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Shaggy or Shaved? The Symbolism of Hair among Persian Qalandar Sufis

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image of Iran and the Caucasus

The Qalandars have usually been considered antinomian Sufis, a view that may have been perpetuated by their shocking appearance (the shaving of head-hair, eyebrows, moustache and beard, that is, the so-called “four-shaves”, chahār-żarb, which runs against the normative Islamic tradition. This paper briefly highlights the significance of hair in the Islamic tradition with reference to the sacred sources (the Qur'ān, Hadīth and biographies of the Prophet). Subsequently the general Sufi perspective on hair is considered, and then the study focuses on the Qalandars. Following a brief investigation of the term, four seemingly different Qalandar explanations for the origins of the chahār-żarb are presented. Despite the apparent dissimilarity in these emic sources, it is argued that they hold significant parallels. An understanding of the contents of these stories reveals the Qalandars to be located firmly within a normative Sufi tradition; rather than having an unbounded, intoxicated and antinomian lifestyle, these stories suggest that the Qalandars were deeply attached to Qur'ānic and Islamic referents, and wished to uphold an ethic by which they were able to devote their focus on the divine.

Affiliations: 1: Glasgow University


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