A Doorway to the Divine: Islamic Bodies and the Sufi Saints as Connecting the Living to the Dead
Lecture by Ellen Amster (McMaster University)
Death: Confronting the Great Divide.
Speaker Series 2016-2017
Thursday, 6 April, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library 100
Nineteenth-century French visitors to Morocco remarked that pilgrims in North Africa visited the tombs of Islamic “saints” (awliya’) searching for healing from a variety of mental, physical, and moral afflictions. These were dead who brought healing to the living—through touch, prayer, or cures performed at the shrine. The Moroccan jurist Hasan al-Yusi (d. 1691) called these saints “a medicine and a cure,” for the saint “connects the various layers of reality to one another;” he is an axis around whom reality revolves (qutb) and a murabit (marabout, one who binds men to God). Saint tombs also have political significance. In visiting graves, Moroccans constructed a topographical map of the collective past, a geographical representation of the Islamic political community (umma) and God’s presence in the world, a political imaginary yet contested in the contemporary world. The key connecting the living to the dead is knowledge, a knowing that realizes the potentiality of the human body as an isthmus between the “oceans of God and the Cosmos,” as the Qur’an describes, and a station for the Lord of the Two Worlds to reside. In this talk, we consider the hagiographical compendium of Muhammad ibn Ja’far al-Kattani, Salwat al-Anfas wa Muhadathat al-Akyas bi man Uqbira min al-Ulama’ wa al-Sulaha bi Fas, and the city of Fez. In Morocco, we see how this knowing operated in physical space and time, and how French colonial interventions and science impacted Moroccan understandings of death and life.
Ellen Amster is the Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine and is jointly appointed in History and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Faculty of Health Sciences. She has been a Fulbright scholar, a Chateaubriand scholar of the French government, and received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a historian of the Islamic world, France, and medicine. Her research addresses the relationship of citizen bodies to the body politic, the history of biomedicine in global context, religion and science, birth and maternal health, the body as the center of political sovereignty, and the encounter of French and Islamic scientific epistemologies. Her 2013 book, Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam, and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956, is an interdisciplinary study of health, healing, and the body in Morocco.
This event is free and open to the public.
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Series Funders and Co-Sponsors: UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment), UF Smathers Libraries, UF Office of Research, School of Art + Art History's Harn Eminent Scholar Lecture Series, UF International Center, UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UF Department of History, UF Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, UF Center for Latin American Studies, UF Department of Religion, Alachua County Library District, UF College of Veterinary Medicine, UF Digital Worlds Institute, UF Honors Program.
For an overview of Death: Confronting the Great Divide, click here.