In this lecture, Vivienne Stacey discusses how Muslim women deal with the supernatural, the occult, and power encounters in folk Islam. These lectures were given at Columbia International University in partnership with the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center was founded in 1979 and exists to offer comprehensive courses on Islam, facilitate research, foster dialogues, offer seminars, conduct training, and provide resources for effective witness and ministry among Muslims. We also have a course study guide for these lectures that you might find helpful.



Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Vivienne Stacey’s Lecture on Muslim Women and Folk Islam Pt. 1


We’re studying the subject of communicating through festivals and rites of passage, through festivals and rites, communicating the gospel through festivals and rites. Rites of passage was of birth, marriage, death, and a few others that, are meaningful, to Muslims. I’d like I’d like someone to read Romans chapter 5th, 13 verse 15, which is really about the importance of building relationships. So would someone read Romans chapter 12 verse 15? Rejoice with those who rejoice.


Mourn with those who mourn. Thank you. So we are trying to identify with our Muslim friends, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. At the beginning of our, study, I’d like to emphasize the the Muslim interest in practice. Muslims are often asking, what do you do?


If someone gets married, how do you do it? What is done at the ceremony? When a child is born, what are the practices? And I focused, as you have discovered, on on death and burial. So what do you do, is what they ask quite often.


And I think the gospel of Christ can be communicated as much through the practices of believers as through the, festivals and through the beliefs. William Miller, who worked for 40 years in Iran, wrote a very useful booklet, a letter to his Muslim friend, explaining the beliefs and practices of Christians. I suppose if you were writing this in North America or something like this or in Britain, you might just write on the beliefs of Christians. You wouldn’t want to stress the practices, but he does do this because he knows that Muslims come, and they we, in the course of our living, interact with them, and they ask, what do you do? And they want, it’s an opportunity just as much as going and sharing in a festival, to explain what happens at the wedding, and maybe they come to attend the wedding.


And, the funeral, what happens when a Christian dies? What happens? Not only they want to know the belief, but the practice, and that’s probably what they want to know more because they think it’s so important what exactly you do. Certainly, in the Muslim world, the whole cycle of festivals, and for that matter, practices, rights, through the year, involve women tremendously. I remember staying during the month of fasting, staying a night or 2, with an off he was an army officer and his wife, and my friend was a friend of the of the wife, and so that’s how I came to be in their home at that time.


And it really hit me when I thought, well, she has to get up in the very early, middle of the night, really, to give breakfast to her husband about 3 AM because he’s gonna fast, and she will fast right through until sunset. And then there’s the children. They have to have their meals, they’re small, at the ordinary time. And then there’s these 2 guests, and we volunteered to just, join in the fasting, and for her not to do extra things for us, But she did. She didn’t think that we were really, wanting to fast.


We I both of us would have happily fasted, but she thought it was part of her responsibility as a hostess, I think. And we weren’t actually keeping the month of fasting, so obviously, we’re not weren’t strong candidates. But anyway, but how it turns up to how it affects the life of women. And not just women, it’s students. I’ve been in Cunard College in Lahore during the month of fasting, and many of the Muslim students, the majority are Muslim, they will keep the fast.


And it’s quite difficult to keep their attention if you’re trying to teach in a situation like that. If, it affects the life of the country considerably, things slow down. Everything is, I would say, hampered, but maybe that’s you see, that’s my perspective. But, it’s certainly makes things very different and is a strain. More people lose their temper during the month of fasting, it seems, than the rest of the year.


There’s a lot of quarreling because of the pressures of doing this for a month. Not everybody fasts, but it affects women, particularly. Now, there are all sorts of other festivals besides the wealth the world known ones, like the Eid al Fitr or the Eid al Azhar. There are and the celebration of the birthday of Muhammad, those festivals, most people, e. They Milad, the celebration of the birthday of Muhammad, and other festivals well known through the whole Muslim world.


But there will be also special festivals relating to local saints, and some of these are not so local. People come from all over the world to attend the what is called the Urs, URS, which means it’s the anniversary, of the day in which the saint attained his union with God. Is Ursa actually means marriage, and, these are mostly Sufi saints. I have been to the shrines of quite a few Sufi saints and witnessed what some of the things that go on. I can think of the, Nizam ad Din Shrine Complex in Delhi.


It’s a very, very large, Sufi shrine with mosque. It has a a a langar, a kitchen to to serve 100 of of pilgrims coming to the shrine every day. You can get a free meal. And there are shrine shops, you can buy not buy, but you can give an offering, to get a bowl which has on it inside the bowl written, one of the verses of the Quran, and it’s a bowl, that’s used to put water in and pray over or say some, name of god over it. And it’s useful to give to a child, and it may heal that child.


But don’t try buying these things. I did it once because, it’s got a word from the holy book of Islam, the eternal book in their thinking. So you can’t buy the eternal word of the eternal god. You can make an offering for it. And I maybe I told you that I on this basis, I I changed my way of selling bibles into offerings for bibles, because, that’s what they do about a Quran.


I’ve I once, when I go to buy a new Quran, except that I bought one here, and I didn’t do it here, but, but when you want to get a new Quran in a in a Muslim country, you ask what is the offering for it? You can’t buy the eternal book, and, it would be downgrading it, wouldn’t it? So you off you find out what the offering is. So the shrine complex has got shops, and it’s got, stalls, shall we call them. It has it even has a kind of living complex for the people, the wives of the and the families of the people who maintain the shrines.


And there’s a well known book, which you would enjoy reading, I think, called Frogs in the Well. It’s on the bibliography. Frogs in the Well was written by a sociologist who spent a year, I think, actually in Delhi, in this shrine complex, getting to know the wives of the, leaders of the on the workers at the shrine. People come from all over India, all over Delhi, all over the world to this very famous shrine complex. Anyway, she talked with the women.


She learned Urdu, and, this, Jeffrey is her surname. Pamela Jeffrey, perhaps, I can’t remember. But, she asked them all sorts of things about their lives, and they hardly ever left the shrine. So she said, asked them more questions than this, and they said, well, we’re like frogs in the well. They were tied in to this place where their husbands worked, And probably, in 20 years, some of them never left that.


There’s a station, just a railway station just by the side of the shrine complex so that pilgrims and people coming can easily reach it. But these women, because of what their husbands was doing and because they were keeping the veil and they were segregated in very conservative style, they stayed there all the time. Frogs in the well, so she called her book that. Now, let’s just think about this. During the fast, if you you It’s probably better, generally better, to call on your friends in the evening after the breaking of the fast.


Sometimes they’ll invite you to join in the breaking of the fast. That’s when you, eat a few dates and drink some water. The main meal is later. But I I have joined in, in the breaking of the fast, because I’ve been staying with Muslims who were keeping it. But don’t go and visit your Muslim friend in the middle of the afternoon or if it’s, or even before anytime before the breaking of the fast in general, because they will feel that they need to give you some tea.


Or because they know you’re not fasting, they will feel obliged to to do something in the way of hospitality. And that would be difficult for them and embarrassing for you. So, I mean, that’s just a guideline. There’s no law about it, but just a suggestion. The fast and the feast, the fast is celebrated. I could put it with the festivals because it leads up to one of the great festivals, but the 2nd greatest in Islam, the Eid al Fitr, at the end of the month of fasting. So I class it with this, with festivals. It’s celebrated differently in different countries, and I have been in Saudi during the fast, Saudi Arabia, and everything is, fairly somber. But I’ve been in Yemen when everybody looks forward to it, and they they sort of live it up every night. The women, collect together in the area, and the men collect together, and they really enjoy the enjoy it.


I mean, they eat at night, as you may know, but but they they really have fun. And I’ve been there with them in their fun, so I I know that they enjoy it. And about 4 o’clock in the morning, they will or 3 o’clock in the morning, they’ll go back to cook, to the breakfast before dawn, and then they’ll be fairly, tired during the the day. But they have to look after their children, of course, but it goes on like this. But Yemen, if you go to Yemen, you you can have a really good time, and it’s a very good time for interchanging.


You if you’ve got 4 hours or 5 hours and your people are relaxed, they women together, talk, and so you can interact, and there’s quite a lot of fun in this way. And I went with a an American who was my hostess, and, she speaks excellent Arabic. And, we, I could see how well she could interact with these people. Well, let’s look at 1 or 2 specifically. The Eid al Fitr festival is the breaking of the fast.


It marks the end of Ramadan. It’s called sometimes it’s called the Little Festival, and I like to compare it with Christmas, which for the Christians is is the Little Festival. You might not think so from the way the church celebrates Easter and Christmas, but it’s actually Easter is the is the big festival. Easter is the primary festival of Christians celebrating the resurrection. And, if we’re gonna compare, then the little festival in Islam, is the Eid al Fitr after the the festival, the breaking of the fast, and the main festival, which we can compare with Easter, is the Eid al Azhar, the feast of festival of sacrifice, which takes place 20 no.


70 days after the end of the month of fasting. Ramadan is the Arabic for the month of fasting, and Ramzan is the Urdu, so I sometimes interchange as I speak Urdu. So what happens then on Eid al Fitr, the festival at the breaking of the fast? All the men go off to the mosque or to the what is called the Id Ga. You’ll see it here on your handout, Id Ga. It’s a special, large, open place set aside for such gatherings, because sometimes the courtyard of a mosque is not large enough, for the number of people who, go. And, sometimes there’s a in many towns, there is an Eid Gar. Eid means festival. Maybe you say it in Arabic, Eid. And then in, Ga means place, and there it is.


It’s just this field, if you like, or an open area. And, after that they have prayers and and worship and listen to a sermon, they go home for other festivities. The women do not generally go to the mosque or special prayer prayers, but pray at home, and they’re busy cooking choice dishes. And everybody wears new clothes, and they often exchange gifts. It’s good to rejoice with those who rejoice and to relate to people in their festivals, and you will find that in different ways they will include you in some way or another if you are if you’ve got Muslim friends.


Then the main festival of Eid of the year, the Eid al Azhar, is the festival of sacrifice. And the sacrifice, is made by pilgrims at the beginning of their pilgrimage, but it’s it’s celebrated all through. Even sort of weeks before, you see lots of goats around, and you see an extra supply of of sheep, and even of, of buffalos, and I don’t know. It depends what the country goes in for, particularly. Camels will qualify as well, actually.


They’re all destined for sacrifice, on that day, and I think we should read about this. Would somebody from their Quran, preferably from Yusuf Ali’s use What am I saying? Yusuf Ali’s rendering, is that Yusuf Ali? Yeah. Would you read the second 22nd Surah and verses 33 to 37?


Here, it’s commanded that the this sacrifice should be made, and this is one of the celebration. Now, it’s not in general a sacrifice for sin. It’s a sacrifice in commemoration. Commemoration of the intention of Abraham to sacrifice his son. And it doesn’t, in that part of the Quran, I think, specify which son.


Would you read it, please? This is I believe it’s, ayat 34. Thank you. To the people, did we appoint rights of sacrifice that they may celebrate the name of Allah over the sustenance he gave them from animals fit for food. But your god is one god.


Submit then your wills to him in Islam and give those and give thou the good news to those who humble themselves, to those whose hearts, when Allah has mentioned, are filled with fear, who show patient perseverance over their afflictions, keep up regular prayer, and spend in charity out of what we have bestowed upon them. The sacrificed the sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the symbols from Allah In them is much good for you. Then pronounce the name of Allah over them as they line up for sacrifice. When they are down on their sides after slaughter, eat eat thereof and feed such as beg not, but live in contentment, and such as beg with new humility, thus have we made animals subject to you that you may be grateful. It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah.


It is your piety that reaches him. He has thus made them subject to you that you may glorify Allah for his guidance to you and proclaim the good news to those who do right. Verily Allah will defend from you all those who believe. Verily Allah loveth not any that is a traitor to faith or shows of gratitude. Thank you. Mhmm. Good. So it’s there. Now, I just, maybe it’s difficult to look at this diagram, but, here we are. I’m indebted to Dudley Woodbury for setting me on this line of thinking of comparing, the sacrifices or the commemorations, in Judaism, Islam, and the Christian faith.


And so when we look at this greatest of all festivals for Muslims, which they celebrate around the world and, to which sometimes they invite us in one way or another, I have stayed with a Muslim family at the time of this celebration, and I shared in with my hostess as we went round, giving some of the meat of the sacrifice to the poor people or not so poor people. She was very wealthy, my hostess, and, she went she gave you’re supposed to give a third of the sacrifice away. You give a third to the religious leaders, and you give a you keep a third to eat with your family. So sometimes Muslims will send some meat from the animal, as a token of friendship. Send it to your home.


Sometimes, in some countries, Christians don’t feel free to take it, and I feel this is a great pity because, this is not meat sacrificed to idols. It’s commemoration. It’s not even a sacrifice for sin or anything. It’s it’s a commemoration of of Abraham. And so if they feel close to you, they want you to share in some way. So if you’re not actually there for the feast, they will send you some meat. So we could all ask 7 questions about Eid al Azhar. We could ask what is commemorated, And I’ve already said, mose the commemoration of Abraham in his intention to sacrifice his son. What is the significance of the sacrifice? How does the worshipper prepare?


What is sacrificed? Who is saved or blessed? Who provided the sacrifice, and how is it commemorated? And you can compare this with the Passover, ask those same seven questions. You can compare it with Good Friday and ask those same questions, and you can compare it with the Lord’s Supper. It’s an interesting study. It’s worth spending some hours, working through this and thinking it through. You won’t be able to, probably go into a detailed study of this sort with your Muslim friend, but you might for maybe. I don’t know. One never knows.


But, there are many points. I’ll just highlight a few points of, what should we say, bridges. Who provided the sacrifice, for example? The Quran clearly says that God provided it. That’s what we read also in Genesis. God provided the lamb, and Ishmael, Isaac was not, offered. In the Quran, the the main description is in Surah 37 verses 102 to 109. I wonder if somebody would read this for us. Could you then see you’ll find an answer to another of these seven Surah Surah 37 verses 102 and 109. And probably, if we were looking at a biblical passage, we would look at Exodus 12, the story of the Passover.


I have it. Then when the sun reached the age of serious work with him, he said, oh, my son, I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice. Now see what is thy view. Thy son said, oh my father, do as thou art commanded. Thou wilt find me if Allah so wills one per practicing patience and cons constancy.


So when they both patience and constancy. So when they both when they had both submitted their wills to Allah and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, we called out to him, oh Abraham, thou has already fulfilled the vision. Thus indeed do we reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial, and we ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. Oh, and we left this blessing for him among generations to come in later times.


Peace and and salutation to Abraham. Yes. Thank you. So can you think of another point, a bridge here in thinking between comparing the Christian idea or the Jewish idea of the sacrifice. There’s, the idea of, with the Jews of the sacrifice at the time of the Passover, the first Passover. So what’s in the Quran that, parallels that? Which verse or? What about verse a 107? The numbering may be different if you have a different, version, But number, verse 107, then we ransomed him with a tremendous victim. Then we, that is God, ransomed him, that is Abraham, with a tremendous victim, with a a great sacrifice.


And all this terminology actually is is Jewish, and, it’s, Jesus we think of as the ransom for sin. So we ransomed him with a tremendous victim, with a with a a sheep or a goat or a cow or a camel, a great offering, a great sacrifice, and god provided it. We ransomed him. God provided the sacrifice. So we can find parallel parallels here.


There’s a it’s not a sacrifice for sin, except I think in 1 or 2 traditions, the idea of a sacrifice for sin comes in Islam, but in general, it’s not there. And people are sometimes rather vague about what the sacrifice is for. So just try to work through this and look up the references. Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, John 121. I mean, sometime or the other in conversation, these things will come up, and you will have a natural opportunity to take some idea from what they are involved in to what or how it also speaks to your heart and how.


There’s a a preparation for this, but please, study these, from your handout and sheet. One other I think we will in this next the next time you study, whether you’re studying a long way away in distance learning or here, we will in the next session or the next study, we’ll continue looking at festivals, and then we will, take think about the rights, and we’ll think particularly in the rights about death and burial. We’ll focus on one right and go along with that. Give you an idea to how you might then take another right, like marriage, and go deep into that. You can do that as part of your personal studies and observations.


So communicating the good news through festivals and rites, Let us rejoice with those who withdraw rejoice, and let us mourn with those who mourn.