Healing the Body, Healing the Islamic Umma:
Sufi Saints, God’s Law, and Corporeal Archaeologies of the Polity in Morocco
This paper begins with the body to expand the theoretical discussion of the Islamic polity (umma) in North Africa. The body and the body politic are mutually constitutive, yet modern liberal political citizenship in the Middle East and North Africa, as in the West, has been conceived as divorced from corporeality. In this paper, Amster excavates the ideal of a Sufi body politic that existed in Morocco before colonialism, a way of knowing that survives primarily as fragments of contemporary healing narratives. Sufi saints were “public healers,” restoring God’s law to individuals and to society through a body understood as responsive to God and active in worldly politics. Treating the contemporary body as an archive and the repository of a lost form of political authority, Amster combines medical fieldwork with the topography of the city of Fez, Islamic theology, and the hagiographical compendium of nineteenth-century Moroccan Sufi scholar Muhammad ibn Ja’far al-Kattani, Kitab salwat al-anfas wa muhadathat al-akyas bi man uqbira min al-‘ulama’ wa al-sulaha’ bi Fas, in order to recover alternate ways of imagining the polity. By way of conclusion, we consider what this history of health and healing in Morocco provides for reading the corporeal politics of the Arab Spring.
Dr. Ellen Amster
Co-Coordinator, Certificate of Middle East and North African Studies Department of History
Affiliated Faculty, Global Health Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison