This paper draws from ethnographic research conducted in England amongst British Muslim women who engage in Mevlevi Sufi practices of sohbet (sacred poems) reading and sema (turning/whirling) as a source for spiritual healing and meaning making. Traditional understanding of mystical experience concerns transcendence of self and one’s corporeality in pursuit of the divine, wherein celestial unification is sought. This outlook reduces corporeality to mere superficiality and bodily and vocal expressions of worship are therefore taken as carrying less significance than dhikr (mindful remembrance of God). I explore how Sufi practices influence women’s notions of the body in daily life and in ritual worship, and how body movement and vocal expressions of sema and the sohbet carry deep meaning for Mevlevi female members in England, both in terms of their worship of God as well as their agency and female selfhood. Through semi-structured interviews and participant observation, I explore the subjective experiences of British Muslim women of the Mevlevi tariqa and how embodied and vocalised spiritual practices influence these women’s understanding of their bodies make sense of their embodied self through a somatic process that attends to both body and mind. The research highlights Muslim women’s engagement in and expressions of ancient Islamic practices in present-day London, England.
Student, PhD, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada
SUFISM; MUSLIM WOMEN; PRAYER, SPIRITUALITY; GENDER; EMBODIMENT; ISLAM
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