayyida Āmina

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pp. 81-122

The Qur'an speaks of creation in different levels through diverse metaphors. Whether addressing the creation of the expansive universe or a tiny human life, the Qur'an illustrates the creative dynamic through contrasting pairs: as light from darkness, heaven above earth, water beyond land, spirit within matter, the seen emerges from the unseen. ...

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3. Body Refined: The Eyes of Muḥammad Ghawth

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pp. 123-180

It is often argued that vision is the strongest sense that connects us with the world beyond our bodies. Certainly in every human culture, metaphors centered upon the eyes are central to defining the essence of human beings, such as our saying in English, "The eyes are the window on the soul." ...

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4. Body Enraptured: The Lips of Shāh Ḥussayn

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pp. 181-220

The Qur'an chides the human being for falling into despair in situations of apparent danger, material loss, or emotional distress. Why do we spin so quickly into despair? Don't we realize that the One who created us still watches over us? The sensory organs through which we grasp at the world and cling to its pleasures lock us into a prison of false perception. ...

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5. Body Revived: The Heart of Ḥājji Imdādullah

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pp. 221-264

The Qur'an gives us moral guidance and advice: be fair, be honest, deal with others truthfully and generously. It uses marketplace imagery of weights and measures as standard themes to speak of justice, but it also links this moral advice to surprising images. Each individual bears absolute responsibility for everything sensed by ear, eye, and heart. ...

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Conclusion: Corporeality and Sacred Power in Islam

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pp. 265-294

The Qur'an returns insistently to the human body to remind us of our frailty yet also reminds us of its resilience. The body that we take for granted and hold autonomously upright was once not so strong—it was just a spermazoid, requiring many further acts of empowerment to even grow into anything approaching a powerful human body. ...

Notes

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pp. 295-316

Bibliography

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pp. 317-326

Index

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pp. 327-346


E-ISBN-13: 9781469602684
E-ISBN-10: 1469602687
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807830819
Print-ISBN-10: 080783081X

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 9 illus., 4 figs., 1 map
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks