Feminine aspects of Islamic Saint Legends

One of the interesting things about folk relgion is that it is a realm which lies between the border of what is acceptable and what is condemnded by the religious orthodoxy. It is not something which has emerged in a necessarily distinct or clear way in terms of its belief system, i.e. the belief in baraka and jnun etc, lacking the organizational power structure of the orthodox religion. Often folk religion seems to blur the distinctions between saints and demons, paganism and monotheism, as well as the gender roles of men and women. I was particularly interested in this last element in the Crapanzano reading, and the tension between those who inherit baraka conventionally, that is hereditarily, and those who inherit is through unconventional means. Regarding the former baraka is passed from father to son down along the line, and only this form of baraka is transferable to other people. Those saints who inherit baraka non-heriditarily cannot pass on this baraka later on. 

However, in the case of Sidi Ali and Sidi Ahmed, who manage to inherit tranferable baraka from saints of whom they are not related to, they accomplish this by essentially feminizing themselves and taking a passive role. Sidi Ali and Ahmed must become “impregnated” with the baraka passively, in order to be reborn as a saint, and they accomplish this subversive passing on of baraka despite the fact that they did not inherit it from any hereditary relations. In this sense, the saint switches his gender role from male to female in order to receive the baraka in an unconventional way,so that he can then be reborn as the male saint. I think the ways Sidi Ahmed and Ali used gender reversals to empower themselves, despite their status as individuals who are not related to saints, shows how the blurring of distinctions caused by folk relgion can be used to empower both women and those who lack financial or familial bacground.

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