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The Wives of the Saints: Female Mysticism in Afghanistan

Co-sponsored by UCLA's Asia Institute, Program on Central Asia, Center for the Study of Religion, and American Institute for Afghanistan Studies

Part of a series of three talks on “Islam in Afghanistan: A Trajectory of the Early Years.” A lecture by Arezou Azad, Dept. of History, School of History and Cultures, University of Birmingham

Monday, November 3, 2014
3:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall

In this lecture, Dr. Arezou Azad will tackle the still little understood question on how women influenced the development of Islamic mysticism in the eastern Islamic lands. The topic of female mysticism in mediaeval Islam is particularly important because religious scholarship was one area in which Muslim women assumed roles equal to those of men. Azad will consider the case of a particular female mystic known as Umm Ali living in ninth-century Balkh, the eastern most city of Khurasan, Afghanistan. Umm Ali's pedigree and her use of creative and interesting strategies, such as reverse gendering and a fictive marriage (while already being married), provided her access to the highest sources of learning. There is a marked contrast with the archetypal female mystic of mediaeval Islam, Rabi'a al-Adawiyya, who lived a life of deliberate celibacy and poverty. Azad also explores how the narrative of Umm Ali's social impact changed at the hands of her later biographers, who were bound by conventions that restricted women's agency.

About the speaker:

Arezou Azad is a professor at the University of Birmingham, and is the founder and co-Director of the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage project based at the University of Oxford. She has published a monograph entitled Sacred Landscape in Medieval Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2013), as well as, several articles on medieval Afghanistan. Arezou obtained her PhD from the University of Oxford in 2010, which is a study of the Fada'il-i Balkh, the earliest surviving local history of Balkh (northern Afghanistan). Prior to joining academia, she served as a peacekeeper and development worker for the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, Asia Pacific Center, Program on Central Asia, Center for the Study of Religion, American Institute for Afghanistan Studies