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National Institute of Pakistan Studies
Name of ScholarSaad Ali Khan
Title of Dissertation Contemporary Sufi Shaykhas in Pakistan: Leaders, Discourses, Communities, and Practices
Issue Date2020
PublisherNational Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan

This dissertation presents and ethnographic account of Sufi women leaders (shaykhas) and their respective communities (of murids, students, followers and admirers) in three urban cities (Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi) of Pakistan. Sufism’s appeal to urban sections of the society points to both change and continuity in Sufism of the twenty-first century. These Sufi shaykhas are significant part of contemporary Sufism in Pakistan. Contemporary Sufism, as argued in this research, has been transformed in recent years. Some of the prominent trends and transformation within contemporary Sufism including gender inclusiveness, structural openness, global outreach and technological usage have significantly impacted these Sufi shaykhas and respective communities. Within the context of contemporary Sufism, this ethnography traces the specific discourses, communities and practices of these Sufi shaykhas. It does so by exploring the questions like where are Sufi shaykhas in Pakistan, how they have articulated and imagined Sufism, what sort of communities they have formed and what kind of practices have carried out in their respective communities.

This thesis is an attempt to explore and analyse women’s presence as leaders within contemporary Sufism in Pakistan. it has also helped in understanding the dynamics of change with the contemporary Sufism in Pakistan. Sufi shaykhas are significant part of contemporary Sufism in Pakistan demonstrative of both continuity and change in the Sufi tradition. As explored in this research, the way contemporary Sufism is led (women leaders), imagined (modern hybrid discourses), lived (intimate, urban communities) and practiced (transformative rituals) all evidenced to continuity and change in Sufism in Pakistan. This change and continuity of Sufism in Pakistan and its contemporary form is not much different from the rest of the world.

Methodologically this research is based on fieldwork carried out in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Fieldwork included archival work, interviews and participant observation. I closely followed the daily lives, zikr (remembrance) practices and works of shaykha Shahbano, shaykha Amat-un-Nur and shaykha Shezrah. Besides I have also interacted with their respective Sufi tariqas (communities and orders) comprised of their disciples (murids), followers, admirers, and students.