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Reviewed by:
  • Shi'ism in South East Asia: 'Alid Piety and Sectarian Constructions ed. by Chiara Formichi and R. Michael Feener
  • Majid Daneshgar

Majid Daneshgar, Michael Feener, Chiara Formichit, Shi'ism, 'Alid, South East Asian religion, Shia Islam, Islamic magic

chiara formichi and r. michael feener, eds. Shi'ism in South East Asia: 'Alid Piety and Sectarian Constructions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xvi + 397.

There have been many academic studies examining the history and literature of minorities (e.g., Shi'is) in South East Asia, most recently the present work, produced by Chiara Formichi and Michael Feener, a collection of essays originating in a workshop held in the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore in 2010. This book would have much to offer a reader approaching it through the lens of Southeast Asian Studies; nevertheless, given the context of this review I decided to highlight its references to Islamic rituals. [End Page 404]

The book is divided into four parts. Part One deals with the historical foundations of Shi'ism in Southeast Asia. It includes a comprehensive chapter by Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti that addresses the evolution of Shi'i devotional literature in light of the religious and political conditions of the Middle East and South East Asia. Part Two is dedicated to literary legacies. For instance, 'Alīb. Abī Ṭālib is known as the scribe of the Messenger of Islam in "the earliest surviving Javanese manuscript of Samud narrative dating from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century" (53). As Ronit Ricci explains, 'Alī is portrayed in this manuscript as the faithful representative of Muhammad, who is fully knowledgeable. Ricci also shows that Javanese works display 'Alī as a great warrior who was able to defeat non-Muslims, including the Jewish people. Wendy Mukherjee introduces the theme of the piety (taqwa) and morality (akhlaq) of Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, in Malay texts. A Malay folk prose narrative called Hikayat Ali Kawin or "The Story of 'Alī's Marriage" provides local young brides with ethical lessons. In an Acehnese text regarding Muhammad's admonitions, and thoroughly in contrast to Middle Eastern sources, the so-called sinless Fatima (the wife of 'Alī) is replaced with the one who is accused of a major sin, adultery. Muhammad is then shown instructing his daughter on how to obey her husband. For instance: "The woman who perishes in childbirth dies a martyr's death. There is no salvation for a woman who is unfaithful to her husband; hell is her portion" (75). This is despite the fact that upon translating and interpreting some Western and South Asian religious and mystical literature dealing with Muhammad and his household (ahl al-bayt), Malays added additional fictional/imaginary elements to the body of literature. They produced both concise and lengthy folk prose narratives and treatises focusing, for example, on 'Alī (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law as well as the first imam of Shi'a) and Fatima, whose acts, according to Shi'ism, are errorless.

Malay stories also suggest that one may easily manage one's life through learning about supernatural and magical qualities (khawass) found in the Malay version of holy figures' instructions (e.g. ahl al-bayt and Sufis). Following Edwin Wieringa, who had stated that "other texts in which 'Ali and Fātimah appear, seem to be of a more obscure nature, dealing with magic and eroticism/mysticism,"1 some chapters of this volume pay particular attention to such themes. [End Page 405]

On this subject, Faried F. Saenong tries to demystify the role of 'Alid's family in Southeast Asian sexual arts. He outlines different stages of intercourse in Bugis manuscripts in which "'Alī and Fātima appear in a magic formula that is supposed to be uttered by the wife, in which 'Alī and Fātima are referred to as exemplary practitioners of foreplay" (107). Furthermore, there are several pre-twentieth-century Malay manuscripts with particular references to sensual pleasure (ladzat) and the sensation of orgasm (panas) discussed by Teren Sevea.

Part Three revolves around modern Southeast Asia. For example, the chapter by R. Michael Feener argues the development and reception of an old [religious] feast...


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