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Performing religion: A comparative study of two interrelated Islamic practices

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This research examines the sikiri dance of the Muslim Yao in Malawi and its contextual and performative associations with Islamic doctrines. Today the current state of sikiri is known to a certain extent, but its background still requires in-depth study. The evidence at hand, however, demonstrates that throughout history performing sikiri has caused controversies among various regional Islamic schools. This was mainly due to its accommodation of non-Islamic features, which in time have undergone some changes and, in case of the studied examples, even disappeared. Today’s sikiri dance nevertheless incorporates particular features that are reminiscent of Islamic ritual practice dhikr with respect to performance practice, form, context and embeddedness in Islam. The main aim of the research is therefore to investigate a potential kinship between present-day sikiri and dhikr in its most general sense. By doing so it also aims to draw attention to the dynamic quality of performative practices of Islam in the East African environment. The analysis is primarily based on empirical evidence that was obtained from a short fieldwork in Mangochi and Blantyre districts in Malawi.
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Keywords: Islam; Malawi; dance; dhikr; sikiri; the Yao

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Vienna

Publication date: December 1, 2015

More about this publication?
  • merging from an international network project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council, and research collaboration between academics and practitioners, Performing Islam is the first peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal about Islam and performance and their related aesthetics. It focuses on socio-cultural as well as the historical and political contexts of artistic practices in the Muslim world. The journal covers dance, ritual, theatre, performing arts, visual arts and cultures, and popular entertainment in Islam-influenced societies and their diasporas. It promotes insightful research of performative expressions of Islam by performers and publics, and encompasses theoretical debates, empirical studies, postgraduate research, interviews with performers, research notes and queries, and reviews of books, conferences, festivals, events and performances.
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