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BOOK REVIEWS 133 The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India Shemeem Burney Abbas. Austin: University ofTexas Press, 2002. Pp. xxx + 209. $45.00 Karen G. Ruffle, Department ofReligious Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill During the past two decades, in the wake of James Clifford's Writing Culture (1986), there has been a renewed effort by feminist scholars to create a new gendered ethnography that "rather than foreground men's relationships to one another (which classical ethnography does quite well), or women's relationships to men," instead focuses on "women's relationships to other women."1 Both Visveswaran and Behar articulate the need for a new gendered ethnography that is performed by women centering on women and taking into account "differences ofrace, class, sexual orientation, educational privilege, and nationality."2 Following the model of this new gendered ethnography, Shemeem Burney Abbas' The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India makes a significant contribution to the study of the complex, multiple roles of the feminine in Muslim religious life. In the preface, Abbas aptly observes that, "Despite the strong gender component ofSufi ritual discourse, the role ofwomen has been ignored in scholarly work" (xvii). She further notes that "The field has never been the subject of investigation by either native or western male scholars for a number of reasons. Among native scholars the area is ignored despite the fact that women have done much to educate the renowned male Sufis" (xvii). What is most significant about Abbas' preliminary observations regarding the paucity ofWestern and native Pakistani and Indian scholarship about women's contributions and roles in Muslim religious life is that until the past two decades, the field of Islamic studies as an interdisciplinary field was male-dominated. Because of the limitations placed on male-female non-kin social interactions by the rules ofpurdah (sexual segregation), much of the scholarship written by men has tended to focus on such seemingly "masculine" (and therefore public) expressions of Islam as theology, law, and philosophy. It must be noted, however, that in the past several 134 œ JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES years, scholars such as David Pinault have made a concerted effort to emphasize the significance of women in Muslim ritual and devotional activities (Horse ofKarbala 2001). Abbas asserts that, "In general, little ethnographic investigation ofrituals at Sufi shrines, where both women and men participate, has been done. It is only in recent years that some studies have been published, and even in these studies, focus is on male participation" (1). Such an assessment is not entirely accurate, for the attention that has been paid to the religious activities ofMuslim women is a reflection ofthe burgeoning presence ofwomen scholars in the field ofIslamic studies, which is a relatively recent phenomenon, but one that must not be overlooked. Focusing more broadly than the context of the Sufi shrine, important gendered ethnographies have been published by Abu Zahra (1998), Abu-Lughod (1986), Beeman (2001), Hegland (1998), Pinault (1998; 2001), D'Souza (1998), and Schubel (1993). The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual is based upon field research conducted in Pakistan as well as amongst "the Pakistani and Indian expatriate speech communities" (xxiii) in Europe and North America from 1992-99 and earlier research conducted from 1985-92. Much of Abbas' field research is based upon interviews with male and female performers ofqawwali and sufiana-kalam. Abbas defines her study ofthe female voice in Sufi musical performance as a "linguistic anthropological study ofdiscourse and poetry used in devotional settings" (xviii). Despite her claim that she does "not try to fit this book into any theoretical frame," she does employ two analytical methodologies: the ethnography of speaking and the "conversation analysis frame" (xxiv). Unfortunately, Abbas' use of these two analytical frameworks is never fully explained to the nonspecialist reader, and neither the utility nor the importance of each is made clear in her analysis. In terms of making the conversation analysis frame more understandable to her reader, a CD would be useful so that one might listen to how the qawwal or singer of sufiana-kalam uses such devices as syntax, semantics, inflection, or pitch to express...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 133-138
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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