Pious Muslim Bodies and Alternative Medicine:


  • Carolyn Moxley Rouse

    1. 1Carolyn Rouse is an associate professor of anthropology and teaches in the Center for African-American Studies at Princeton University. She has done extensive fieldwork with African American converts to Sunni Islam and medical anthropology research around sickle-cell disease and health care disparities, and she is currently focused on a longitudinal film project in Africa and the African diaspora. In addition, she has produced, directed, and/or edited a number of documentaries including Chicks in White Satin (1994), a film about a lesbian wedding; and Purification to Prozac: Treating Mental Illness in Bali (1998). She is the author of Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (2004) and is completing Uncertain Suffering: Racial Healthcare Disparities and the Politics of Sickle Cell Disease and Televised Redemption: Race, Religion and Media with Marla Frederick and John Jackson.
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“Pious Muslim Bodies and Alternative Medicine” explores the emergence of what might be conceptualized as a Muslim gendered diaspora and how it intersects with the African diaspora. Literature on the development of a Muslim public sphere tends to focus on written texts and how those texts are interpreted by Muslim groups within the ummah, or world community. This article explores not only the exegetical borrowings but also the continuities and discontinuities between these two diasporas as articulated in the bodily practices of African American Muslim women. Examining discourses about the body, this article locates different diasporic linkages in consumption and health practices. Of theoretical interest is whether these bodily practices and alternative health care discourses are tied to African American social history (race), conversion (change in dispositions), Islam (exegesis), or the American cultural ethic of individualism. With dramatic increases in women's literacy and media access within the Muslim ummah, Muslim women are beginning to participate in an international dialogue about ethical conduct. Although the religious discourses are often mimetic, the regional inflections of religious practices are often the product of other genealogies. The continuities and discontinuities represented in the health practices of African American Muslim women demonstrate that although diaspora is not tied to any place or essential religious authority, it is materially locatable in modes of practice and relations of power.