Healing Rituals Across Islam
I was just 15 years old, and one day my grandmother found me. Left by a rebel at the side of the road my, grandmother knew. She knew by the fear in my eyes that I had just been raped. When she saw me she cried, and took me inside for no one to see me. She then went to the bush to find country medicine, and then she used it to clean me up. After a few days I had ‘gone mad’ as they say, and that is when she took me to a Mori-man (a man specialized in Muslim medicine and divination). I was left in his house for 7 days where he washed me in a big basin with warm water and a native soap. I was then covered in a piece of cloth and the Quran was read over me. Nasi was prepared (holy water, also called lasmami) and I drank it. For the whole seven days I was there the Mori-man remained. He slept on the floor and prayed for me. Other girls I knew of that experienced the same abuse would perform a ceremony known as Sara. This is where they made sacrifices of food or clothes in order to get something in return. For those who were sexually abused it was a way to get rid of spirits that were not allowing them to rest.
As Hawanatu Sessay recalled her experiences during the eleven year civil war in Sierra Leone that left over 50,000 people dead, I became interested in knowing how memory and ritual functioned in a post-war society. Did it serve as a purpose to heal? Was reliving what happened a way to unite with other women that had similar experiences in an attempt to heal oneself or possibly the nation? Her answer: “My personal experiences reveal that spirituality and religion function as vital sources toward recovery for women in Africa.”
Boothby, Crawford and Halperin demonstrate this experience is far from unique, citing nonprofit sector research indicating over a quarter-million child soldiers deployed across the world circa 2005 (88). Fortunately, intervention is increasing to prevent such practice but the question remains how to re-integrate those children invariably scarred by conflict encountered through active participation or across the regions they were born into like Hawanatu Sessay. Boothby, Craword and Halperin performed a longitudinal study tracking child veterans from Mozambique for 16 years and found that “activities that instilled a sense of social responsibility and promoted safe codes of conduct, self-regulation and security seeking behaviour were helpful” (89). Among these activities were traditional ceremonies, which “play a central role in the lives of rural Mozambicans,” which are “at the core of their culture and the customs carry tremendous significance: for the outcome [of] people’s lives: whether a person will have good fortune, find a spouse, be able to bear children and so on” (Boothby et al. 96). These pre-colonial ceremonies “accompany every life stage and are important for the maintenance of family bonds, ancestral relationships and personal strength” (Boothby, et al. 95-96). Atrocities such as those committed during war bring the risk of retribution by the souls of the victims, which can interfere with the life of the entire community, as well as the individual and until purged through traditional ritual.
Thus individuals achieve a “chance to be ‘cleansed’ from their acts during the war” and prevent “ancestral rebuke” from descending on the community (Boothby, et al. 96). Interviews revealed that these ceremonies helped accomplish reintegration into the community and prevented social conflict, while for the child soldiers themselves, “cleansing those that came home ‘contaminated’ from the atrocities of war,” but also were ” reported by the former child soldiers’ family members and neighbours to be vital for rebuilding community trust and cohesion” (Boothby, et al. 96). These cleansing ceremonies marked a transition from the battlefield back into human society, “described as ‘a door to pass through the house’ for the child soldiers returning from the war. They were the first critical step towards psychological recovery. After the ceremonies, people generally reported that they became ‘sane’ and that their minds were restored to ‘this world’. Traditional practices helped to ‘clean the souls’ of those who have been ‘altered from war’,” Boothby et al. report (96). Traditional, pre-colonial cleansing ceremonies allowed these young adults hardened by premature exposure to war to close off that past and re-enter community free from carrying those burdens into the future. Communities were also able to reintegrate these scarred youth even after they had transgressed deep social mores against for example killing elders or commanding peers to kill (Boothby, et al. 97). Other researchers have also corroborated that “purification ceremonies create a spirit of communal tranquillity because community members see themselves as being protected” (Maussee, 1999, cited in Boothby et al. 97). Sixteen years later, these individuals and their communities scored higher on numerous social and economic indicators than national averages despite experiences often forced through abduction or at gunpoint.
Susan O’Brien reports an “unprecedented” case where a group of schoolgirls in Kano, Nigeria, in a boisterous celebration of the end of the term, disrespected a local elder and then later most of them came down with identical mental health syndromes including hysterical laughing and crying, uncontrollable “lewd dances” or paralysis and stupor (O’Brien 223). Soon entire classes of young women at local schools and those women who came in contact with the afflicted began to display symptoms of the “Sumbuka disease” across the city of Kano. Some residents of the city recognized this case of mass possession from yan bori spirit-cult performances, which challenged administrators and local officials beholden to Islamic religious law condemning such spiritualism as heretical, at the same time local social mores stigmatized the particular cult whose practices could allegedly exorcise the possession, with illiteracy, poverty and moral license (O’Brien 224). Young women had insulted their elders and now their possession was spreading through the community, but while there was a solution, this would have condemned them to stigma and violated Islamic law. While many Muslim Hausans apparently acknowledge the presence and intervention of spirits in the perceivable world, interacting with them remains the realm of either the very poor and outcast or elite Sufi shaman, and the majority of Muslim Hausa would rather avoid public perception of such engagement even while acknowledging such spirits as creations of Allah (O’Brien 224). The solution was to call in Sufi malamai to practice exorcism based on esoteric but established canonical Islamic rukiyya rituals practitioners claim date to the birth of Islam (O’Brien 224), but were seldom employed in mainstream practice as they involved counter-possession and negotiation with supernatural spirits.
The success of this treatment became so renowned that the result was an exorcism industry in the city of Kano, which ultimately transformed into “the institutionalization of rukiyya practice into a clinical format, with standardized fees and intake forms that documented the symptoms, treatment, and outcome of each patient’s illness” (O’Brien 225) at the same time the cult practitioners, including presumably the elder originally offended by the students, continued to receive disapprobation by the community and religious authorities. On the other hand the Sufi malamai, acting within the “trappings of Islamic piety and learning…began to reconfigure established belief and practice” between humans and the spirit world in Kano, eventually turning their success toward politics, to the degree “their stated goals were even more ambitious, as they touted their capacity to regulate both public health and the moral or ethical underpinnings of social behavior through their control of the spirits” (O’Brien 225).
O’Brien then connects this to fundamentalist, internationalist Wahhabi reformation deployed against older, localized Islamic practice as a way to reinstate discipline over permeable female bodies vulnerable to spirit penetration (226). Only through “corporeal discipline” can Muslim women prevent such attacks, along with liberal doses of malamai authority (O’Brien 26). Hence the proliferation of the Wahhabi-influenced Sufi elite in Kano, in reaction to the indigenous Nigerian mainstream individualized practice of Islam. Yet O’Brien cautions against reading this as a conflict over gender dominance within evolving perceptions of orthodoxy, because the mass demand for rukiyya both supports and “reinscribes” assumptions surrounding male and female Islamic ritual practice, with the result necessitating an unprecedented and in many ways uncomfortable revision of the role of “gender, modernity and Islamic orthodoxy in northern Nigeria” within and between both groups men and women (O’Brien 226)
What both of these research examples demonstrate, along with the primary case study interviews performed in the field for this report, is the dynamic interplay between the institutions of orthodox Islam and their performance, adaptation to and syncretization with indigenous, pre-Islamic and postmodern cultural beliefs through the individual practice of healing and cleansing ritual. Healing and cleansing rituals present an interface between the individual and religious doctrine throughout the Muslim world, and this paper explores the drama of characterization, enactment, personification and evaluation in a charged atmosphere of hope and uncertainty, where exigency drives individuals to interpret their Islamic faith in context of the local circumstance they inherit and encounter. Moving east from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mozambique, this paper will consider the transformation of women’s local religious practice where those interface with Muslim doctrine in evolving and often conflicting cultures from northern Iran to eastern China. The focus is women’s Islamic-indigenous syncretism, or the combination of orthodox Islamic beliefs and traditional healing and cleansing ritual to form hybrid practices that then interact with orthodox Islam, in a world itself evolving at increasingly faster rates with global technology and contact with cultures beyond traditional local boundaries. This syncretism, or the implementation of practices from various different belief systems, mirrors an evolution Islam itself faces as the borders of the world grow closer over time at the same time the assumptions underlying gender roles and obligations grow face similar challenges. These pressures drive continual reassessment and reaction evidenced in the extreme, in social conflicts that have resulted in the repression of entire societies and in some cases in recent memory, state sanctioned mass execution. These cultural dynamics then drive need for rituals of healing and cleansing like those described by the primary case studies, and stories from around the world echo these personal examples.
Central Asia scholar David Tyson explains how much of the record that survives describing Central Asian Islamic practice and belief was filtered through ethnographic research with a mandate to demonstrate the superiority of Soviet social organization, and then in response to that, how Western ethnographers thus had a counter-mandate to reveal “signs of anti-Soviet or politicized Islamic activity” (1997, n.p.). Because of these ideological constraints, these researchers, Tyson claims, “misunderstood or ignored some of the most fundamental and resilient aspects of Islamic religious practice in the Soviet Union,” including the Turkmenistan region, which influenced practice throughout Central Asia (n.p.). Modern researchers thus have had the task of filling in the picture that remains from the early twentieth century Soviet attempts both “to reduce Islamic belief and practice to out and out superstition and survivals of pre-Islamic times” (Tyson n.p.), and prevent any investigation besides their own. These in fact are the topics of interest for this report, but the admonishment toward critical skepticism will become more valid below, because the modern record demonstrates no lack of ideological manipulation identical to the politicized Soviet and Western research that so distorted the primary record on modern contact with Turkmenistan Islam. Nonetheless this very Soviet intervention provoked an increased role for women in the performance and maintenance of hybrid indigenous Islamicized shamanism.
Tyson relates how recent ethnographic research suggests conversion to Islam redefined the indigenous, pre-existing communities enough to constitute a break between the Central Asian populations encountered today and the cultures converting to Islam, but that the process of Islamization was facilitated through the intervention of the existing indigenous spiritual leadership, who, because of their local expertise were able to “convey Islam’s power and meaning in ways understandable, recognizable and meaningful to local populations.” These already recognized “key players” became the Sufi shaykhs through the process of conversion to Islam, which itself drove a “re-formation or re-definition” of existing Central Asian cultures “in Islamic terms” (Tyson n.p.). Traditional Central Asian religious heritage of tribal ancestor veneration thus provided a dual structure well-prepared to incorporate, revise and implement the new Islamic doctrine, and also to populate the pre-Islamic traditional ancestor veneration with the pre-existing indigenous spiritual leaders, now revered for provoking new Muslim social orientation as Sufi shaykhs instead of indigenous shamans.
This revitalization of pre-existing traditions of ancestor worship played out through the ancient and indigenous practice of shrine pilgrimage, where tribal ancestors of legendary renown were honored at the sites where tradition held these local saints were either buried or had performed the miracles or wonders justifying their spiritual veneration. As individuals followed the inherited tradition of pilgrimage to these sites in order to pray for guidance from their powerful tribal ancestors, such shrines “emerged not only as sites where sacred power was localized but as nexus points where Islam and the traditions of pre-Islamic times joined and developed” (Tyson n.p.). The new Muslim doctrine emerged in the spiritual meeting places Central Asian Turkmenis congregated, which then became infused with intensified spiritual significance as communities re-organized to incorporate Islam with traditional pre-Islamic religious practice. Shrines arose in sites where “personages considered to have spiritual, intellectual, or physical power acquired saintly status” (Tyson n.p.), usually centered around natural features like springs, caves or trees where the saint had taught, performed a miraculous act or was buried, at the same time incorporating canonical figures from Islamic doctrine alongside pre-Islamic leaders as well as the Sufi Muslim proselytizers who were believed to have performed meaningful enough acts that communities arose as individuals came to worship, due to the increased spiritual intensity attributed to those locations. This traditional pilgrimage to holy shrines in general mirrors practice throughout the Muslim world, especially in rural regions like Central Asia, and particularly surrounding tribal societies widely prevalent throughout the Turkmenistan region whose inherited religious practices provided traditions similar to and thus conducive to the incorporation of Islam, at the same time these tribes incorporated other tribes not specifically descended from legendary Turkmen progenitor Oghuz Khan (Tyson).
In the same way that doctrinal Islam in general invests Sayyid and Sharif lineage with inherited religious prominence by patriarchal descent through the first four caliphs to the Prophet Muhammad, Turkmen tribal societies attribute special honor to descent from Oghuz Khan. At the same time however, the incorporation of ancient local Iranian tribes or Turkic immigrants predating the Oghuz, some non-nomadic sedentary agriculturalists particularly around the Amudarya River and Kopetdag Mountains, as well as so-called owlat immigrant tribes claiming descent through the caliphs to Muhammad (Tyson n.p.), influenced the particular local religious hierarchy that survives to this day despite Soviet-era suppression. The “perceived Arab origins and genealogical links to Muhammad” (Tyson) of the Khoja, Seyit, Shikh, Magtim, Ata, and Mujewur tribes were enhanced by descent from especially powerful Sufi missionary figures “whom researchers consider to be the first in the genealogies to be actual historic personages who lived and were active in areas inhabited by Turkmen” (Tyson n.p.). These individuals either converted an existing community or were “integral in giving it a Muslim identity” (Tyson), and thus individuals, male, female and even children of the tribes descended from these Sufi mystics were accorded religious deference, including enhanced property rights and protection from raiding, by the tribal societies that identified themselves as Turkmen. This religious prestige and heritage outside Turkmen tribal lineage then evolved into recognition of the owlat tribes as mediators and peacemakers between the majority of tribes descended from Oghuz (Tyson n.p.).
Thus arose a religious hierarchy where the owlat tribes inherited clerical status as elders and consultants officiating all manner of important decisions such as marriage, planting and harvest, grazing and similar social enterprise in the daily run of tribal habitation. Tyson explains how pre-Soviet and Soviet-era records indicate these religious duties included “numerous examples, especially accounts of how owlat members crafted talismans, were seen as possessing the knowledge and power to cure sickness and mental disorder, and could assist in the making and breaking of “spells.” Since these tribes achieved prominence through descent from Mohammad by way of the , this evidence indicates that even around the early twentieth century Soviet era, such pre-Islamic shamanistic duties of healing the sick and combating black magic remained syncretistic practice even after the widespread adoption of Muslim doctrine across Central Asia. Perhaps inevitable given the traditional, pre-Islamic heritage of ancestor veneration through pilgrimage to shrines at ancient holy sites, the owlat inherited administration of such established facilities, especially cemeteries where a revered religious leader, judge, mulla or ishan from whom the particular owlat traced descent, “would continue to serve both the ancestors in the world of the dead and living members of the community” (Tyson n.p.). Not all shrines are cemeteries and not all cemeteries are burial places of such ‘gonambashi’ power figures, and nor do all shrines, cemeteries or not, derive from inherited Sufi owlat religious prestige, for example the ancient Paraw shrine to Paraw Bibi, revered for her heroic spiritual bravery and defiance of infidel military raiders, still a popular site for pilgrims seeking fertility and mental healing, mostly women (Tyson). The practice of pilgrimage to sites attributed particular spiritual intensity “when the need arises and at which miraculous intercession may emanate, occur, or be accessed” (Tyson n.p.), however, provides the method through which significant religious performance takes place in Turkmenistan and to some degree throughout Muslim Central Asia.
Accounts from as early as the tenth century up to late modern Soviet and Western ethnographical research describe these local practices as only partially Muslim (Tyson). The tenth-century Persian Hudud al-Alam describes Oghuz Turkmen as hostile to Muslim Arab military encroachment and venerating all manner of wonders, especially the power to heal (Tyson). Later accounts attribute Central Asian Muslims with unorthodox, animistic practices that outraged Mollahs even after widespread and persisting conversion to Islam (Vembery, qtd. In Tyson) beginning with the arrival of the Sufi patriarchs around the fourteenth century. Soviet “forced athiesm” encountered enough resistance that this “primitive pre-Islamic tradition dressed over in Islamic garb” (Tyson) remains to this day in whatever shrines or pilgrimage sites survived ‘sanitization’ by the Communist Party. This suppression however, often was applied in varying intensity especially where local officials came from indigenous populations. Sanctions against citizens violating enforced athiesm by visiting shrines included job loss, forced renunciation and cultural reprogramming (Tyson), but were most often and most stringently applied to the local officials inheriting administration of these pilgrimage destinations. While Tyson and others found a vigorous tradition of pilgrimage as late as 1995 across Turkmenistan “(as both a local/tribal and a national tradition) coupled with the perceived power and protection offered by the saints and holy sites themselves,” the outcome of generations of Soviet suppression of mosques, madrassas, clerical centers of education and ancient Sufi hostels similar to those across Central Asia was the deliberate expulsion of the men who officiated over these Islamic institutions, however orthodox or syncretistic the specific local practice had become. Under the hereditary owlat tribal culture, women had commonly been recognized as Islamized shamanic spiritual experts depending on the individual tribal heritage (Basilov 6) but nominal leadership of orthodox institutions was restricted to males, who thus received the brunt of Soviet sanctions under enforced atheism.
The result was that “Turkmen women (as well as all Central Asian Muslim women) by default became to a large degree the bearers of numerous Islamic traditions and behavior. In the case of shrine activity today, especially specific aspects associated with actual rituals and veneration, Turkmen women are seen as the chief participants” (Tyson n.p.), to the degree shrine administration and related “pilgrimage activities” (Tyson) have in many ways come to be seen as the purview of women. Soviet sanctions of imprisonment and persecution aimed at imams, mullas, Sufi teachers, owlat elders and formal mosque, madrasa and khanaqah officials, often allegedly descended from the saints revered at the shrines these institutions surrounded, usually accompanied destruction of Muslim structures, but the shrines themselves were often left intact on archaeological or architectural grounds and individual pilgrims left relatively unmolested, in part through the evasion, in part by the forbearance of indigenous or local officials who often feared the consequences out of their own religious convictions (Tyson), and probably due to limitations of enforcement resources if such “shrine based activity” constituted “part and parcel of many Turkmen’s day-to-day lives in both the spiritual and “mundane” realms” (Tyson). While the Soviets were able to successfully displace Muslim institutions, often if not usually in this region derived from and sustained by conversion through Sufi penetration starting around the eleventh century but retaining earlier indigenous traditions of ancestor veneration, hereditary shamanic religious preeminence and the powers of healing and religious beneficience, deliberate Soviet suppression could not eradicate Islamized shamanism from the memory of the common Turkmeni and Central Asian populations, to the degree that “only with Turkmenistan’s independence and the revival of Turkmen traditions have males become more vocal in acknowledging the legitimacy of the shrine legacy and become more involved in pilgrimage activities” (Tyson). That these traditions survive at all is largely due to transmission by women over seventy-five years of Soviet suppression.
Chinese Communist suppression of indigenous ritual practice in Xinjiang among Uygur and neighboring cultures has produced different and by some perspectives bizarre results. Religious pluralism is the law across China, of which Xinjiang is a nominally autonomous but de facto subordinate state. Official state pluralism derives from a stringent definition of religion, where any practice outside the prescribed list of ideological traditions Chinese are free to chose from, is open to suppression on grounds of not constituting religion. Such suppression has caused resistance from many of the population sharing an ancient Xinjiang ethnicity variously designated Uygurs, Uygours (Basilov 6) and Uighurs. Describing the indigenous peoples living in the Ili Valley, Tarim, Turpan and Dzungarian regions as Uighurs requires critical acknowledgment of the subjectivity of such a label. Kristian Petersen makes a compelling case for questioning the popular construct of Uygur nationalism as stemming from the vocal advocacy of a minority of diasporic Uighurs in exile, perhaps half a million or 7% of the Uighur population of Xinjiang (65), as well as groups of Turkic Muslims dwelling around Turkistan oases designated as Uighurs by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who embrace such designation because recognition as “minzu” (nationality) confers recognition by the state and rights and an autonomous region for the 6 million or so that designation applies to (Petersen 65). Petersen warns against generalizing about the identity of populations included in these communities, since while the Turpan region converted to Islam in the fifteenth century, applying the term “Uighur” to include an apparently Buddhist majority hostile to Muslim traditions forced that term to be abandoned for some 500 years until only recently revived by the Chinese government (64).
Vocal calls in the media for nationalist revival on grounds of Uighur ethnicity should be treated as the generalizations of a Westernized elite diasporic minority, Petersen argues, since such speech is censored from local consumption and so therefore is collaboration even for those who have access to the Internet despite the claims of promoters to represent “Uigherness” that include allegedly unified demands for national secession but which “usurp the modern Uighur identity and direct its goals in their desired direction” (Petersen 68). “The Muslim Uighur population of Xinjiang shares little in common with China culturally, linguistically, or historically,” corroborates Hyer (78), going on to outline the 1997 unrest that resulted in 12 executions and the flight of some 60,000 Uighurs. Mackerras quotes Rudelson that even within the Turpan oasis, “Uyghur intellectuals define themselves in opposition to the Hans and identify strongly with the larger Turkic world of western Central Asia,” especially Turkestan to the west (Mackerras 7). Mackerras reveals that the “secular, virulently anti-Islamic, pan-Turkic nationalists” contrast with the “middle-income and poor peasants, who for the most part do not travel outside their region, are devout Muslims and maintain strong oasis identities” (Mackerras 7). The picture that emerges becomes a fluid ethnic amalgam defined at large and recognized by the Communist Party, embraced by many but divided along lines of class and mobility.
Islamic radicalism, resentment against encroachment by the majority Han population, and agitation by an avant-garde of mobile and educated expatriates has resulted in decades of civil unrest against the CCP including bombings and sabotage (Mackerras 10). The result for the current research is that while the CCP allows religious choice for approved religions including Islam, any position of authority in religious institutions is restricted by the state to those free of radicalism or unorthodoxy. Given the diversity within the designation Uygur, resentment against Han encroachment, political suppression and conflict within pro- and anti-Sufi factions, the result is an intense localism that some extend into nationalism and intense anti-Islamic and Islamic fundamentalism at the same time; these forces prohibit any universal generalization, but at the same time Wellens points out that the result has been greater religious tolerance for minority nationalities than for the majority of Han Chinese (435). “Practices such as ancestor worship, divination or cults dedicated to local deities are more likely to be tolerated by the authorities in areas with minority nationalities,” Wellens explains, under the Regional Autonomy Law as amended in 2001 (435). While no religious practice may attempt to menace the state, minority culture and religion overlap to the degree that tolerance of “local beliefs and ritual practices that are not part of the main world religions,” while not sanctioned by law, are the product of “a public discourse of larger tolerance of religious practices among recognised minority nationalities” including Islamized Uighurs, most notably the non-Han rural poor who have little access to globalized communications (Wellens 435).
“While the official policy — in line with orthodox Marxist views — is that all religion is superstition, not all superstition is religion,” Wellens explains (442). Religious pluralism only includes “worldwide religions” with “scriptures, creeds, religious ceremonies, organizations and so on,” with “feudal superstition” or ‘fengjian mixin’ including “activities conducted by shamans, and sorcerers, such as magic medicine, magic water, divination, fortune telling, avoiding disasters, praying for rain, praying for pregnancy,” and a long list of prohibited, “absurd and ridiculous” activities that must be vigorously stamped out (Wellens 442). That these activities persist indicates that ‘yuanshi zongiao’ or “primitive” religious practices survive among many minorities, and while the authorities “generally do not prohibit them by administrative decree as long as they do not affect collective political and economic activities,” the CCP instead deploys “patient persuasion and lasting education in science, culture and athiesm” (Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Party Congress, qtd. In Wellens 443). This unconstitutional ‘resuscitation’ by local minorities of “superstitions” results in conditions that stretch the official disregard in cases that demonstrate the context of inconsistency within which a measurable but minority Uighur syncretic Islamized shamanism plays out in .
“Besides an obvious interest in reaping the benefits of tourist development,” Wellens explains, “ethnic minorities have grasped the opportunity to revive, or in many cases, reinvent aspects of their culture that can strengthen their sense of identity and community” (446). “Limited and well-choreographed exhibitions of cultural diversity can make the party-state appear to be taking seriously ethnic minority culture. At the same time, those in provincial and local government engaged in developing the tourist industry have clearly recognised the potential of beautiful temples and exotic religious ceremonies in constructing the lure of ‘mysterious local culture’” (Wellens 446). In short, the state has realized that religious tourism makes money, and thus allows a “spectacular example of the marketing of minority religion” in the Naxi nationality’s Dongba religion. Indigenous animism propitiating mountain and river gods, ancestor worship and fending off evil spirits is tolerated as long as it generates hundreds of tourist shops, theaters and venues for ritual performance for the visitors who consume the officially “superstitious” economic output. While in the outlying rural regions, Dongba practitioners administer a tradition “almost uninterrupted within the local community” (Wellens 447), healing Naxi villagers by driving out evil spirits or praying for rain for example, the tradition almost entirely died out until the recent revival was aided by state-sponsored “Dongba conventions” in Lijiang, to the point that a group of retired government officials have now apparently started a private school to teach what has “turned into a radically different social phenomenon” (Wellens 448). While the Naxi nationality inhabits the province south of the Uyghurs, the example demonstrates the dynamics of shifting identifications, state patronage or repression and nuanced context in which religious freedom for minority ethnic nationalities in the western People’s Republic of China.
At the same time as the CCP censors the global discussion Uyghurs are able to access, while Uyghur intellectual elite expatriates agitate internationally with Western nonprofits like Amnesty International for a separate nation-state, and radical fundamentalist Muslims act both against the state within the confines of officially recognized “religion,” and within Islam against traditions of shamanistic Sufi syncretism that introduced Islam into Central Asia and eventually into Xinjiang and to the Uighurs themselves in the first place (Melikoff 133), the agricultural peasant villagers calmly go about propitiating ancestor spirits and performing animist healing and good fortune rituals like they have for millennia, now out of view of the CCP, some of which are specifically prohibited for Uighur Muslims in the body of local law itself (Autonomous Region Party Committee’s United Front 80) alongside “sowing confusion” and “spreading evil religions” (81), while neighboring “superstitions” have become a global tourist attractions in full view of and to some degree with state patronage across the border to the south.
In conclusion, this paper has gone from a microscopic view of one individual’s experience and exploded that to struggles over the indigenous practice of healing and cleansing rituals that generate conflict in some of the largest states and international religions across the world. What Hawanatu Sessay describes helped her return from the most intense personal trauma to rejoin her community, shared by many, has been both suppressed by and incorporated into orthodox Islamic practice to form syncretic, hybridized popular cultures across the Muslim world. At the same time, such innovation encounters reaction from both the Islamic orthodoxy, as well as the states and institutions within which believers practice. This inquiry has revealed both the diversity spanning Islamic practice across the Central Asiatic world, but also the commonality of traditions of extra-religious, shamanistic and localized ritual that often derives from pre-Islamic and diasporic origins, to amalgamate into indigenous Islamized hybrids that continue to evolve despite official oversight however that imposes itself.
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