One theme that I have noticed is the reoccurrence of people turning to popular religious customs and beliefs in order to fit into society’s official religious expectations. While this could be seen in many readings with males, the most interesting example of this concept for me was in the recent readings about Zar, which is a structure mainly for females.
In some of the Muslim societies that we have been reading about, women are supposed to conform to a certain lifestyle. They are to be chased and to produce numerous offspring (especially sons) among other things. Not doing this readily leads to possession, which is kind of like a safety when women cannot or will not conform to everything that is expected of them. However, in being possessed to conform to society, women are behaving in a transgressive manner. While Zar and Jinn come from the same basis, Jinn are allowed and recognized by authoritative Islam and Zar is not. This is because the Zar is a locus of female power and gives women an active role in a society and culture that is trying to stay away from that. It is almost like the banned female counterpart to male Sufi Brotherhoods and other male oriented ceremonies.
What is ironic and somewhat confusing to me about Zar being outlawed by Islam is that women are usually participating in these rituals and ceremonies to take control of their own lives in order to conform into their religious society. In a way, they are being transgressive and breaking rules so that they comply with and follow other (and arguably more important) ones. For example, if possessed, women have the opportunity to become a bride. Becoming a bride provides a sense of purity for a woman, even though they are breaking rules (acting impure) to gain this sense of purity. Zar as a female specific ceremony, enables women to take control of their own religious observance, and in some ways allows them to strengthen their connection to more official structures, even if that means breaking some rules to get to that point.