Gendering the divine

Women, femininity, and queer identities on the Sufi path 1

Authored by: Merin Shobhana Xavier

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines the differing ways in which gender, particularly the feminine, is understood and experienced in both historical and contemporary manifestations of Sufism. Starting from the emergence of early mystical and ascetic practices in Sufism, with figures such as Rabiʿa al-ʿAdawiyya (d. 801), and moving through to the examination of contemporary transnational female Sufi leaders, this entry introduces readers to the complex relationships of gender and femininity in textual and lived traditions of Sufism. It particularly engages the treatment of women in hagiographies, and the concept of the feminine in metaphysical literature, while also situating the contemporary lived realities of Sufi women. Finally, it considers some queered expressions of Sufism in poetic traditions and social justice movements. Overall, this chapter highlights the negotiated dynamics of gendered norms throughout the history of Sufism and its contemporary global manifestations. In doing so, I contend that gendered norms in Sufism have been and continue to be ambivalent and instable, especially when it comes to expressions of the feminine and the female, in relation to the masculine, male, and the Divine (Allah).

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