تصور الحب والنور عند زوار السيدة زينب بالقاهرة / Love and Light in the Imagination of al-Sayyida Zaynab's Pilgrims



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أبو زهرة, نادية محمد; Abu Zahra, Nadia

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[The shrine of al-Sayyida Zaynab - the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad - is situated in a popular quarter in Cairo, named after her, and is visited by multitudes of pilgrims. The visitors express their love and need for her protection and motherhood, verbally, through prayers and supplications and, concretely, through offerings of food, candles, perfumes, textiles and money. The article concentrates its investigation on the correspondence between verbal expressions and concrete offerings. As this article is anthropological in orientation, it does not deal with the historical aspect of al-Sayyida Zaynab, but concentrates on popular views of her, and examines the symbolism attached to her feast (mawlid). The research is based on fieldwork undertaken in 1986, where the primary informants were women visitors of al-Sayyida Zaynab. The study analyzes and establishes the imagery of the verbal expressions of love to al-Sayyida Zaynab, as articulated in formal verse and in everyday language. The study demonstrates how such imagery corresponds to the nature and distribution of the offerings. The ritual of offering whether sweets and meals, or perfume and incense, or music and joyful trillings (zaghārīd), corresponds to the pattern of light and illumination. Light is a key image in Arabic religious poetry. The Prophet is referred to as the "Lamp of all virtues" by the famous thirteenth century poet, al-Busayri. Thus the offerings translate into material terms, the metaphor of prophetic light penetrating darkness. Light symbolizes moral purity. This purity is also expressed in the white tulle covering the tomb of al-Sayyida Zaynab, which is commonly used as bridal veil. Perfumes also express in concrete terms a metaphoric Arabic expression, applied to the examplary life of al-Sayyida Zaynab: "perfumed biography" (al-sīra al-'atira). Perfume and light are like virtue, a source of diffused delight. Thus the words addressed and the objects offered to al-Sayyida Zaynab reinforce each other in expressing the love and veneration of the visitors and pilgrims. Futhermore, these popular manifestations of piety and love draw on the mystic and religious heritage and reflect Quranic verses.]

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