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Religious Culture Contested: The Sufi Ritual of Dawsa in Nineteenth-Century Cairo

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With the entry of Muslim society into the modern era in the nineteenth century, Sufi beliefs and rituals became the focus of systematic debate and denunciation by local and foreign observers alike. An illuminating example is the dawsa ritual—a ceremony involving the shaykh of the Sa'diyya order riding his horse over the backs of his prostrate disciple s, which was particularly widespread in the Cairene milieu. This practice, intended to prove that true believers are protected from all harm, was officially abolished in 1881 in the name of enlightenment and human dignity. The present article traces the history of the dawsa and, more broadly, sheds light on the Sufi encounter with the challenges of modernity. It reveals a diverse picture of the anti-Sufi campaign carried out by various elements in Egypt—foreign consul s, government official s, modernists and nationalists—which resulted in a loss of influence by Sufi order s, yet fostered a capacity for survival and ideological rejuvenation.

Affiliations: 1: Jerusalem


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