Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual

The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual

Shemeem Burney Abbas
Foreword by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual
    Book Description:

    The female voice plays a more central role in Sufi ritual, especially in the singing of devotional poetry, than in almost any other area of Muslim culture. Female singers performsufiana-kalam,or mystical poetry, at Sufi shrines and in concerts, folk festivals, and domestic life, while male singers assume the female voice when singing the myths of heroines inqawwaliandsufiana-kalam.Yet, despite the centrality of the female voice in Sufi practice throughout South Asia and the Middle East, it has received little scholarly attention and is largely unknown in the West.

    This book presents the first in-depth study of the female voice in Sufi practice in the subcontinent of Pakistan and India. Shemeem Burney Abbas investigates the rituals at the Sufi shrines and looks at women's participation in them, as well as male performers' use of the female voice. The strengths of the book are her use of interviews with both prominent and grassroots female and male musicians and her transliteration of audio- and videotaped performances. Through them, she draws vital connections between oral culture and the written Sufi poetry that the musicians sing for their audiences. This research clarifies why the female voice is so important in Sufi practice and underscores the many contributions of women to Sufism and its rituals.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79239-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note: Translations, Transliterations, and Conversation Analysis Transcript Notation
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    Elizabeth Warnock Fernea

    Western scholars have described Islam as a “male” religion, a characterization that continues to be repeated well into the twenty-first century. As evidence for this position, commentators state and restate that no women are observed in the mosque for prayers, that only boys appear to be students in the Quranic schools, and that female participation is lacking during the major religious feasts (the Iid al Fitr which follows Ramadan, and the Iid al Adha, or feast of sacrifice). If this is actually the case, how could Islam be seen as other than male-focused? This view arises from several misconceptions.


  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xxv)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xxvi-xxviii)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  9. CHAPTER 1 History and Economy of Women in Sufi Ritual
    (pp. 1-51)

    Although there is a long history of women’s participation in the many dimensions of Sufi life, that is, in the traditions of Islamic mysticism, there has been no adequate documentation of it in the literature. In general, little ethnographic investigation of rituals at Sufi shrines, where both women and men participate, has been done. It is only in recent years that some studies have been published,¹ and even in these studies, focus is on male participation. Qureshi discusses the Qawwāl Bachche, a lineage of maleqawwāls(performers of Sufi music and poetry) in the subcontinent of Pakistan and India.² Schimmel...

  10. CHAPTER 2 Ethnographies of Communication
    (pp. 52-84)

    In this chapter 1 describe performances of Sufi poetry sung to music in sociolinguistic terms, looking at bothqawwālīandsufiānā-kalām. Briefly, these are contexts where devotional poetry is sung to music. The speech events may take place in a Sufi shrine, on the outskirts of a shrine during‘urscelebrations, or in a concert setting. The participants of the events are the musicians, who are thespeakers, and their audiences, who are thelisteners. Therefore, the discussion here may be perceived in terms of speaking as a cultural system.¹

    The number of musicians in aqawwālīconcert can range...

  11. CHAPTER 3 Female Myths in Sufism
    (pp. 85-107)

    The complexities of race, gender, class, and caste figure prominently in the narratives of theqawwālsandsufiānā-kalāmperformers. Sufi poetry in Pakistan and India was sometimes composed in opposition to the religious establishment and was expressed in subtle ways. It survived throughrepresentationin myth and the complex tropes of the female voices. Whether or not the Sufi poets were “feminists” cannot be claimed here as the term “feminism” is a fairly recent one. However, the female myths in Sufi poetry certainly represent the voices of marginalized groups and continue to be used asrepresentativeframes even today. This...

  12. CHAPTER 4 The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual
    (pp. 108-128)

    In this chapter I discuss the evolution of the female voice in Sufi poetry as it developed over the centuries, especially in the narratives of the musicians who sing it now. I discuss Amir Khusrau (d.1325 AD), whose poetry and compositions were sung in United India in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and continue to be sung even today.¹ This is true of the poetry of the other Sufi literati who wrote in the subcontinent. How these texts have been adapted to other genres outsideqawwālīandsufiānā-kalāmare additionally explored. The changes have come about as the rituals have...

  13. CHAPTER 5 Closing the Circle of the Mystic Journey
    (pp. 129-146)

    Women’s participation in disseminating Islamic principles through the Sufi shrines is common and may be seen in the daily rituals and special events held on Thursday evenings. Their presence as devotees and caretakers is visible during the ‘urs (the death anniversary of the Sufi saint). For instance, at the Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine at Sehwan Sharif, the womanfaqiriānīor caretaker gives out water to the devotees. In the Islamic tradition giving water to the thirsty is asavab(charitable deed). The act of giving water to the thirsty is eulogized in the oral Sufi traditions, especially in relation...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 147-160)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 161-182)
    (pp. 183-204)
  17. Index
    (pp. 205-209)