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Muslims Possessed: Spirit Possession and Islam in Cairo

Kontarakis, C; (2015) Muslims Possessed: Spirit Possession and Islam in Cairo. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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In Cairo, infidel spirits called jinns threaten to possess Muslims with weak souls, a weakness that is deemed to be closely connected with lack of faith and morality. An informal group of Muslims called sheikhs exorcise the invading spirits, and in doing so help to constitute the discursive logic underlying spirit possession in Cairo. Through a ritual that asserts the centrality and supremacy of God, the sheikhs reinstate God’s presence by reciting the Qur’an in order to exorcise the jinns out of the Muslims’ bodies. Based on the findings of a fifteen month fieldwork research in Cairo (2007-2008), this thesis focuses on the ritual of the Qur’anic exorcism, along with the cosmology and the discursive logic that surrounds it, as this is expressed by the agents involved in it: the exorcists, the possessing spirits and the Muslims possessed, all forming a particular spirit possession complex that dwells in Islamic grounds and evolves at a certain socio-historical moment, being part of the broader cultural process of what is called “Islamic Revival”. By offering a perspective on anthropological debates about Islamic pluralism, the thesis argues that the Islamic ritual of exorcism escapes binary classifications inspired by the Gellnerian interpretative tropes, and reveals the ability of Islam to express itself poetically and in plural ways while at the same time constituting its monism through an underlying metaphysics concerned with establishing God as both centre and border of Islamic practice and cosmology. Taking ritual as an expression of the broader social and cultural orders within which it is embedded, the thesis shows that the Islamic exorcism in Cairo is in crucial ways homologous with the social and moral order of the world in which the Cairenes live, a moral order that is to be understood in relation to the “Islamic Revival” as an ethical project.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Muslims Possessed: Spirit Possession and Islam in Cairo
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1463634
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