Women and Demons

Cult Healing in Islamic Egypt


This rich ethnographic study describes the nearly impossible challenge of the daily existence of women in the poor neighbourhoods of Cairo. When these women fall ill they often put the blame on beings from an invisible world that invaded their body (possession), and they seek the help of traditional healers in the Zar ceremony or Koran healing. This book examines in detail the links between cosmology, power and gender. It tackles questions such as ‘what is possession, what is being said with it, and what does society have to do with it?’. The author, who lived a long time in various poor areas of Cairo, attended many sessions of Koran healing and participated in the Zar ceremony. She observed and interviewed many possessed women, as well as healers and other ‘demon specialists’.

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Gerda Sengers, Ph.D. (2000) in Social Sciences, studied Semitic languages and cultures (MA 1988) and Cultural Anthropology and the Sociology of non-Western Societies (MA 1994) at the University of Amsterdam. She has traveled extensively through the Middle East and has lived in Egypt for many years.
"Women and Demons offers a rich and nuanced examination of contemporary demon possession in Cairo. Although this study focuses on spirit possession, the methodological contribution extends beyond the fields of medical and cultural anthropology and will undoubtedly benefit readers from a variety of social science disciplines." - Angel Foster, Harvard Medical School, in: H-Gender-MidEast
Transcription and Pronunciation of the Arabic Script

I. Living and Working in Cairo
The structure of this book

II. Local Cosmology
Aspects of contemporary cosmology
Jinn and other non-human beings
Aspects of Islamic methods of healing

III. Anthropological Approaches to Possession and Healing
Research into possession
Zar Research
My own research

IV. The Zar
General description
Interpretation: zar as transition rite

V. Koran Healing
General description
Men, jinn and magic
Interpretation: Koran healing as transition rite

VI. Possession as a Central Element in Local Cosmology
Semotiotic Structure
Zar and Koran healing

VII. A Kaleidoscopic Picture of Egyptian Society
Umm Mustafa
Umm Harbi
Reda’ (and others): visit of the jinn

VIII. Concluding observations

Women and Demons is a comprehensive account of life in the urban quarters of Cairo and the experiences of poor Egyptian women with demonic possession. A book for anybody interested in the Islamic world.
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