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Sufi Narratives of Intimacy

Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn 'Arabī, Gender, and Sexuality

Saʿdiyya Shaikh
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Sufi Narratives of Intimacy
    Book Description:

    Thirteenth-century Sufi poet, mystic, and legal scholar Muhyi al-Din ibn al-'Arabi gave deep and sustained attention to gender as integral to questions of human existence and moral personhood. Reading his works through a critical feminist lens, Sa'diyya Shaikh opens fertile spaces in which new and creative encounters with gender justice in Islam can take place. Grounding her work in Islamic epistemology, Shaikh attends to the ways in which Sufi metaphysics and theology might allow for fundamental shifts in Islamic gender ethics and legal formulations, addressing wide-ranging contemporary challenges including questions of women's rights in marriage and divorce, the politics of veiling, and women's leadership of ritual prayer.Shaikh deftly deconstructs traditional binaries between the spiritual and the political, private conceptions of spiritual development and public notions of social justice, and the realms of inner refinement and those of communal virtue. Drawing on the treasured works of Sufism, Shaikh raises a number of critical questions about the nature of selfhood, subjectivity, spirituality, and society to contribute richly to the prospects of Islamic feminism as well as feminist ethics more broadly.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0193-9
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknōwledgments (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Tales of Contention Muslim Gender Imaginaries (pp. 1-34)

    Once upon a time, a wise and generous story unfolded. This is how it might be imagined.¹ It is Cairo on a sweltering afternoon, and the faithful are streaming into a beautiful, simple mosque. The Friday (jumuʿa) prayers are about to begin. In the courtyard, people take their ablutions in the cool fountain water that provides welcome relief from the heat of the Cairene afternoon. A group of women sitting close together is silently reciting the Qurɔān. An old man, his face kissed gently by time, is sitting easily upright with eyes closed, meditating on the beautiful names of God....

  5. Chapter One Craving Completion Sufism, Subjectivity, and Gender before Ibn ʿArabī (pp. 35-60)

    Springing from the heart of Islam’s spiritual reservoir,Taṣwwuf, or Sufism, can be described as the process by which a believer embraces the full spiritual consequences of God’s oneness (tawḥīd).¹ The goal of the Sufi path is to enable a human being, through the cultivation of virtuous excellence (ihsān), to commune directly and experientially with her Creator. In the historical development of Sufism, one encounters varied and increasingly sophisticated notions of the mystical path, orṭarīqa. Such a path generally entails that the Sufi aspirant, under the guidance of a spiritual master, follows a practical method of purification and refinement...

  6. Chapter Two Charting Ibn ʿArabī’s Religious Anthropology (pp. 61-94)

    It is a beautiful starlit night. Ibn ʿArabī, a Sufi teacher revered throughout Muslim lands, is within the sacred precincts of the Kaɔba, the cubelike focal point of Muslim prayers in Mecca.¹ This evening, the house of worship is characterized by a feeling of almost intense quiet despite the large number of devotees. Savoring the gentle breeze caressing his face, Ibn ʿArabī experiences a profound state of tranquility. Circling the outer perimeter of the holy sanctuary, he becomes increasingly oblivious of his surroundings, his state of contemplation simultaneously expanding and intensifying. Suddenly, a few lines of poetry leap to his...

  7. Chapter Three Mysticism and Gender A Hermeneutic of Experience (pp. 95-112)

    Ibn ʿArabī’s sophisticated cosmology, his profound understandings of human nature and the processes of spiritual transformation for men and women alike, and his sometimes radical gendered legal positions were birthed from within the complexities of his experience, both mystical and mundane. Using the insightful feminist adage that “the personal is political,” this chapter explores aspects of Ibn ʿArabī’s life and relationships as he presents them, imagining how these experiences created the background against which he received mystical insights and shaped his mystical understandings. For an epistemology of spiritual experience, mystical “openings” occur within a flesh-and-blood person whose personal disposition and...

  8. Chapter Four Reading Gender and Metaphor in Ibn ʿArabī’s Cosmos (pp. 113-140)

    In engaging the tension between perspectives that challenge traditional gender stereotypes and those that reiterate normative conventions, feminist readers encounter a set of more nuanced methodological and theoretical considerations. At the outset, it is imperative to situate Ibn ʿArabī’s teachings on gender within the assumptions of his worldview—that is, to take seriously the Sufi framework of his engagement with gender. As is characteristic of all Ibn ʿArabī’s works, paradox, ambivalence, and contradiction are part of his mystical methodology. Since reality “as it really is” or mystical experiences give a glimpse into that which cannot be understood or captured in...

  9. Chapter Five The Poetics and Politics of Adam and Eve (pp. 141-172)

    Now that I have charted Ibn ʿArabī’s gender principles macrocosmically, I proceed to explore some of his other teachings on men and women, including their relationships of love, desire, sexuality, and marriage. In particular, I focus on a number of interweaving creation narratives, primarily that of Adam and Eve, which form in the Abrahamic tradition the mythic center and site for discussions of intimate relationships between men and women. Within a variety of religious traditions, creation myths function as sacred stories of human origin, presenting religious communities with symbolic codes for understanding many dimensions of the human condition, including mappings...

  10. Chapter Six Witnessing God in Women A Different Story of Creation (pp. 173-202)

    This chapter explores the ways in which Ibn ʿArabī’s propels the reader into a different realm of imagining gender by presenting powerful antinomian images of the feminine, sexuality, and women. I begin by examining his depictions of the divine feminine and his related claim that God is most perfectly witnessed in women. His argument is peppered by constant invocations and references to the deep existential intimacy between man and woman as reflected in the primordial myth of Adam and Eve’s creation. This leads us to examine Ibn ʿArabī’s ideas on sex and sexual intimacy between men and women and how...

  11. Chapter Seven Ibn ʿArabī’s and Islamic Feminism (pp. 203-228)

    In this final chapter, I outline how my approach to gender in Ibn ʿArabī’s work differs from other contemporary interpretations of his work. In the process, I highlight and reiterate how his central teachings offer unique ways to engage the process and goals of Islamic feminism. I conclude with some reflections on how Sufism in general and Ibn ʿArabī’s teachings in particular shift the foundations of the debates in relation to both Islamic and secular feminism, offering enriching ways to engage questions of gender.

    Given the nuanced and often subtle manner in which Ibn ʿArabī’s approach both incorporates and transforms...

  12. Appendix: Selected Poems from the Dīwān Ibn ʿArabī (pp. 229-232)
  13. Notes (pp. 233-254)
  14. Bibliography (pp. 255-266)
  15. Index of Qurɔānic Verses (pp. 267-268)
  16. Index ōf Traditiōns (Aḥadīth) (pp. 269-270)
  17. General Index (pp. 271-286)
  18. Back Matter (pp. 287-287)