The Controversy of Shaykh Awḥad al-Dīn Kirmānī and Handsome, Moon-Faced Youths: A Case Study of Shāhid-Bāzī in Medieval Sufism

In: Journal of Sufi Studies
Lloyd Ridgeon University of Glasgow UK

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The ability to witness the divine in creation has been one of the features that has often distinguished Sufis from non-Sufis. One of the most controversial manifestations of this was shāhid-bāzī (“playing the witness”), which was a practice of gazing at the form of young males in order to witness the inner, divine presence. Since medieval times a Persian Sufi by the name of Awḥad al-Dīn Kirmānī has been most commonly associated with shāhid-bāzī (especially during the samāʿ—or the ritual of Sufi music and dance). The controversy relating to Kirmānī seems to have focused on the homoerotic nature of shāhid-bāzī, yet a close examination of the texts reveal that the criticisms about Kirmānī relate to a wide range of Sufi practices and doctrines. An investigation of the contexts of these criticisms indicate that thirteenth–fourteenth-century Sufism was diverse and fluid, and that the systematisation of Sufism into brotherhoods (ṭarīqa) which was taking place in Kirmānī’s lifetime had not resulted in a bland conformity of faith and practice.

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