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Battered Love in Contemporary Syria: Shi‘i Spiritual Healing with Abu Ahmad

Part of the The Modern Muslim World book series (MMUS)

Abstract

Who can help heal broken hearts in contemporary Syria? The spiritual doctor (ṭabīb rūḥānī), Shaykh Abu Ahmad claimed he could. Abu Ahmad veiled “reality” by restating events and narratives with reference to jinn. Then he charged clients for exorcising the Evil Eye or an evil (magical) deed (‘amla). At least temporarily, he lightened the burden these concealed faults posed. Shaykh Abu Ahmad relieved his clients’ worries with ḥijābs or talismans, for which he used magic number squares. His method of healing involved kashshāf, a diagnostic analysis or revelation, which simultaneously revealed and concealed. Shaykh Abu Ahmad’s magic is an example of Michael Taussig’s definition as “a skilled revealing of skilled concealment”. The shaykh’s intervention had two social functions: It restored Muslim bodies and lives, and it reified normative views of the role of jinn. This chapter examines the role spiritual healers and jinn play in society and how they relate to the sphere of religion. It begins by analyzing the relationship between religion and magic in the setting of Sayyida Zaynab, a suburb south of Damascus, then describes the space of a spiritual doctor, Shaykh Abu Ahmad. Next, it tells two stories: one is about averting divorce and the other about an attempt to make a former lover return. In the first one, Shaykh Abu Ahmad achieved his stated goal; in the second, he did not. Both, however, resulted in healing broken hearts and mending social relations. Spirits are part of the healing process, part of the stories that veil events and problems.

Keywords

  • Islam
  • Muslim
  • Jinn possession
  • Syria
  • Iraq
  • Mental health
  • Agency
  • Twelver Shi‘ism
  • Shia

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Szanto, E. (2021). Battered Love in Contemporary Syria: Shi‘i Spiritual Healing with Abu Ahmad. In: Böttcher, A., Krawietz, B. (eds) Islam, Migration and Jinn. The Modern Muslim World. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-61247-4_5

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