AKU-ISMC alumnus presents at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences Paris

News 2010

​AKU-ISMC alumnus presents at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, Paris

November 26, 2010

​Exploring the question of spiritual authority amongst woman intercessors in the city of Sewan Sharif, was the focus of the presentation of Omar Kasmani at a conference entitled, Shrines, Pilgrimages and Wanderers in Muslim South Asia.

The conference was held at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences or École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHSS), Paris from 24-25 September 2010. EHSS is a leading French institution for research and higher education, whose focus is on research and research training in the social sciences.

Kasmani, who graduated from Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in 2009, is presently a doctoral candidate at the Freie Universität - Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures & Societies. His presentation extends from his graduate dissertation entitled, De-centering Devotion: The Complex Subject of Sehwan Sharif.

The abstract for Kasmani’s conference presentation, Re-arranging Gender: the question of spiritual authority amongst two women intercessors of Sehwan sharif, is available below.

Time and again, in the contest-rich arena of Sehwan sharif, I have come across women intercessors, some of whom are accomplished pirs and fakirs whereas others strive as they continue to reshape the ritual landscape, ‘embodying the scared as a lived reality’ (Basu and Werbner: 1998). The phenomenon of ‘women as sites of divine agency’ (Hollywood: 2004) is significant with respect to Sehwan. Not only does it render complex the sayyid-centred model of piri-faqiri, it also supports an earlier claim that spiritual authority and legitimacy thereof is sometimes sought beyond concerns of lineage and gender, especially amongst non-sayyid women aspirants at the shrine (Kasmani: 2009). More importantly, if gender is grounded in the stylised repetition of acts through time, as Butler would have it, the democratization of piri-muridi harboured by a post-1960s public control of shrines in Pakistan, I suggest, highlights amongst its female subjects, the possibility of a different kind of repeating or a ‘subversive repetition of that style’ (Butler: 1988).

My work focuses on the primary modes of spiritual authorization available to women intercessors of Sehwan. In other words, this paper aims to explain how women subjects, engaged in a project of self-legitimisation, creatively draw upon a culturally intelligible template, which is both socially scripted and communicated.

1.I first demonstrate, how contrary to their male counterparts’ position, women faqirs stress upon their femininity in order to validate their distinct positions as intercessors and spiritual healers.

2.Second, albeit briefly, I reflect in my discussion of the two cases, how these women creatively dissociate themselves from an idea of the feminine prescribed within a shared cultural template.

Data from the field suggests that it is through a reiterative performance of gender that women are able to question, subvert and sometimes realign its meanings. This process of negotiation, I contend, occurs in the interactive space of a cultural vocabulary, which regards women as impure and incapable of being at par with men, a notion these women attempt to address by a careful rearrangement of the gender matrix.

Razia Velji
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations
Email: razia.velji@aku.edu