Dwelling in the Bosom of Light

By: Youssef Carter  

The religious icon of the Matriarch in Christian context (i.e. Mary, Mother of Jesus, etc.) and its deployment for modeling piety is perhaps obvious, but less evident is how the symbolization of idealized womanhood in Islamic context, specifically in Sufi traditions, functions to emphasize moral rectitude amongst Sufi adherents. The vital relationship between mothering and inward human character is quite intuitive, but somehow the place of ‘Mothering’ as an active component in the culmination of charismatic Sufi leadership has been given less emphasis in anthropological studies of Islam. It is true that men are more often assumed to be the active purveyors of knowledge in the cultivation of Sufi participants in most traditions, however, I suggest that what we consider ‘spiritual mastery’ (maraboutage) hinges upon the prior work, in most cases, of mothers who provide a more foundational labor of cultivating temperance and righteousness through their modeling of upright behavior and etiquette. This paper draws upon fieldwork and interviews conducted in the Mustafawi Sufi community in Moncks Corner, South Carolina amongst Senegambian and Black American Sufi practitioners to shed light upon how motherhood is deployed as a teaching tool and shared in the United States and beyond. Through highlighting how the figure of the Matriarch pervades Islamic notions of piety via Qur’anic text and Sufi lore, I recenter mothering beyond its mundane characterization and situate it as a significant pedagogical requirement in the culmination of charismatic Sufi authority.

Religious Cultivation, Transmission of Knowledge, Sufism, Mothering, Spiritual Pedagogy
Religious Community and Socialization
Virtual Poster

Youssef Carter

College Fellow, Anthropology, Harvard University, United States
MA, United States