Female saints and the practice of Islam in Sylhet, Bangladesh



Unlike the saintly power of her male counterpart, which is conceived as an attribute of the individual, the spiritual power of the female saint in Sylhet, Bangladesh, is attributed to a supernatural entity that is temporarily affiliated with her. This difference cannot simply be regarded as an example of gendered domains of religious practice, in which men study the Qu'ran and women traffic with spirits, as in Sylhet, male healers practice with the aid of spirits. I describe how one woman's saintly status allowed her to resist the virilocal rule of residence, a patriarchal structure that is said to underpin women's subordinate position in Bangladesh. Her story demonstrates that Islam cannot be conflated with patriarchy and that it may support women's emancipation from structures of male authority. The meaning of Islam is context dependent and revised through practice. [Islam, gender, agency, sainthood, Bangladesh, spirit possession, healing]