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The shift in the ṣalāt ʿalā al-nabī, from an individual or initiatory form of piety to a regular and collective pious practice, marks a turning point in the history of devotion to the Prophet. By presenting and analyzing a collection of majālis of prayer on the Prophet composed by Barakāt b. Aḥmad al-ʿArūsī [al-Qusanṭīnī] (d. circa 897/1492), an Ifrīqiyan ‘ālim sūfī, in 877/1473, shortly after the Dalāʾil al-khayrāt by al-Jazūlī (d. 869/1465), the present chapter aims to show that the Maghreb played an unsuspected and little-known part in this shift. It examines the early functions of this collection, providing evidence of one of the first assemblies of prayer on the Prophet in this part of the Muslim world, on its modern and contemporary circulation and uses, and on the long career of this book of Prophetic piety. It also casts light on its different motifs and impulses, and on the love, veneration and hope for the Prophet expressed by these poems of praise and prayer. Their role in imploring the Prophet for worldly succour and for intercession at Judgement Day are equally highlighted, as well as the role played by Sufism in the perpetuation and spread of such assemblies.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam

Abstract

This chapter examines the evolution of Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara’s theological discourse, focusing on the theme of devotion to the Prophet and the Ahl al-bayt in his preaching, from the 1970s to the present day. Devotion to the Prophet and to his family is a religious obligation: this is one of the principal ideas in the theology elaborated by Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara (born in 1955). Before reaching this conclusion and elaborating the theoretical framework supporting it, in the 1970s this major figure in Mali’s contemporary religious landscape relied first on the book al-Niʿma al-kubrā of Ibn Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, to justify the celebration of Mawlid al-nabawī. Then, during the 1980s to 1990s, he referred to Mawlid al-Munāwī to highlight the greatness and unparalleled spiritual elevation of Prophet Muḥammad, a greatness that justifies his veneration by the faithful. More recently, and based on the Qurʾānic text and ḥadīths, he supported the idea that this veneration is a religious obligation (farīḍa) in the same way as canonical prayer, zakāt, etc. This discourse on the veneration of the Prophet and his family is part of a Malian religious landscape that has been in continuous evolution since the 1970s, with Haïdara as one of its main actors.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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Abstract

This chapter deals with Arabic praise poetry for the Prophet (madāʾiḥ nabawiyya). Yet, instead of studying poetry in text collections, it examines its performance during commemorative celebrations that mark the Islamic liturgical year. Its main source is the audio material that stems from a fieldwork conducted in urban Sunni milieus in Syria and Lebanon between 2009 and 2013. Following the material turn in Religious Studies, with a special emphasis on “sensational forms” (Birgit Meyer), I argue that messages are not only created by poetic texts and poetic imagery but equally by performance practices. Two different musical categories are identified, the qaṣīda form and the song. They reflect, on the one hand, idiom of the Arab art music tradition and, on the other, the folk music idiom. While both musical categories stress the qualities of the Prophet as the Beloved one and intercessor, the different idioms serve to create a relationship with the Prophet that is marked by the two poles of elevation and intimacy. Both idioms supplement each other in portraying Muḥammad as a close companion and friend and, finally, a support which each individual participant in the celebrations can hope for at Judgement Day.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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This chapter places the debate over the limits of veneration of the Prophet in the context of modern controversies between Wahhābī and Sufi scholars in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. It shows how polemical exchanges rooted in the post-classical Muslim scholarly tradition of the late medieval period have been claimed, transformed, and valorised in contemporary Muslim thought. At the heart of these debates is the tension over notions of Divine Sovereignty and over the way the Prophet is perceived and approached by contemporary Muslims. The chapter points at how the Wahhābī charge of heresy against Sufis and their excommunication on bases of accusations of excessive love and veneration for Prophet Muhammad is grounded in Muslim conceptions of the Christian divinisation of Jesus. Against this backdrop, the chapter highlights the work and legacy of one of the most celebrated Sufi scholars of the late 20th century, Sayyid Muḥammad ʿAlawī al-Mālikī (d. 2004). Heir to the pre-Saudi Meccan scholarly legacy, al-Mālikī came to embody the concerns of traditionalist scholars about the transformation of Muslim theological thought and devotional practices in the contemporary world. The analyses of his work, his trials, and his scholarly career point to a destabilisation of the pre-modern Muslim theological and pious perception of the Prophet, indicating shifting notions of communal boundaries, of the sacred, and of divine immanence in contemporary Islam.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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Abstract

In a new contribution to the anthropology of dreaming, I explore the epistemological and affective excess of prophetic dreams, in an aura of dream-images dream-images. Collective engagement with dreams occurs through experiencing olfactory registers which are perceived together as divine intervention. Drawing on an ethnographic fieldwork in Shīʿī women’s pious circles in Teheran, this chapter discusses the largely unexamined dreamscape of Muslim women beyond tropes and symbols of Islamic dream interpretation (taʿbīr). I focus on women whose experience of losing sons and husbands during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–88), without retrieving their bodies for a proper funeral, engages them with an intimate attachment to Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet. Through a close examination of the experiences and context of their visions, and of the collective practices they trigger in the pious circles, this study illuminates how the intrinsic distance between the dream and waking world dissolves through claims of feeling the aura.

The portrayal of Fāṭima plays a major role in the formal governmental discourse of Islamic womanhood in post-revolutionary Iran. The state has succeeded to link its political agenda on veiling and motherhood to her sacred persona. I argue that women’s dreams momentarily suspend this formal discourse, while regenerating and embellishing it in itself.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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Abstract

The practice of “praying upon the Prophet” (taṣliya) began to spread in Muslim societies from the seventh/thirteenth century onwards thanks to the development of Sufism and its initiatory paths that encouraged devotion to the Prophet, and to the celebration of the birth of the Prophet (mawlid). This article studies the taṣliya as an initiatory modality of access to the presence of the Prophet based on the analysis of a central theme of these prayers, that of “Prophetic light.” The examination of the themes of the tasliya shows a tension between the human nature of the Prophet and his principal reality. This double conception of the Prophet finds its explanation in the principle of “mediation” on which Muḥammadan prophetology is based. The meaning of “bond” in the act of “praying upon” the Prophet that inspires all tasliyas can thus be understood as a desire to internalize the presence of the Prophet as a spiritual “mediator”, before his manifestation as the supreme “intercessor” on the Day of Judgement.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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The veneration of the relics of the prophet Muḥammad constitutes one of the main forms of devotion to his person throughout the centuries. Approaching the Prophet’s relics, touching them directly or touching objects that have been in contact with them, as well as drinking liquids that carry the blessing of those relics, means for the believer to enter into the very presence of the Prophet. As in other religious and political contexts, the Prophet’s relics have also played a role in legitimising political power in Islamic societies, as some rulers have used them to strengthen their connection to the source of authority in Islam, the Prophet himself. They also transferred these relics to peripheral areas of the Islamic world, using them as foundational elements of religious and civil buildings and thereby conferring them a central role in the development of Islamic societies.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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This chapter explores the relevance that the sunna takes in the disciplinary and socialising practices of a contemporary offshoot of the Nur movement, the Suffa community, in contemporary Turkey. Contrary to widespread journalistic views portraying the imitation of the sunna as the exclusive trait of “Salafi” groups, it relies on the community’s main text, the Risale-i Nur (The Epistle of Light) and on ethnographic material gathered between 2009 and 2010 to investigate the way in which ḥadīth narratives shaped the life and conduct of this Sufi-inspired, yet inner-worldly oriented community. First, the chapter illustrates the role that the figure of the Prophet Muḥammad plays in the path of knowledge promoted in the Risale. It then moves to investigate how the imitation of the sunna is at the centre of the daily practices and sociability forms that shape Muslim life within the Suffa community. Particular attention will be given to the way in which conforming to the sunna intersects with Muslim norms of virtuous behaviour (adab). Finally, the chapter sheds light on the collective dimension of Prophetic piety by illustrating how both sunna and adab are embedded in the ideal of brotherhood as actualised in the daily life of the community.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam
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Overall, the chapter seeks to capture and convey a sense of fundamental ambivalence that characterizes and accompanies maulidi performances and social experiences of different kinds of social actors on the Swahili coast, as they move between pious dedication and vivid and boisterous worldly partying. In Lamu, on the Northern Swahili coast in Kenya, the ambivalence of maulidi celebrations is present on different levels of social life and public discourse (among ordinary Muslims and scholars) and with a view to specific forms and kinds of socially embedded performance, engagement and interaction. In this chapter, I explore and discuss how this foundational translocal ambivalence plays out locally, looking at maulidi practices, performances, and contexts, as they are publicly engaged in, and contested and negotiated during this festive period. In the final part of this chapter, I present a brief contextual discussion of maulidi-related writings by relevant Swahili Muslim scholars – specifically Sheikh Abdalla Saleh Farsy, a leading modernist reformer – to show how references to the regionally specific maulidi practices and debates about them are reflected in their arguments about the propriety and acceptability of such celebrations.

Open Access
In: The Presence of the Prophet in Early Modern and Contemporary Islam