Workshop: Muslim Saints, Dreams, and Veneration of Shrines (EASA 2012)

We made an announcement in a previous post about the 12th EASA biennal international conference held in Nanterre University in France (10-13 July 2012). In the workshop entitled “Muslim Saints, Dreams, and Veneration of Shrines”, organized by Dr.I.Edagr (Dept. Anthropology, University of Durham, UK) and Dr.P. Khosronejad (Dept. Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, Scotland), there will be several interesting papers:

Dream visions of the saints In Khōjā kahaṇī literature

Iqbal Akhtar (University of Edinburgh)

The kahaṇīō were popular narrative prayers of the Khōjā related to specific saints of the Imāmī Shīʿī. This literature was primarily employed by Khōjā women and commonly featured a female protagonist who comes to a point in her predicament where there appears to be no hope or clear answer. The night dream, which entails a metaphysical pilgrimage to a shrine or meeting with the saint corporeal, then, reveals the solution.

Night visitations figure prominently in the kahaṇī for according to Muslim tradition the spirit escapes the body with sleep. This allows a literal spiritual encounter with and obeisance to the saints. For Asian and African Shīʿī Muslims in the geographical periphery of the physical Near Eastern shrines, the dream state allowed an egalitarian opportunity for all to make pilgrimage. Pilgrimages in dreams were based on religious merit, rather than the physical journey which required wealth. The dreams of saints allowed devout Khōjā women of modest means to circumvent modalities of communal religious institutions to achieve spiritual gnosis.

The kahaṇī, originally of South Asian origin, provides and deeper understanding of how Imāmī Shīʿī, in the periphery of Islamic civilization, envisioned and related to the saints of the Near East in a localized context while retaining the Indic legends and narrative structures of their indigenous devotional literature.

Dreaming Baba, Restituting Memory: Popular Sufi Shrines in Contemporary (East) Punjab

Yogesh Snehi (Ambedkar University, Delhi)

The partition of Punjab in 1947 divided the province into a Muslim-majority Pakistani Punjab and Sikh-Hindu dominated Indian Punjab. This happened after catastrophic sharing of populations on the either side and irrepairably divided the region on communal lines, seriously underming those traditions of shared popular veneration of sufi shrines which had over the centuries emerged as the dominant element of Punjabi society. This process had, however, begun in the late nineteenth century and what followed was a sustained onslaught on the popular veneration of pirs by reformer in the early twentieth century and Sikh militancy in the late twentieth century.

Thus, it becomes significant to probe the ways in which such practices reconfigured themselves in East Punjab when the larger centres of Sufism were left behind in the West Punjab. Taking account of selected popular sufi shrines in contemporary (East) Punjab this paper seeks to foreground the role played by dreams in recovering popular memory of pre-partition Punjabi society, the centrality of saint veneration in its social formation. Significantly, this process has translated in the emergence of a new set of shrines, particularly in the post-militancy phase, which have been constructed through donations from non-Muslims. This process has led to emergence of new forms of dissenting associative (popular) identities based on the rejection of caste and religious hierarchies. These narratives appropriate and interweave the medieval liberal discourse of the Chishtis with the Nath and Bhakti tradition, and emphasise the continued relevance of these articulations in contemporary social formation.

Encountering Hizir and Elijah: Dreaming and Healing in the Muslim and Alawi Traditions of Hatay

Jens Kreinath (Wichita State University)

Healing in conjunction with dream and vision quests at sacred sites is well-documented and play a major role in the Muslim tradition. This paper presents a local account of this tradition in the worship of Saint George (Hızır or Khiḍr) as commonly practiced at various pilgrimage sites in Hatay, Turkey. It aims to demonstrate how Muslims and Alawis visit these pilgrimage sites for purposes of healing, praying, and wish-making. I argue that the dream request as a key element in visiting these sites is viewed as a reshaping of reality and transformation of agency. By engaging in the work of Bakhtin and and Deleuze, I ponder upon how concepts such as the ‘chronotope’ and ‘virtuality’ can allow analyzing the interrelatedness of the visits at these sacred pilgrimage sites in conjunction with oral traditions blending encounters with Hizir as well as Elijah and with personal accounts of those who visit these sites and experience dreaming and healing. By way of conclusion, I contrast these accounts with the veneration of other Muslim saints in that area.

Flashes of Ultimate Reality: Dreams of Saints and Shrines in a Contemporary Pakistani Sufi Community

Robert Rozehnal (Lehigh University)

In today’s Pakistan, Sufi ritual practice takes place at diverse times and in myriad locations—from private homes to large, public tomb-shrines. It even extends into the dream world of sleep. For Muslims both past and present, dreams are much more than nocturnal hallucinations. As a medium for both revelation and inspiration, they impart vital ontological, epistemological and spiritual truths. Sufi dream theory draws on a rich premodern heritage. Even so, its logic and practice diverges sharply from the classical science of Islamic dream interpretation (ta’bir). As flashes of ultimate reality (bushra), Sufis view dreams as a litmus test of a seeker’s spiritual potential.

In twenty-first century Pakistan, the Chishti Sabiri order (tariqa) is a living Sufi tradition that traces its teachings and lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. Grounded on the intimate relationship between a master (shaykh) and disciple (murid), the order’s pedagogy rests on a detailed and disciplined routine of ritual practices. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and textual analysis, this paper explores the importance of Sufi saints and sacred shrines in Chishti Sabiri dream work. I argue that dreams and dream interpretation serve as models for Muslim selfhood and sainthood, tools for spiritual development and markers of spiritual attainment. My analysis examines Sufi dream theory, the ritual use of dreams in both private and public spaces (including Sufi tomb complexes), and the techniques for interpreting dreams as both a sign of individual psychology and a window to the realm of divinity.

Sacred Sites, Severed heads and Prophetic Visions

Claire Norton (St Mary’s University College)

My paper will examine the convergence of sacred geographies and prophetic visions in early modern Ottoman gazavatname (campaign narrative) accounts of the sieges of Nagykanizsa castle. In these narratives Tiryaki Hasan Pasha experiences a prophetic vision at the grave site of a martyred Muslim soldier. The martyrdom of the soldier was itself an unusual and heterodox mystical event. While fighting valiantly against the infidel, the soldier was beheaded by the enemy who fled with his head. The martyred soldier’s body cried out and gave chase killing the infidel and reclaiming his head. The martyred solider is subsequently buried and his grave becomes a site where mystical dreams occur. Both a local judge and another soldier dream that they see the inside of the tomb filled with light and huris congratulating the martyr on his bravery. Seventy years later Hasan Pasha, while at the grave site, experiences a strange natural phenomena – flocks of birds whirl and fight – and he interprets this as providing divinatory knowledge of a future Habsburg attack on nearby Nagykanizsa castle which will end in defeat for the Habsburgs. Somewhat later Hasan Pasha has another dream in which the four ‘choice friends’ appear and help the Ottomans defend the castle. This congruence of spiritually significant external spaces and inner prophetic visions helps to create a cultural and spiritual map that reinforces the depiction of Hasan Pasha as spiritually powerful while also figuring him as a religiously-liminal mystic with supernatural powers akin to those possessed by some dervishes.

Sufi shrines and dreams in Palestine

Aref Abu-Rabia (University of the Negev)

This paper will describe the common Sufi beliefs regarding dreams and shrines. These beliefs developed during joint and private seasonal visits (ziara) during the twentieth century in Palestine. Gaining insight into the sociology of the Sufi cult of saints can enrich our understanding of similar cults in other places and shed light on the reasons for their absence in other societies. I will examine the phenomenon of true dreams at saints’ shrines, particularly among the various Sufi orders in Palestine, and explore the historical and contemporary extent of dream pilgrimages to these shrines.

Ceremonies that involve visiting saints’ shrines have encouraged a relationship of socio-cultural and psychological-therapeutic dependence of the pilgrims with regard to these shrines. This dependence is deeply rooted in their collective psyche and reinforced and legitimized through Palestinian folklore. This paper will be based on primary and secondary sources, interviews with Sufis, including their leaders, and, key people who have been active in participating in these rituals, as well as archival and documentary material, a review of published and unpublished materials, books, and scientific journals.

The “Sleeping women”, the Dead and the Saints: Dreaming, Dreamsharing and Dream Interpretation as women´s power in Northern Morocco

Araceli Gonzalez-Vazquez (Collège de France)

In Magie et religion dans l´Afrique du Nord, Edmond Doutté writes on the figure of the «sleepers»: “(…) dans le Rif il y avait des individus appelés er reqqada, c´est-à-dire les dormeurs qui tombaient en léthargie, restaient plusiers jours dans cet état, puis è leur réveil, faisaient les plus étonnantes prophéties”. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Ghzawa (Western Rif, Morocco), we examine two types of oneiric experiences. On one side, we reflect on the figure of “the sleeping women” (er-reqqada) and their uses of dreams as forms of divination. We also study the roles of peasant women as interpreters of dreams. On the other side, we analyse the quest for visionary dreams and dream incubation (istikhara) in the shrine of Sidi Belghassem al-Hajj (Ghzawa), a significant place for the Baqqaliyya Sufi brotherhood.

In peasant women and in the “sleeping women”´s dreams and visions, we usually find human selves interacting with the dead and the saints (awliya) in very specific ways, some gender-specific. Dreaming, dreamsharing and dream interpretation become a significant source of power for women, as long as they make possible a feminine management of the dead and the saints´ actions. Sleeping at Sidi Belghassem´s shrine makes possible the transmission of the saint´s Baraka in dreams, particularly with therapeutic purposes. In examining contexts of dreaming, dreamsharing and dream interpretation, we will take into account issues related to the gender and rank of the dreamer. We will also try to reflect on the fluidity of the different forms of being.

To sleep or not to sleep on a mazar? (Some beliefs regarding sleeping on saint’s shrines among peoples of Central Asia)

Nikolay Terletsky (Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of Russian Academy of Sciences)

The dream is an important component of the Islamic shrine pilgrimage (ziyarat). The capability and permissibility of visiting the shrine is often associated with the dream the pilgrim have seen on the previous night. Certain ideas about the places where the pilgrim can sleep circulate among the inhabitants of Central Asian region. Among the most important and interesting items is the question of desirability or, on the other side, undesirability of spending the night on the shrines (mazars). According to some beliefs sleeping on mazars provides the better tie with the buried respected righteous person, and therefore more chances to gain a spiritual contact with the saint in the dream and acquire the blessing (baraka) emanating from him. On the other hand some people talk about inadvisability of sleeping on mazars (that are burial places) because this can pose a threat for a pilgrim. This belief is more common in mountainous regions and concerns with more archaic ideas of the danger of the world of the dead for the world of alive. The paper is set up on the materials of field research work collected by the author during the expeditions to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 2007-2010.

All details about the conference here.


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