Contemporary Islam

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 49–65 | Cite as

The hair of the Prophet: relics and the affective presence of the absent beloved among Sufis in Denmark

  • Mikkel RytterEmail author


This paper explore the politics of (in)visibility in Islam by discussing the affective presence and agency of relics - in this case a single hair of the Prophet Muhammad. The relic is obviously not the Prophet, but it is also not-not the Prophet, as the hair is filled with the baraka (blessings) of the Prophet and thereby seems to confirm Sir James Frazer’s thesis of ‘sympathetic magic’ where part and wholes are forever connected. Based on a study of the Naqshbandi Mujaddidi Saifi tariqa, this paper set out to ‘follow the hair’ in different settings in Denmark, Norway and Pakistan in order to discuss how it connects the visible and the invisible aspects of reality. I argue that the relic not only constitutes an affective presence of the beloved, but also that it becomes a significant agent in the establishment of an enchanted subaltern counter-public within Danish secular society.


Sufism Naqshbandiyya Islam Freedom of speech Subaltern counter-public Pakistani diaspora Denmark 



The article benefitted from the readings and comments provided by Maria Louw, Lucy Seton-Watson, Nils Bubandt and Christian Suhr. Finally I would like to thank followers of the Saifi tariqa for welcoming me, and for teaching me about what it means to love the Prophet.


  1. Bangstad, S. (2014). Anders Breivik and the rise of islamophobia. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  2. Bille, M., Hastrup, F., & Sørensen, T. F. (Eds.). (2010). An anthropology of absence: Materialization of transcendence and loss. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, P. (1981). The cult of the saints: Its rise and function in Latin Christianity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Buehler, A. (1998). Sufi heirs of the prophet. The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the rise of the mediating Sufi shaykh. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  5. Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the public sphere. A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social Text, (25/26), 56–80.Google Scholar
  6. Frazer, J. (1993 [1922]). The golden bough. A study of magic and religion. London: Wordsworth Reference Series.Google Scholar
  7. Gad, U. P. (2011). Muslimer som trussel: identitet, sikkerhed og modforanstaltninger. In M. H. Pedersen & M. Rytter (Eds.), Islam og Muslimer i Danmark: Religion, identitet og sikkerhed efter 11, september (Vol. 2001, pp. 61–88). Museum Tusculanum: København.Google Scholar
  8. Goldziher, I. (1911). The cult of saints in Islam. The Muslim World, 1, 302–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Henare, A, M. Holbraad, and S. Wastell. (2006). Introduction: Thinking Through Things. In Henare, A., Holbraad, M and S. Wastell (Eds.): Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artifacts Ethnographically. London and New York. Routledge. pp. 1–31.Google Scholar
  10. Hervik, P. (2011). The annoying difference: The emergence of Danish neo-nationalism, neo-racism, and populism in the post-1989 world. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  11. Jacobsen, B. (2012). Muslims in Denmark: A critical evaluation of estimations. In J. Nielsen (Ed.), Islam in Denmark: The challenge of diversity (pp. 31–56). Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  12. Jakobsen, J. S. (2011). Præmisser for dialog efter 11. september 2001: Gülen- bevægelsen i danske offentlige sfærer. In M. H. Pedersen & M. Rytter (Eds.), Islam og Muslimer i Danmark: Religion, identitet og sikkerhed efter 11, september (Vol. 2001, pp. 245–264). Museum Tusculanum: København.Google Scholar
  13. Kabbani, M. H. (2004). Classical Islam and the Naqshbandi Sufi tradition. Fenton: Islamic Supreme Council of America.Google Scholar
  14. Khawaja, I. (2011). Blikkene: Muslimskhedens synlighed, kropsliggørelse og forhandling. In M. H. Pedersen & M. Rytter (Eds.), Islam og muslimer i Danmark: Religion, identitet og sikkerhed efter 11, september (Vol. 2001, pp. 269–291). Museum Tusculanum: København.Google Scholar
  15. Klausen, J. (2009). The cartoons that shook the world. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Koefoed, L. and Simonsen, K. (2010) ‘Den fremmede!’, byen og nationen om livet som etnisk minoritet. Fredriksberg: Roskilde Universitets Forlag.Google Scholar
  17. Lewis, P. (2002). Islamic Britain: Religion, politics and identity among British Muslims. London and New York: I. B. Tauris publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Lizzio, K. (2003). Embodying history: A Naqshbandi shaikh of Afghanistan. Central Asian Survey, 22(2/3), 163–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lizzio, K. (2014). Embattled saints: My year with the Sufis of Afghanistan. Wheaton: Quest Books.Google Scholar
  20. Louw, M. (2007). Everyday Islam in post-soviet Central Asia. London: Frank Cass Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marcus, G. (1995). Ethnography in / of the world system: Emergence of multi-sited ethnography. Annual Review, 24, 95–117.Google Scholar
  22. Margoliouth, D. S. (1937). The relics of the prophet Muhammad. The Muslim World, 27, 20–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mathiesen, K. (2014). Bonds of love: Sincerity and the unseen flow of Baraka. Unpublished paper presented at the conference: Multi-sited Sufism: Transmission, Translation and Transcendence, Istanbul, October 20–23, 2014.Google Scholar
  24. Meri, J. W. (2010). Relics of piety and power in medieval Islam. Past and Present, 206(Suppl. 5), 97–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mittermaier, A. (2011). Dreams that matter. Egyptian landscapes of the imagination. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  26. Rytter, M. (2010). In-laws and outlaws: Black magic among Pakistani migrants in Denmark. The Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute, 16(1), 46–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rytter, M. (2011). Demonic Migrations: Re-enchantment of Middle Class life among Danish-Pakistani Muslims. In M. Rytter and K. F. Olwig (Eds.): Mobile Bodies, Mobile Souls. Family, Religion and Migration in a Global World. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, pp. 53–76.Google Scholar
  28. Rytter, M. (2013). Family upheaval: Generation, mobility and relatedness among Pakistani migrants in Denmark. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.Google Scholar
  29. Rytter, M. (2015). The scent of a rose: Imitating imitators as they learn to love the prophet. In B. Timm Knudsen & C. Stage (Eds.), Affective methodologies. Developing cultural research strategies for the study of affect (pp. 140–160). Basingstoke: Palgrave MaxmillianGoogle Scholar
  30. Rytter, M. (2016a). By the beard of the prophet: Imitation, reflection and world transformation among Sufis in Denmark. Ethnography, 17(2), 229–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rytter, M. (2016b). Burger jihad: Fatal attractions at a Sufi lodge in Pakistan. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 36(1), 46–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rytter, M., & Pedersen, M. H. (2014). A decade of suspicion: Islam and Muslims in Denmark after 9/11. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(13), 2303–2321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schielke, S. (2009). Ambivalent commitment: Trouble of morality, religiosity and aspiration among young Egyptians. Journal of Religion in Africa, 29, 158–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schimmel, A. (1985a). And Muhammad is his messenger: The veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety. Chapell Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  35. Schimmel, A. (1985b). Islamic names. Lahore: Sang-E-Meel Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Schmidt, G. (2007). Muslim i Danmark—Muslim i Verden. En analyse af muslimske ungdomsforeninger og muslimsk identitet i årene op til Muhammad-krisen. Uppsala: Universitetstryckeriet.Google Scholar
  37. Simonsen, J. B. (2001). Det Retfærdige Samfund: Om Islam, Muslimer og Etik. Viborg: Samleren.Google Scholar
  38. Suhr, C. (2015). The failed image and the possessed. Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute. special issue on Examples, 21, 96–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Waltorp, K. (2017). Digital technologies, dreams and disconcertment in anthropological worldmaking. In N. Salazar, S. Pink, A. Irwing, & J. Sjöberg (Eds.), Anthropological futures: Researching emergent and uncertain worlds, London:Bloomsbury publishing (Vol. 2017, pp. 101–116).Google Scholar
  40. Werbner, P. (2002). Imagined diasporas among Manchester Muslims—The public performance of Pakistani transnational identity politics. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.Google Scholar
  41. Werbner, P. (2003). Pilgrims of love: The anthropology of a global Sufi cult. London: Hurst and Company.Google Scholar
  42. Wheeler, B. (2006). Mecca and Eden: Ritual, relics, and territory in Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  43. Williams, I. G. (2006). Relic and ‘baraka’: Devotion to the prophet Muhammad among Sufis in Nottingham, UK. In E. Arweck & P. J. Collins (Eds.), Reading religion in text and context: Reflections of faith and practice in religious materials (pp. 65–82). Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.Google Scholar
  44. Zwemer, S. M. (1948). Hairs of the prophet. In S. Löwinger and J. Somogyi (Eds.), Goldziher Memorial Vol. 1. Budapest, pp. 48-54.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

Personalised recommendations