Shuwwafat and Ritual Traditions

For the duration of our class this week the Shuwwafat has been the key topic of discussion. When reading the passage Shuwwafat as Innovators: From Seers to Self-Made Businesswomen, we learn of a woman in power. The Shuwwafat is someone that women go to in order to recieve advice on their problems regarding their husbands, sons, daughters or fathers. The Schuwwafat is someone who is known and highly respected by Morroccan followers of the Islamic faith. In this religion, it is rare to see a woman hold a job or position of power. The Schuwwafat holds a stable job and directs people in their daily life decisions.

The Shuwwafat is able to provide solutions to client’s problems by following instructions, which are given to her by the spirits. The rituals which the Shuwwafat must perform include dropping coal into the fire in order to make smoke which is then waved into the Shuwwafat’s face and burping loudly for a long period of time. She completes her daily ritual before the client may enter the room. This ritual is purely for protection of the client. The client is then allowed to enter the room and pay the Shuwwafat before the session begins.

During these sessions, the Shuwwafat can predict the future of her clients. She determines these women’s fate by calling in the spirits and thereby finding solutions to these women’s problems. In the past Shuwwafat had recommended sacrifice for protection of possession by the spirits after each client session. After each session the client is able to find her rightful path by following the Schuwwafat’s instructions. These instructions usually involve lighting seven candles over a period of time and returning to the Shuwwafat when the lighting of the candles is completed. Another method the Shuwwafat may suggest for guidance is for the client to keep an amulet with her at all times. I found it interesting that a woman can only become a Shuwwafat and learn the rituals by observing another Shuwwafat during a session.

Zar and Shuwaafas

This past week we have looked at zar and the battle of women that possess spirits. Women that possess these spirits face a social and personal battles, whether its their family or husbands. This week we looked at zaar and its influence on women as a community. Earlier this semester we studied Jinns and their influences on society. Zaar spirits are a form of jinn but intended to fulfill a different role. The use of Jinns was for social control. For example, don’t go out at night, that’s when the jinns are out. While zaars are away for women to justify their wants and needs just in a more sophisticated and extreme way. Though the Quran does reference jinns, orthodox Islam does not find zaar ceremonies acceptable in their religion.
The more we study the signs of possession the more I believe its what we know in the western view call anxieties, PTSD, etc. In our society these illnesses are looked at as a normal part of life and we have many ways for people to deal with them.
What was interesting to me was that only women were looked as the only people that could experience these illnesses and if men did experience these illnesses that were looked at as de- masculine. I’m interested in how one becomes diagnosed with jinn or spirits.
Lastly, today in class we talked about shuwaafas and find comparisons among them. Is it their childhood trauma? It is the entrapment from being married to early in life? Or is it the entrapment and stress that comes from being a new parent? It’s the act of those how experience trauma and successfully overcoming it and wants to take what they learn and help those who are experiencing the same problems. In this sense it is somewhat of a sisterhood and leaning on each other in a society- that zaar is also suppose to create and accomplish.

Gender Differences In the Role of Jinn

Throughout our discussion of popular religion, especially regarding jinn, I have come to realize recurring themes that are prevalent in the many Middle-Eastern societies that believe in these spirits. In the many places and times in which jinn are referenced in our discussions, the concept of control always seems to come up. However, upon reading our newest sections, I have come to see the differences between the sexes of the role of jinn.

In the male sense, jinn are seen as a source of control in social interactions amongst individuals. Within these relationships between males and jinn,the social and spiritual boundaries of the material world and the supernatural world both act as a means of preserving social order amongst those living in it. The punishments associated with displeasing the jinn, usually consisting of illnesses and injuries, are enough to prevent individuals from crossing these social barriers and exposing them to these risks. In one particular instance mentioned by Crapanzano, a man was said to have been struck by a jinn for simply leaving the town in which he lived (8). The fear of being struck by jinn was constant and essentially prevented individuals from differentiating themselves from society and the natural order.

In the female sense, jinn are seen as a means of power, something they often do not have in these Middle-Eastern societies. When a woman is struck by a jinn, it is believed that she had broken a social norm or barrier causing the jinn to attack her. However, instead of being viewed as an outcast or mentally ill, she is just viewed as being an unlucky one that was struck by a jinn (Boneham, 71). When possessed, women go through a trance ceremony in order to rid the spirit from her body. In this ceremony, the jinn speaks through the woman making demands, often materialistic ones, and commanding the attention of those around her (Boneham, 71). At this point, the woman is the center of attention, being tended to by her husband and receiving offerings they would never get otherwise.

The differences between men and women and the role they associate jinn with can be interpreted many ways. In this particular interpretation, jinn play a controlling and negative role in the male’s life while in the case of women, the jinn act as a means of acquiring power and attention, something they don’t often get. The jinn allow for the creation of societies in which there is very little deviation from the status quo. They prevent any one person from taking too much control while they keep the rest of society in check. In the female’s situation the tendency to externalize the responsibility of women in jinn illnesses allows women to take risks, step outside of their usual social expectations, and to gain power and control equivalent to their male counterparts.

Contradictions with the Shuwwâfât

Every aspect of the shuwwâfât is amazing to study, in large part because I had never known of a position of power that a Muslim woman could hold in a very orthodox society. It was really interesting to see the wide range of backgrounds that shuwwâfât come from, to analyze what led them to their current profession and how it may affect their working life to this day. The fact that most of the case studies shared the trait of some childhood trauma is sad, but also understandable and somewhat inspiring. No one should have to go through abusing or a loss of a stable family relationship at a young age, but many of these women had such experiences and are now helping others cope with their own problems. In most cultures, impressive childhood experiences, good or bad, can often have an influence on the child’s future career choice. It is also notable that the women believe that Allah willed for them to become shuwwâfât – this gives them an external explanation for why bad things had happened to them, and one that would make it easier for them to come to terms with the trauma.

The shuwwâfât see their work as their calling, in spite of the many difficulties that their predecessors have obviously faced. Some of the individual shuwwâfâ are able to maintain a supportive family relationship while they practice, but the majority is faced with being divorced after finding this calling or being called to this path after they become a divorcée or a widow. The women may not choose to go on this path; but once they accept that they have been called to do so, they pursue it even in the face of losing their husbands and being tossed with their many children into a social system that is set against them, which I think is extremely admirable. By becoming a shuwwâfâ, they are also embarking on pretty religiously transgressive territory. Their practices are not condoned by the orthodox officials, but they are also not condemned outright.

The shuwwâfât are in a strange middle ground with everyone around them. They are women with individuality and power, which threatens the patriarchal system; but they are still allowed to work, with some instances of the authorities intervening so they could work in peace. Their rituals and healing methods are derived from the work of witches and shamans, but some shuwwâfât have a huge, international, high-class client pool. The people of the city they live in view them as “ignorant of Islam, uneducated and backward, charlatans who are out to get their clients’ money, and prostitutes,” but they are still consulted on a regular basis and people are willing to accept certain cases of their friends and family being healed by a shuwwâfâ. The shuwwâfât and their role in society are filled with opposites and contradictions, which serves to make them all the more fascinating.

The In-Betweeners

When working with the concept of liminality within Middle Eastern religion, it is difficult to stop at one specific type. The type of liminality that I am discussing currently in the upcoming integrative essay is the intermediary that a cultural figure plays between social order and disorder. This brief moment of letting go of certain social expectations, brought on by firm belief in the cultural figures whose rituals require some deviation from the normative, holds the possibility for long term social and cultural change. But we will save that for the actual paper.

The idea of liminality, however, is not solely confined to finding that place or moment of chaos during which social change was most likely. When I first read the prompt, I was very confused and turned to Wikipedia to attempt to understand how liminality could possibly play a role with cultural figures. I read and reread the prompt before I understood the concept as, “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.” (Wikipedia, Liminality) To me, this made perfect sense. Of course the Hamadsha and the Zaar ceremonies produced new people with new social identities and the thing that we were supposed to focus on in our paper was the trance. (This was all before I finally turned to Bilu on page 145 and read his definition.) Sidi Ali and Sidi Ahmed for the Hamadsha, the shuwwafat, and the initiates in the Zaar were the cultural figures that held the intermediary positions between Allah and man. This meant that as an intermediary, they ensured the safe passage between what one was and what they became during the trance. During the trance, it is assumed that the spirit possessor has full control of the participant in these ceremonies and it is only once the individual is able to pinpoint what the spirit needs that he or she are able to develop their working relationship. I assumed that this moment of liminality for all of the participants of the ceremonies (and the shuwwafa when they are vocalizing the needs of Aisha Qandisha) is where they must be protected while they undergo their journey.

The idea of this liminality that focused on being in-between who you were and who you will become fell through once I realized that we hadn’t talked enough about the status of one’s soul during the trance, but it also made me think about how we have seen cultural figures stand as intermediaries before. Saints, in particular, are the most universal and accessible figures to whom everyone prays and they are so powerful as cultural figures because people talk about miracles that require power that they gained from their close relationship with the spirit world. Zaar and Hamadsha participants, too, have to tap into the spirit world and become stronger because of their special connection with the spirit world that others don’t have. We have talked about this personal power being a placebo effect for those who need to believe they are powerful until they actually become powerful. While it is necessary for these people to believe in a power outside of themselves to create their new identity, the belief in this power is also a sort of belief in oneself. The need for these intermediaries who have connections to both these human and spirit worlds are powerful and abundant because people need some sort of sense that they can improve themselves. This duality of power coming from oneself and from the spirit world is flexible so that, like the Hamadsha, the personalization of the shuwwafa healing, and every other versions of healing we have experienced in this course, people are able to build themselves as a person using however much personal and spirit help they require.

Childhood traumas initiates possession

Rausch wrote about four types of shuwwafa: Spirit medium/ seer, spirit medium/ casting/breaking spells, “therapist” and cult-leader- spirit possession healing. The role of the cult-leader seemed similar to the zaar rituals because it’s not about exorcism, it’s about creating a better relationship with the jinn. Within the article written by Rausch, there were nine case studies that accentuated different dimensions of the four types of shuwwafa but all had different back grounds and childhoods.

Latifa was interesting because she married off well and she was successful. Her husband was in the military and she owned a business in two different cities. She was an independent woman. She was also educated which helped her become a shuwwafa. Her possession was soothed when she began to go to school. Her life circumstance was changed when she gained a new purpose in life by becoming a shuwwafa. She exemplifies a modern woman.

Gender roles and the Zar

While the article Empowering Spirits: Women and Zaar Spirit Possession went into great detail regarding the ceremonies women partook in when possessed, the article The Work of Zar: Women and Spirit Possession in Northern Sudan, not only tells of these rituals but also explains the true meaning of Zar.

Zar are like Jinn in numerous respects. They have lives of their own, they form families as well as take numerous shapes in order to disguise themselves, and they can assume human form. Unlike the Jinn, which reside within humans, Zar appear above human heads. They apply pressure to the human head as well as their necks and have the power to control people’s moods, bodily sensations, and desires (Sax, 114). When the Zar disagrees with the human and causes pain to the human, an appeasement ceremony takes place.

During the appeasement ceremony, the Zar and human reach an understanding and the Zar returns the human to its original state of health. While the women are in the appeasement ceremony, the women enter into a state of trance. This trance is where the Zar and human can communicate. One does not know how to trance until taught how to do so in a controlled manner by following the trance ritual. This controlled manner allows for a setting where they can control their own bodies, rather than having the Zar enter the human realm and overtake their bodies(Sax, 115). If the women have a child later on life, the child will then have the same Zar.

I thought it was interesting to read about how women and men’s rituals throughout this religion differ drastically. There was much inequality in the traditions as evidenced throughout the passage. When reading this passage I learned how women are meant to be kept behind the wall and in their homes. They are supposed to supply the men with children and raise these children. Their jobs remain in the household. This limitation leaves the women with little freedom. While the men are circumcised which opens them up to the world, the act of clitoral tissue removal and the infibulations of their external labia close the women off to the outside world. These circumcisions parallel the way women and men of this religion actually live. While men are open to live their lives, women must spend the rest of their lives in confinement. While living on the “outside,” men are given the job of protecting and providing for the women.

Shuwaffa and Zar Comparisons

Author Margaret Rausch writes in “Bodies, Boundaries, and Spirit Possession” the different possessions in society they control and she describes how many women become Shuwaffa if they are regarded as a healer or better yet a modern-day therapist. Shuwaffa endures a more comfortable lifestyle for women who no longer have husbands and may be alone only having their children around them as a source of love and comfort. However, some women who get married often lose their husbands due to the shuwaffa lifestyle.

Rausch describes in this chapter how women who are regarded as shuwaffa offer guidance to other women who may be concerned with difficult relationships that are going on in their lives. All women have different issues and areas of stress, and shuwaffa helps women with domestic problems usually pertaining to male relationships resolve their problems.

These women are recognized as healers and uphold a certain type of pride that we have not seen yet in other Muslim readings pertaining to this course. The most interesting part reading about shuwaffa was that men were not important to their lives in the sense of supporting and providing them with a beautiful life. Women that are recognized as shuwaffa have their own social freedom and way of living. Women who owned the title of shuwaffa simply want to feel trusted in their field of work.

What I have learned over the past few weeks is that shuwaffa is a lot more intimidating to a woman’s husband then the zar is because the shuwaffa threatens the masculinity of man’s self-pride. The zar does not necessarily threaten a man or in some cases a husband’s reputation in a society because women who take control of zar usually make domestic decisions that can be beneficial to the entire family. However the men of those women do not necessarily need to follow the shuwaffa actions. On the other hand, women who posses shuwwafa truly threaten a mans image in their culture or society because they are making social and financial decisions on their own that typically reasons why women lose their husbands. Men do not want to feel threathened in the slightest, but shuwaffa gives them a sense of fear that they are not as important or as needed because of women possessing shuwaffa.

The Shuwwafat

This week we have seen how women in Morocco can use the idea of jinn possession to gain independence and self-sufficiency. Women who have been possessed by jinn can become a shuwafa, thereby using their experience with the jinn world to help other women in similar situations. This can be a very lucrative career for women and can give them control in an otherwise male-dominated society. Many of the women discussed in Rausch’s “Bodies, Boundaries, and Spirit Possession” have husbands who do not approve of their wives’ roles as shuwafat, showing that this society places a lot of importance on masculinity. Males are generally expected to be the one in the marriage who works and supports the family, so they often feel threatened and emasculated by their successful wives. Interestingly, these women continue to fulfill their roles as shuwafat despite their husbands’ disapproval; and in many cases, the husbands end up divorcing the wife.

Lately we have been discussing how women gain more agency through folk religion, but this is the first time we have seen women using the jinn to gain independence. Some of the women are so successful that they own multiple apartments or houses and can live fairly comfortably. I found it interesting that some of the women Rausch discussed had husbands who either supported or simply allowed their wives to be shuwafat. I would like to learn more about these men in particular and how their upbringing or beliefs affected their abilities to accept their wives’ paths.

The Shuwwaffa role in society has survived and has been transformed through urbanization in order to still serve an active function in a modern society. However, it is interesting that this niche was and still is prevalent even though these women are practicing magic in order to promote agency for women in a male dominated society.

The Shawaffat are categorized into four categories: spirit medium/seer, spirit medium/spell breaker and caster, cult leader/spirit possession healing, and “therapist.” The first three categories are roles of Shawaffa, which existed before in society, but the last one is a construction developed from modernity. All of these roles are meant to serve and help women afflicted with a variety of spirit related problems. This folk role of the Shuwwaffa is holding on to legitimacy because they are pursuing problems related to Jnun, which is mentioned in the Koran.

I find this interesting because they are using magic as a way to counteract the jinn, which could be perceived as witchcraft, a practice that is prohibited in normative religion. However, like the Hamadsha, becoming a Shawaffa is an elevation of status. This creates a double standard within this society where some women practicing magic are deemed a hindrance towards society (witch) or a symbol of women empowerment (Shawaffa). This leads me to believe that a Shuwwaffa is essentially an accepted form of witchcraft.

Regardless, the Shuwwaffat are a significant part of society even though they are arguably practicing a traditional taboo practice. Their response to modernity made these women innovate their roles through the use of advertisements, calling cards, and access to money. These innovations allow the Shawaffat to continue to be a functioning part in society.