Hasan Ali Khan, Habib University, and Aliya Iqbal Naqvi, Harvard University

A Matriarch Amongst Patriarchs: Female Leadership in a Non-Reformed Sufi Order in Contemporary Pakistan

This paper presents an aspect of ‘The Rifaʿiyya in South-Western Asia,’ our collaborative research project focusing on the spiritual life of a branch of the Rifaʿiyya tariqa, based in Karachi, and spanning three counties, Iran, Pakistan and Oman. This branch migrated from the traditional Rifaʿiyya heartland in Iraq ca. 1800 to Bombay; after the creation of Pakistan, one line migrated to Karachi where the order was established by Sayyid Zain al-ʿAbideen al-Rifaʿi. Upon his death, he designated his daughter, Sayyida Safiya, to succeed him, along with his son Mu’in, now based in the US. Today, Safiya reigns as the de facto head of the headquarters in Karachi, whilst her brother flies back for special dates on the Rifaʿiyya calendar. Among the unusual aspects of the Karachi Rifaʿiyya are the fact of a shaykha leading a non-reformed/traditional order and the non-centrality of a dargah or shrine. Safiya, in her person, carries with her the baraka of the order. Her legitimacy and authority reside in her body: she is the living vessel of the charismatic blood of Muhammad and of Ahmed Kabir al-Rifaʿi.

The activities of the order center around communal gatherings or majalis, in which spiritual healing ceremonies are administered to the Rifaʿiyya’s diverse adherents. For larger majalis, such as the ʿurs, public event spaces are rented. These worldly spaces are temporarily sacralized through the bodily presence of Safiya and transformed through the tangible and visible signs of the Rifaʿiyya lineage and power (banners, flags, garments, marquees in certain colors). More exclusive gatherings are held at Safiya’s home, from where she presides over a network of male officers, to whom she delegates the authority and spiritual power embodied in her person; of special importance is the element of didar, ritual viewing, of the shaykha (not everyone, especially ordinary male followers, can see Safiya).

Some of the questions our research seeks to explore include the following. What were the modalities that allowed for the designation of a female successor in a traditional tariqa? How does Safiya navigate her role as shaykha and exercise authority over and through male khalifas? How do Safiya and her brother negotiate their shared leadership? What is the purview and potential of the hierarchy of khadimas (female officers) being developed by Safiya?


Michel Boivin, CNRS-CEIAS

Gender and Sufism: Hindu Sindhi women and the transmission of the Sufi legacy in India

Sindh, the southeastern province of Pakistan, has been depicted as the land of the Sufis for a long time. It was also represented as a place where Hindus were the followers of Muslim Sufi masters and used to visit Sufi shrines all over the region. After 1947, about one million of Hindu Sindhis migrated to India, especially to Gujarat and Maharashtra. This paper intends to analyze the role played by women in the transmission of the Sufi legacy among the Hindu Sindhis of India. It will be divided into two main parts. On the one hand, it will focus on Sufi poetry composed by these women, and on the other hand, it will introduce women who run Sufi lodges in India. The first part will focus on three Hindu Sindhi women who were Sufi poets: Nimano Faqir, Dadi Dhan and Dadi Ganga. Nimano Faqir (d. 1963), a Hindu Sindhi lady born in Shikarpur, migrated to India in the 1950s. She founded a Sufi lodge in Baroda and she edited and published the Sindhi workof Sachal Sarmast (1739-1827). Dadhi Dhan (d. 2014), who was settled in Mumbai, had her own followers and composed Sufi poetry in Sindhi as well as Dadi Ganga. In Ulhasnagar, a city close to Mumbai where many Sindhis settled after partition, there are several Sufi lodges that are run by Hindu Sufi women. In these darbars, the Sufi women are heading the ‘Darazi satsang’, in which Sufi poetry is sung, as well as different rituals performed to honor the Sufis. The paper finally wishes to highlight the diversity of the Sindhi women’ contribution in the transmission of the Sufi legacy in India.


Gianfranco Bria, University of Torino

Ziyāra andFeminine Harīm in Post-socialist Albania: The Case of Dervishe Hatixhe’s Grave in Tirana

This paper aims to analyze how, in post-socialist Albania, the rites of ziyāra (visits to the tombs of Muslim saints; Alb. tyrbe), established an alternative symbolic space, typically female (harīm), focusing the case of Dervishe Hatixhe’s grave in Tirana. After many years of forced secularization by Enver Hoxha’s regime, visits to holy graves became one of the main religious ritual that the faithful, usually women; men, contrariwise, express their religiosity through different practices and within different community and institutional contexts: the mosque or the tekke. Within the fragmented and pluralist post-socialist religious arena, the Qadiri community of Tirana was able to manage and restore Dervishe Hatixhe’s türbe, in order to legitimate its authority. Hatixhe (d. 1798) was a Sufi woman who belonged to Qadiri path (hence the name ‘Dervishe’); she is considered and described by Qadiri leaders as the Saint Patron of Tirana because she helped the population of Tirana during an epidemic and struggled against her husband’s abuses. The faithful, mostly women, visit the tyrbe, to meet their individual or collective instances establishing an intimate link with Hatixhe’s charisma that allows the embodiment sub-alternative gender patterns. In this case, ziyāra shapes the feminine symbolic space (harīm) where women could produce and reproduce counter-hegemonic religiosity, although religious activities seem to be divided according to (patriarchal) gender roles (qāʿida) that, in turn, frame female religious behaviors.


Silvia Bruzzi, University of Padova

Charismatic Women across the Mediterranean and the Red Sea Region in the First Half of the 20th Century: Spatial Spheres, Travelling Images

This paper draws on travelling images across the Mediterranean and the Red Sea Region and different visual media portraying Muslim female mystics in the first half of the 20th century. In particular the portraits shed light on these women’s spatial spheres of influence in Northeast Africa as well as visual cultures surrounding them. Special attention is paid to the role of visuality in their spaces of empowerment: family photographs and colonial military portraits, postcards, Arabic newspapers and Italian newsreels immortalized their bodies. Drawing attention to the material supports portraying holy women’s charismatic body, I will shed light on the intertwining of fiction, authenticity and fake visual elements fascinating their authority in the region. How did gendered and religious elements articulate Islamic and colonial modernity? How and why the Red Sea cosmopolitan society was staged? How did the circulation of their likeness via different channels impact the Red Sea and Mediterranean societies?  I will pay special attention to the cases of Dada Masiti (d. 1921), Sitti Momina (d. 1929), Sitti ‘Alawiyya (d. 1940) and Sitti Mariyam (d. 1952) in Libya and in the Horn of Africa. How did these women become popular in the region? How did they become visible as charismatic female figures? By contextualizing and comparing diverse signs in these visual creations I will explore the production, circulation and reception of the visual culture surrounding holy women across the Mediterranean and the Red Sea region as well as the different strategies they adopted to be (in)visible in their society.


Feyza Burak-Adli, Northwestern University, Chicago 

The Visionary Female Guarding of Turkish Cultural Heritage: The Case of the Turkish Rifai Shaykha Samiha Ayverdi 

Samiha Ayverdi (1905-1993) was a charismatic Sufi shaykha of the Rifai Order. She was also a novelist, poet, and the intellectual writer of the Turkish Conservative Right. As a part of modernizing and Westernizing reforms, the single party secular regime did not only ban the Sufi lodges in 1925, but also discarded the traditional cultural forms of music and arts in Turkey. Under these conditions, Ayverdi started to disseminate Sufi ethics in her novels and poems. She also founded several civil society associations dedicated to the preservation of the classical Turkish-Islamic heritage in literature, fine arts, music and architecture. Her literary books and civil society associations re-opened the gates for Sufism in Turkey.

Ayverdi was dedicated to preserve and revive the Classical Turkish arts, music, poetry, literature and architecture because she believed that these traditional cultural forms embodied the ethos of tawhid (Unity of God). She promoted the Islamicate (Hodgson 1961) material culture in arts, architecture, music and poetry not only as a means to cultivate an ennobled ethical self, but also as a celebration of beauty attributed to the jamali names of God. She perceived ‘aesthetics’ as an indispensible mirror reflecting the discourses of tawhid, adab and Sufi ethics.

Ayverdi was a visionary guardian of the tradition as she updated, adapted and reformulated the Rifai tradition by filtering its historical Sufi precepts such as ‘selfless service’ through the demands of the contemporary context. She reformed the Rifai tradition of ‘modern dervishhood’ by directing her followers to serve the national community by reviving classical Turkish arts, literature and music as Sufi practice of devotion to God. She believed that her cultural foundations were the new forms of the modern Sufi lodges (tekke). Like her late shaykh Kenan Rifai, she did not define tekke merely as a sacred space of worship but as the hearth of knowledge (irfan) in the service of community. 


Amila Buturovic, York University

‘Stillness in the Eye of the Storm’: Mira Burke and the Performance of Spiritual Ecstasy

This paper addresses the links between the performative and spiritual aspects of Sufi experience in contemporary dhikr. It focuses on the dance improvisations by the Canadian Sufi dancer Mira Burke whose solo performances to the music of the Canadian-Turkish composer and DJ producer Mercan Dede defy traditional sema rituals in several important ways: first, they draw attention to her singular reinterpretation of the established Mevlevi styles regulated and enacted in group under the sheikh’s formal supervision; second, they mediate between the audience’s auditory experience of popular music and Sufi ritual worship by both connecting and disconnecting the sacred and the secular; third, like Mercan Dede’s music itself that fuses traditional acoustic with electronic sounds, Burke’s dance evokes different forms of sensory perception to evoke the sacred with contemporary aesthetics and new media; and fourth, they disrupt the traditional gender and religious segregations by engaging a gender-diverse, cross-cultural audience in the seeker/beloved dynamic. In that sense, much like the qawwali performances and the commercialized shows of the Whirling Dervishes, Burke’s performances are at once popular and sacred. As such, they raise the question of how embodied, visual effects of personal piety relate to the common dichotomies associated with sacred/profane, male/female, spiritual/ritual, canonical/popular. Female piety as expressed by Burke’s dance improvisation thus emerges as a central generative link between different modes of spiritual and ritual practice associated both with traditional Sufism and contemporary aesthetics.


Britta Frede, University of Bayreuth

Female Sufi Scholars in Mauritania: Visions of Pious Women

This paper looks at written testimonies of Islamic scholarship within Sufi communities of Nouakchott, the capital city of Mauritania. The institution of maḥḍara, a traditional institution of Islamic education, is still a prominent way of educating Muslims of any age and transmit the classical curriculum of diverse disciplines of Islamic knowledge. While some institutions focus on children and youngsters, others offer special lessons to adult women. By focusing on a female scholar within the contemporary Tijāniyya in Nouakchott, who runs her own institution teaching adult women in sīra, tajwīd and Qur’ān, the paper intends to explore visions of female scholarly authority and Muslim womanhood within this learning circle. In addition to her teaching, she publishes booklets about such diverse topics as the Tijāniyya or the female companions of the Prophet. The paper will explore female visions of scholarly authority by investigating the role of the written text during the process of transmitting knowledge within the learning circle and beyond. It will pay particular attention to the vision of female Islamic scholarship of this female Sufi scholar, her text production about womanhood and piety and her role as mediator of norms, spiritual practices and habitus. It will also focus on the role of written artefacts within the performance of authority and scholarly tradition.


Dilek Güldütuna, Üsküdar University

Womanhood as a Metaphysical Concept

The view of the Sufis who were distinguished in the history of Sufism by a very special attitude to the feminine, such as Ibn al-ʿArabī (1165-1240) and Jalāl al-Din Rūmī (1207-1273). Owing to their metaphysical attitude, their works are particularly rich in the symbolism of femininity and form a unity with their world view and their ontological and epistemological understanding. A similar view is presented by the Turkish Sufi shaykh Ken'an Rifâî (1876-1950), one of the most important representatives of the Ottoman-Turkish Sufi tradition who continued this tradition in the Turkish-speaking world of the 20th-century. From the earlier times of Taṣawwuf, Sufi literature comprises many texts that identify the feminine with the lower levels of the human soul (nafs), that is with the blamed world and the worldly. In contrast, Ibn al-ʿArabī refers to terms used for God as dhāt (essence) and ṣifa (attribute) that are grammatically feminine. In reading the Sufi literature, from the early periods of Sufism to the present, such contrasting expressions are apparent both in the metaphysical and in the physical plane, even in the works of the same Sufi scholars. This fact suggests the idea of whether it would be possible to meaningfully bring these seemingly contradictory images together.


Ezgi Guner, University of Graz

Learning Adab, Becoming Muslim:Women within the Global Networks of Islamic Education

This paper focuses on the teaching of adab (proper conduct) by women to women within the global networks of Islamic learning. The Sufi communities of Turkey have expanded their schools and curricula to sub-Saharan Africa over the last two decades. By focusing on Turkish and African Muslim women’s experiences of being students and teachers of these institutions in Turkey, Tanzania and Senegal, I analyze how women mediate the process of the internalization of adab by other women. The gendered constructions of adab put an emphasis on the external: the dress code, bodily comportment and outward expressions of piety. Walking a fine line between the religious and cultural, these women navigate the challenges of a transnational pedagogical context through inspiration as well as negotiation. Based on multisited ethnography, this paper aims to answer the following questions: How are Sufi traditions anchored in specific national context translated into other ones? What are the pedagogical tools with which Muslim women teach adab in transnational context? How are cultural particularities contained within the universality of adab?


Yunus Valerian Hentschel, University of Vienna

The Female Caliphate: The Qur’ān, Female Voices and Gender Dynamics in present-day Sufism

This paper provides an insight into the complex and multidimensional field of the Qur’ān, Sufism, and gender dynamics. The primary goal is to demonstrate the complexity and diversity in Sufi approaches towards the question of gender and its visual culture. As point of departure and main basis for the enquiry, the thought of three present-day female Sufi leaders will be analyzed.

First, the reflections of Amat al-Nūr, shaykha of the International Sufi Order in Lahore, are scrutinized. Through her readings of the Qur’ān she develops a narrative of harmonization between the individual and her/his environment in order to fulfill the responsibility of khilāfa. For realizing this role of mutual custodianship, the equality between the genders is a crucial foundation. Secondly, the teachings and actings of Parvāneh Hadāvand, spiritual leader of a primarily female Sufi group in Teheran, are discussed. She stresses the importance to export the individual spiritual experience into the broader social-political context. In doing so, she challenges structures and dynamics of gender within male dominated spaces. This enactment is accompanied by visual-material components like wearing specific clothing that contrasts the socio-religious mainstream. Finally, Mitra Asadī, a Sufi teacher in Shiraz, relativizes the idea of outer appearance and the visual culture of gender roles. For her, the experience of gender is only an expression of an inferior spiritual state in which specific legal rulings are required though. Through spiritual transformation of the human being’s genderless essence (rūḥ), however, apparent categories as gender are experienced as ephemeral and irrelevant.

The prime empirical basis for this study is represented by participant observation and interviews conducted in 2015 and 2016 as part of the speaker’s research project ‘Present Sufi Approaches to the Qur’ān’. In that, 14 Sufis, men and women, from diverse cultural backgrounds and different Sufi ways (ṭarīqāt) were interviewed about how they read and interpret the Qur’ān.


Joseph Hill, University of Alberta

Wrapping Body, Voice, and Self: Female Chanters in the Fayḍa Tijāniyya Sufi Community in Senegal

Perhaps the most salient issue affecting the relationship between women and visual culture in Islam is the prevalent notion that women’s visibility—especially in religious functions—must be minimized or attenuated. Muslim women do in fact find multiple channels of visibility and influence, although how they do so is often profoundly shaped by this imperative. Thus, women often present and assert themselves using various forms of ‘wrapping’— a semiotic act that covers and protects yet also identifies and displays (Hill 2018). The concept of wrapping encompasses the much‐obsessed‐about ‘veiling’ yet seeks to move beyond the associated clichés of invisible and silenced Muslim women. This paper examines how female Sufi chanters (Wolof: sikkarkat, Arabic: dhākirāt) in the Fayḍa Tijāniyya community in Senegal construct their authority and communicate religious knowledge through various acts of self‐wrapping. Although female chanters were practically unknown in Senegal before around 2000, some have recently become superstars on the popular Sufi chant circuit, and some also act as appointed spiritual guides (muqaddamas) in the Sufi path. These chanters adhere to and amplify the belief that a woman’s voice—like her body and social presence—is ʿawra, or something to be cloaked and protected. I present examples of chanters in several contexts: as chant leaders in live meetings; in viral music clips with gentle keyboard accompaniment; and as the chorus in rap clips. I show how not only clothing, but also various technologies, spatial arrangements, and social practices can act as ‘wrappers’ that contribute to a woman’s self‐presentation as authoritative, knowledgeable, effective, and mysterious. Moreover, beyond merely presenting a woman as properly wrapped, acts of wrapping become part of the means through which women communicate specific religious knowledge to an audience. Self‐wrapping becomes an iconic illustration of numerous points of mystical Islamic knowledge, such as God’s hidden nature and the coexistence of outward (ẓāhir)and inner (bāṭin)truths.


Sara Kuehn, Marie Curie Fellow at the IDEMEC/CNRS and the Center of Islamic Theology (ZITH), University of Tübingen

‘A Real-Life Jātaka Tale’: Seeking Inspiration from the Life of Pīrzade-Shahīda Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan

The path-breaking declaration of Zia Inayat Khan (b. 1971), Pīr of the Inayati Sufi order, to include the name of his aunt Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan in the spiritual and genealogical lineage (silsila) of the Inayatiyya is bound to open up new spaces for women’s spiritual leadership, moving a step closer to the vision of Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882–1927; who developed globally Chishtī Sufi teachings and founded the largest Sufi community in the West, known today as Inayatiyya) of the ‘hour’ “when woman will lead humanity to a higher evolution.”

In the wake of Pīr Zia’s unprecedented announcement, the devotional representation of Noor-un-Nisa (‘Light of Womanhood’) is gradually developing as the Inayati community constructs a system of visual communication that will transform idiosyncratic features of Noor into an “available protocol of devotion” (to borrow the words of religious studies scholar David Morgan). In this paper, I explore chronologically the evolving narratives and progressive development of the ‘image’ of the first female saint in the Inayati silsila who was executed at Dachau concentration camp in Germany in defense of her faith on 13 September 1944 and is recognized for conducting “spiritual idealism in action and not just in words.” Consecrated to aid devotion, Noor’s imagery ‘travels’ both physically and mentally through media and mediation appealing to the whole sensorium of the viewer. Against this background, I then turn to the way in which it serves today as an integral part of Inayati visual practice and pivotal medium of Inayati piety; and how Noor—as historical figure and literary and visual icon in our time—became a subject of increasing attention and inspiration for the Inayati community and other audiences who envision, articulate and celebrate her vita which is in the process of being turned into a martyr’s passio.


Annika Schmeding, Harvard University

Mapping the Vision: Sufi Dream Guidance in Contemporary Afghanistan

Guidance through visions and dreams, both as passively experienced or as actively induced, have a long history in Islamic contexts. Despite their ephemeral character, they have an immediacy that can give them a material interiority unlike other imaginings—the familiar mixes with the novel, and the dreamer can wake up changed from the internal vision experience, sometimes even compelled to action in their waking life. This call to action is framed within a longstanding genealogy of Islamic dream theory and cultural historic embedding into dream interpretation (ta’bir), which elucidates the dream world as an in-between realm in which divine connection is possible.

The paper explores ethnographic cases of female Sufis and their dream visions in contemporary Afghanistan based on two years of in-country field research (2016-2018) among different Sufi orders, at shrines and within Sufi poetry circles. The talk will situate instances of female Sufis’ dream narration and their experience of dream guidance within their historical and cosmological environments, showing the dialogical reflections of religious and cultural dynamics within the visual. While dream narratives reflect socio-cultural resonances in an organized ecology of cultural forms and values, described by Shulman/Stroumsa (1999) as ‘dream cultures’, these narrative imaginaries also show a future-oriented and creative potential in the mystic realm, in which they lead the dreamer towards new decisions on the Sufi path. The internal dream path is therefore connected in multiple ways with internal striving of the Sufi dreamer, the perception of the divine and the waking life in which the productive potential of dreams manifest as decisions. While dreams are experienced privately, some are shared and become part of a ‘public’ realm, which opens up questions about the specific contexts in which they are imparted and the political as well as ethical dimensions of dreaming. The talk ultimately tries to offer insights into these internal worlds that shape the social engagement of Sufi women, asking what we can learn when we open our eyes to another woman’s internal sight.


Mark Soileau, Hacettepe University

Reflections from the Visual World of Zöhre Ana

Around the figure of Zöhre Ana, a contemporary female mystic in Ankara, Turkey considered by her followers a saint and known for her healing powers, has grown a substantial cult of hundreds if not thousands of devotees. As with any socio-cultural formation, the cult of Zöhre Ana has developed at the interface between her and her followers a unique experiential world that engages all of the senses of participants. This paper will explore the visual dimension of this world, as manifested especially in the constructed physical space, the ritual acts taking place there, and the discourse of Zöhre Ana herself. Analysis will thus be made of the arrangement and adornment with symbols of the various sections of the building which serves as the cult’s center, with special emphasis given to the artificial cave constructed in its basement. Relying on participation observation, the actions of participants in these sites will be described, with a view to understanding what all they are expected to see, to sense, and to experience there. These observations will then be contextualized through reference to the visual aspect of her own saintly biography, such as the visions she is said to have had, and visual elements of her poetry. Participants of course come with their own cultural-historical expectations, and attention will be given to how these are appealed to through symbolic prompts. In this way, the figure of Zöhre Ana, the people who congregate around her, the built environment, and the occasions for seeing can all be seen to come together in the visual world that emerges at the nexus. This paper will thus demonstrate how the culturally constructed space and the visual acts it prompts reflect both the cosmic world Zöhre Ana promotes and the cultural-historical world she and her followers inhabit.


Meliha Teparić, International University of Sarajevo, and Rosana Ratkovčić, University North

Visual Culture of Sufi Mysticism in the Works of Female Artists

The presentation deals with artistic interpretations of the visual culture of Sufi mystical teaching in the works of three female artists (Meliha Teparic, Valentina Lacmanović and Lala Rascic) who have different national, religious and cultural backgrounds. Not only do they draw on the various experiences and practices of Sufi mystical teaching, but these artists represent in their works elements of other cultures and mystical practices which emphasize universalism and the overcoming of imposed constraints, from religious systems to gender roles.

Meliha Teparic, starting from the personal experience of the Nashibendi dervish in her art work, approaches mystical spirituality from the context of time and space in which she lives while trying to erase the boundaries between religions, insisting on their sameness and origin. The artist emphasizes what is common and unique to all religions as a means to approach and understand them, in contrast to a common view of religion as a motivator for the prohibition of freedom of thought. In her work she tries to transcend diversity, conflict and division, as reflected in her video installation Alchemy of Soul.

Valentina Lacmanovic bases her artistic performances on the sema', a mystical dance of the Mevlevian dervishes, to articulate rotation as a universal movement, a movement that leads from vertical to horizontal expansion, a movement that constantly and simultaneously takes place throughout the universe, from the rotation of celestial bodies to atoms in human bodies, resulting in a series of works. Not only does the artist transmit these mystical experiences into artistic performances, but she also acts in a wider context, by organizing seminars on spinning.

Lala Rascic creates a video performance entitled Death and the Dervish, where she adopts the identity of Shaykh Ahmed Nurudin, the main character of Mesa Selimovic’s novel ‘Death and the Dervish’. Assuming a male identity, the artist points out the universality of the novel’s existentialistic themes of life and death, good and evil, and shows that they belong equally to men and women of all faiths and nations.

From the examples of these artists and the different contexts in which they operate, one can see how different mystical experiences and practices lead to almost identical goals.


Rafique Wassan, University of Bern

Progressive-Pluralist Sufi Heritage, New Mediatization and Female Artists in Sindh, Pakistan

The inclusive, pluralist artistic expression and intellectual heritage of the Sufi tradition of Islam in South Asia have inspired the progressive-secular modernists, cosmopolitan social thinkers, writers, and artists. Lewisohn’s (2017) pioneering essay on Rabindranath Tagore’s inspiration from Persian classical and Bengali Baul syncretic Sufi traditions and Fahmida Hussain’s (2001) work on the idea of women characters and image in the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif, the 18th-century Sindhi Sufi poet, takes us to rethink the new ways of engaging with Sufism beyond its hagiographic textuality and otherworldly spirituality. These works, I argue, specifically draw attention to conceptualize the contemporary progressive-intellectually informed understanding and modernist reconstruction of Sufi heritage. The progressive literary reconstruction of Shah Latif as a philosopher-poet by Fahimda Hussain among many other Sindhi progressive writers contains the recurrent theme of the portrayal and status of female characters that represent the ideals of struggle, fearlessness, endurance, and individual assertion. Premised on the idea of progressive-intellectual modernist conceptualization of Sufi heritage in Sindh, Pakistan, in this paper I investigate and analyse the gendered, feminist cultural production and women’s representation in the Sindhi Sufi tradition by the progressive modernist intelligentsia. To start with, I will present in the first section the biography of a female Sufi performer Mai Begum Faqeerani (d. 1987) in Sufi space. Then, by examining the female Sufi artists’ presence and representation in the contemporary Sufi discursive, performative and visual media space, I will introduce the idea of dynamic progressive-pluralist and inclusive identity and agency within heterodox Sufi Islamic tradition in the context of Sufi artistic expression, female presence and de-naturalization of the Mullah’s literal Islamic interpretation. Specifically, I will focus on the new mediatization of Sufi culture and the increasing visibility of young female Sufi artists in new media, visual space. I argue that the visuality of female Sufi performers in the new media is in part largely due to the patronage by the actors and agents of the progressive Sufi cultural identity and institutionalization of Sufism in Sindh i.e. the presence and performance of female artists in Sufi music festivals, conferences, events, TV programs, etc.


Pnina Werbner, Keele University

Colours and Visions: A Hybrid of Sufi Mysticism and Science

The Azimiya Sufi order in Manchester was led until her death by a woman saint, Baji Saeeda. The order was founded in 1960 and Baji Saeeda regarded herself as the third master and head of the order in the UK and Europe.  The founder of the order was Mohammed Azim Barkhia, who was based in Karachi, was known as Qalandar Baba Auliya. He died in 1979 and was succeeded by Khawaja Shams-u-Din Azeemi, an author of many books on Sufism, who is still alive.  It was he who appointed Baji Saeeda as head of the order in Europe. The order has seventy murakaba halls (visualising, meditation or contemplation halls) throughout Pakistan, while I was told that there are twelve in England, one each in Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and Moscow, and six or seven in the USA. 

The South Manchester Azimiya group has its murakaba hall above the large grocery supermarket of a keen female follower, a relatively educated woman from Lahore who is the right-hand woman of Baji Saeeda. She and Baji Saeeda also run workshops on diet and complementary medicine in community centres and at Salford University. The group meets twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, for repetitive prayers, zikr and meditation. On Sunday this is followed by a langar (meal cooked voluntary and distributed freely, provided in South Asia at Sufi lodges), prepared by members of the group and by Baji Saeeda herself.  Every week there are visitors from all over the UK. Although the group composition changes from one meeting to the next, there is a core of regulars, and even the visitors from other towns are intimately known since many of them have been to Manchester before, or have been visited in their cities by delegations from Manchester.

For the Azimiya a theory of colours and attributes as sources of spiritual energy is constantly linked to modern-day phenomena. Baji Saeeda’s right-hand woman explained:

‘We have 11,500 colours, each a different force working within ourselves. The Koran says, ‘We take Allah’s colours’, we are living on noor, light. There are ten lives of the soul. God said ‘be’, ‘kun’, and all the creative forces, attributes of God were gathered together, that is the ruh (eternal soul). 11,500 attributes of God created us. Without ruh nothing can exist, without it nothing can manifest itself. A mountain could not exist without ruh, it has its own way of existence. He said the mountains and trees exist for me. They have a shaoor - a consciousness, though not like ours. There are reptiles, fruit - everything that exists contains ruh, energy, which can be perceived with an infra-red camera which outlines fields of energy.  That is not the ruh but a reflection of it, evidence that something exists. It is a creative force. If we are made of 11,500 attributes of God, a fish may have only 20 attributes.’

So too, she explained on another occasion, all the holy places have enormous energy which can be seen by infrared light, and if you were to fly over in an aeroplane, you would see that Mecca shows the most energy, more than any other place on earth when this technology is used.

Colours are reflections of specific attributes. Each attribute has a job to do.  Attributes send messages which are called hormones in the human body. The messages to the hormones are from the attributes. 

The speaker drew several lines on a flip chart around the contours of the body which she said were the body’s ‘aura’. She also drew lines between ‘alam-e-arwa and the mind which she explained was different from the brain. It was all extremely scientific. The ruh descends into the body with God’s light (noor). The ruh creates communication and the mind receives the communication. The panial gland in the brain responds to moods, positive or negative. It can cause illness. Bad thoughts prevent the receptiveness to Allah’s light. They make the body opaque.

The paper will consider both the charisma of Baji Saeeda, a female saint, and why it is that Sufi mysticism, which in any case stresses the embodied dimensions of the path to knowledge, achieved through zikr, self-denial and the ‘polishing’ of the mirror of the heart, is here supplemented by apparently modern scientific ideas about light and colour.




H. Nur Artıran

Being a Woman on Earth

Since the creation of Adam and Eve, every culture and religion has discussed and debated woman’s place within society.  It remained a live topic. Every great society, school of thought, and civilization expressed their ideas on this issue.  These ideas formed the framework in which the value of her role was assessed. In that sense, a woman’s role in society has been problematic within Islamic societies as well and for some reason, precisely and completely understanding Islam’s view of women had not been possible. The idea that Islam does not grant women their proper value and drives them out of the social sphere always gained precedence. Of course, it is not possible to accept this.

In the Holy Quran, there is no discrimination between man and woman. Both men and women are held equally responsible for following Allah’s commands and prohibitions. Our beloved Prophet Hazrati Muhammed (may peace and blessings be upon him) emphasized that all men and women, who are all human beings, are equal like the teeth of a comb, and he described male and female as two halves of a whole. Therefore, worth in Islam is tied only to consciousness of one’s responsibility towards Allah (Taqwa) and closeness to the Beloved.

Although Islamic faith does not regard women inferior to men, but treats men and women as equals, especially in terms of spiritual and moral matters, due to traditions, culture, and habits left over from the Jahiliyyah (the “Age of Ignorance,” the period before the advent of Islam in 610 CE) women were always – unfortunately – held back to a place behind men, and forced to struggle for existence since very old times.


Gülizar Cengiz

A Female Dervish, Kadıncık Ana, in the Garden of Spiritual Realities

Since the dawn of civilization humans have always witnessed the power of their Creator, and they have always striven to follow the inner path towards the “Lord” by heeding the methods of how to be close to Him. On this journey the principle of “he who knows himself, knows his Lord” has reminded us of our neediness, liberated us from ignorance and brought us continually, step by step, closer to God. This coming closer, and the idea of unity and unification, has increased humanities awareness of God’s visible and hidden names. One result of this awareness is that God as the “necessary being” (Vâcib-ûl vücûd) borrows being to all things, that accordingly every “being” is in essence one and a manifestation of one being, and that differences are only due to our limited, human perspective. This principle transcends common gender differences, which is attested in phrases like “there is no masculinity or femininity, there is only He, there is only His beauty” or “It is He who is the source of all being” in the literature of Sufism.

The idea that all differences only exist on the plane of “attributes”, and that on the plane of the “essence” all existing things are one, are reflected in the following words of Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli:

Love’s tongue does not distinguish between man or woman,

all has its right place in His creation.

In our eyes, there is no difference between man or woman,

fault and imperfection is your perspectives.

The motif of the “female dervish” (literally “dervish sister”) is of paramount importance for the Bektashi tradition, and its most beautiful example is Kadıncık Ana Sultan – also known as Kutlu Melek/ Fatıma Nuriye in the lands of Anatolia. She is not only present in the oral traditions but also in the practices of Anatolian Sufis. Alongside her spiritual teacher Hacı Bektaş and the Saints of Anatolia and principles such as “divine love” (ilahiaşk), surrender to God (teslimiyet), “the inner journey” (seyr-û sülûk), service, annihilation in God (fenâ), subsistence in God (bekâ) and the notion of the “perfect man” (İnsan-ı Kâmil), she constitutes an indispensable aspect of Bektashi teaching. Part of the “Bacıyân-ı Rûm” and as the “custodian of the Master” she reminds us and the next generations that faithfulness and loyalty is not something given. In this context, one has to ask: “Is a female lion, not a lion?”. And it is indeed Kadıncık Ana who is an appropriate answer to this question: Her efforts on the spiritual path are exemplary, and she personifies the perfect disciple combining the indispensable ethical attributes of love and respect.


Fariha Fatima al-Jerrahi

Women and the Prophetic Way

In Allah’s Boundless Compassion and Love

May the infinite sweetness of the good pleasure of Allah most High be upon all of us living in this divine creation.

May we be filled always with gratitude and love.

May we be guided by the principles of loving compassion and fairness.

May our lives be inspired, beautiful and creative.

May the divine feminine and divine masculine be in balance.

May we be the ever-turning ones, the ever-grateful ones, the victorious ones, the ones who wear the crown of love.

May we share the bounty of our lives with all those who come to us.

And may the blessings of divine Peace shower always upon the beloved Muhammad, salallahu aleyhi wa sellim, upon beloved Fatima, beloved Aisha, beloved Khadija, beloved Ali, beloved Maryam, beloved Jesus, and upon all of the Prophets and Mothers and Angels, Subtle Beings and Friends of Allah who have been sent into this world.

We are in the time of the woman, foreseen by visionaries and stated to his lovers by Muzaffer Effendi, the saint of Love who came to the West to pour the wine of love into all hearts. He opened the floodgates of love, like a messiah who has come to save the world. The principle disciple of Jesus, aleyhi salam, is Magdalene. The first believer of the Prophet Muhammad, may he be showered in divine peace, is Khadija. The first Khalif of the Prophet is Fatima, aleyhi salam. The transmitter of one third of his religion is his beloved wife Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her. How do they hold these exalted positions? Because they love and they followed love. They left the world to follow love. They left the world of discussions, of theology, of differences of religion, origins and social standing, the world of competition and conflict, of construction and destruction and wars. They loved and they received the crown of love.

Love has come in these latter days of the world speaking through Mevlana Rumi, through the saints of love in the East, and through the modern saints to save us from our conflicts and dilemmas and differences.

This is why we must heed the guidance of the feminine.  Because she is the emanation of Love.


Cemalnur Sargut

The Meaning of Motherhood in Tasawwuf

The hadith saying “The heaven is under the feet of mothers” alludes to the unification of the four rivers of heaven in woman. The river of water means modesty; the river of milk refers to the knowledge (ilm) of Allah; the river of honey represents unity (tawhid) and the river of wine alludes to the divine love (ashq) for Allah.

It is believed that the reality (haqiqa) of a woman bearing these four feautures is heaven; that actually the reality of one’s low self/ego (nafs) - as woman represents nafs in religous texts - bearing these four feautures is heaven. Such nafs is one that has progressed. And today if people can acquire these feautures through their nafs, then they can realize heaven both in this world and hereafter. May Allah bestow such a blessing to us all.