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American Ethnologist

All-male sonic gatherings, Islamic reform, and masculinity in northern Pakistan

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Abstract

In this article, I explore the complex opportunities afforded by high-intensity performative events for the instantiation of diverse forms of sociality and masculinity in the mountainous Chitral region of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. I focus ethnographically on two types of all-male musical gatherings that are regularly attended by Chitrali Muslims: the istók and the mahfil. The “permissibility” of these types of entertainment, according to Islamic authoritative teachings, is a source of considerable debate in the region: Many Chitrali “men of piety,” who are mostly trained in Pakistani madrassas and are often affiliated with so-called Islamist political parties, deliver mosque addresses during which they pronounce such gatherings “impermissible” within Islam. Analysis of the role played by these all-male sonic gatherings in the instantiation of locally contested forms of masculinity furnishes unique insights into the much-debated issue of how Muslims handle and respond to pressures to Islamize. More broadly, I aim to contribute to wider anthropological debates concerning the constitution and significance to everyday life of local theories of aesthetics, emotion, and ethical action.

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