Zar Spirit Possession: Muslim Women in Ancient and Modern History

Kasckow, Katherine
Hearing the word "spirit" in western culture leads the reader to associate the word with fictitious thoughts flitting through the human mind due to the western belief that spirits are part of the fabled supernatural and thus not part of the rational world. This is not true in some cultures, especially in Zar culture where spirit possession is seen as a frequent occurrence and the goal is to relieve the possessed through acts of dancing and feasting. Zar is seen in many regions where Islam is the dominant religion, where the existence of spirits is even noted in many of the religious texts including the Qur'an and the Hadith. Zar possession is not the same as malevolent spirits found within the Quran and is not tied exclusively to Islam, rather it offers an alternative worship to women who are not welcomed in masculine forms of worship such as mosques. In this paper, I will analyze Zar culture throughout regions where Islam is the dominant religion and examine that due to women's exclusion from the traditional mode of spiritual guidance from mosques and other male dominated spheres, the alternative action of Zar spirit possession and group healing is used to form communities that uplift women's confidence, cure illnesses of the mind, and offer support for the women excluded from a male dominated environment.
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