The Contagious Muhammad

Addressing Prophetic Relics in Islam from the Perspective of the Cognitive Science of Religion

Authors

  • Jonas Svensson Linnaeus University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/jcsr.40987

Keywords:

Islam, relics, Muhammad (prophet), contagion, prestige psychology

Abstract

This article utilizes a cognitive science of religion framework in approaching the cultural phenomena of relics from the prophet Muhammad in Islamic tradition. The basic arguments are that a contagion aspiration system that underlies the phenomenon of relics in general could hypothetically be construed as an evolutionary exaptation of a contagion avoidance system within a framework of social learning, and that the specific phenomenon of relics can be seen as a by-product of this exaptation. This explanatory model is used to make sense of two specific complexes of beliefs and practices: (1) the notion that physical contact with prophetic relics results in transfer substance, baraka, with this-worldly beneficial effect, and (2) the fact that prophetic relics throughout history has been used by political and religious dignitaries as a means to boost social prestige and authority.

Author Biography

Jonas Svensson, Linnaeus University

Jonas Svensson is a Professor in the Study of Religions at Linnaeus University and researcher in the Linnaeus University Centre Concurrences

References

Aarnio, Kia and Marjaana Lindeman. 2004. “Magical Food and Health Beliefs: A Portrait of Believers and Functions of the Beliefs.” Appetite 43(1): 65–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2004.03.002

Algoe, Sara B. and Jonathan Haidt. 2009. “Witnessing Excellence in Action: The ‘Other-Praising’ Emotions of Elevation, Gratitude, and Admiration.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 4(2): 105–127. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760802650519

Argo, Jennifer J., Darren W. Dahl and Andrea C. Morales. 2008. “Positive Consumer Contagion: Responses to Attractive Others in a Retail Context.” Journal of Marketing Research 45(6): 690–701. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.45.6.690

Aydin, Hilmi, Talha Ugurluel and Ahmet Dogru. 2004. The Sacred Trusts: Pavilion of the Sacred Relics, Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul. Istanbul: Tughra.

BBC News. 2017. “Albert Einstein’s Happiness Note Sold for $1.6m.” Agence France-Presse (AFP). 25 October. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41742785

———. 2015. “Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Backs Afghanistan Peace Talks.” Associated Press (AP). 15 July. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33535905

Bloom, Paul. 2010. How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like. New York: W. W. Norton.

Boyer, Pascal. 2001. Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors. London: Vintage.

Boyer, Pascal and Pierre Liénard. 2006. “Why Ritualized Behavior? Precaution Systems and Action Parsing in Developmental, Pathological and Cultural Rituals.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29(6):1–56. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X06009332

Colin, G. S. 2012. “Baraka.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. Second edition, edited by P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs. Leiden: Brill. https://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/baraka-SIM_1216

Curtis, Valerie, Mícheál de Barra and Robert Aunger. 2011. “Disgust as an Adaptive System for Disease Avoidance Behaviour.” Philosophical Transactions of theRoyal Society B: Biological Sciences 366(1563): 389–401. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2010.0117

El-Hibri, Tayeb. 2017. “The Abbasids and the Relics of the Prophet.” Journal of Abbasid Studies 4(1): 62–96.

Gelman, Susan A. 2003. The Essential Child: Origins of Essentialism in Everyday Thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1163/22142371-12340031

———. 2013. “Artifacts and Essentialism.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 4(3): 449–463. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-013-0142-7

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1991. “Exaptation: A Crucial Tool for an Evolutionary Psychology.” Journal of Social Issues 47(3): 43–65. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1991.tb01822.x

Henrich, Joseph and Francisco J. Gil-White. 2001. “The Evolution of Prestige: Freely Conferred Deference as a Mechanism for Enhancing the Benefits of Cultural Transmission.” Evolution and Human Behavior 22(3): 165–196. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1090-5138(00)00071-4

Hoppitt, William and Kevin N. Laland. 2013. Social Learning: An Introduction to Mechanisms, Methods, and Models. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400846504

Huang, Julie Y., Joshua M. Ackerman and George E. Newman. 2017. “Catching (Up with) Magical Contagion: A Review of Contagion Effects in Consumer Contexts.” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2(4): 430–443. https://doi.org/10.1086/693533

Jiménez, Ángel V. and Alex Mesoudi. 2019. “Prestige-Biased Social Learning: Current Evidence and Outstanding Questions.” Palgrave Communications 5(1): 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0228-7

Kelly, Daniel R. 2011. Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/8303.001.0001

Khalidi, Tarif. 2009. Images of Muhammad: Narratives of the Prophet in Islam across the Centuries. New York: Doubleday.

Kramer, Thomas and Lauren G. Block. 2014. “Like Mike: Ability Contagion through Touched Objects Increases Confidence and Improves Performance.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 124(2): 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.03.009

Lee, Charles, Sally A. Linkenauger, Jonathan Z. Bakdash, Jennifer A. Joy-Gaba and Dennis R. Profitt. 2011. “Putting Like a Pro: The Role of Positive Contagion in Golf Performance and Perception.” PloS ONE 6(10): e26016. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026016

Margoliouth, David. S. 1937. “The Relics of the Prophet Mohammed.” Moslem World 27(1): 20–27. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-1913.1937.tb00326.x

Medin, Douglas L. and Andrew Ortony. 1989. “Psychological Essentialism.” In Similarity and Analogical Reasoning, edited by Stella Vosniadou and Andrew Ortony, 179-195. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511529863.009

Meri, Josef W. 2010. “Relics of Piety and Power in Medieval Islam.” In Past and Present 206, suppl. 5: 97–120. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gtq014

Nemeroff, Carol and Paul Rozin. 1994. “The Contagion Concept in Adult Thinking in the United States: Transmission of Germs and of Interpersonal Influence.” Ethos 22(2): 158–186. https://doi.org/10.1525/eth.1994.22.2.02a00020

———. 2000. “The Makings of the Magical Mind: The Nature and Function of Sympathetic Magical Thinking.” In Imagining the Impossible: Magical, Scientific, and Religious Thinking in Children, edited by Karl S. Rosengren, Carl N. Johnson and Paul L. Harris, 1–34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511571381.002

———. 2018. “Back in Touch with Contagion: Some Essential Issues.” Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 3(4): 612–624. https://doi.org/10.1086/699971

Newman, George E. and Paul Bloom. 2014. “Physical Contact Influences How Much People Pay at Celebrity Auctions.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111(10): 3705–3708. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1313637111

Newman, George E., Gil Diesendruck and Paul Bloom. 2011. “Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects.” Journal of Consumer Research 38(2): 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1086/658999

Raach, Marcus. 2006. “Relics (Veneration of)”. In The Brill Dictionary of Religion, edited by Kocku von Stuckrad. Leiden: Brill. https://referenceworks.brillonline.com:443/entries/brill-dictionary-of-religion/relics-veneration-of-SIM_00055

Rozin, Paul, Carol Nemeroff, Marcia Wane and Amy Sherrod. 1989. “Operation of the Sympathetic Magical Law of Contagion in Interpersonal Attitudes among Americans.” Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 27(4): 367–370. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03334630

Rubin, Uri. 2012. “Nur Muhammadi.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. Second Edition, edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Leiden: Brill. https://referenceworks.brillonline.com:443/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/nur-muhammadi-SIM_5985

Rytter, Mikkel. 2019. “The Hair of the Prophet: Relics and the Affective Presence of the Absent Beloved among Sufis in Denmark.” Contemporary Islam 13(1): 49–65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11562-017-0400-z

Safi, Omid. 2009. Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters. New York: HarperOne.

Schaller, Mark and Justin H. Park. 2011. “The Behavioral Immune System (and Why It Matters).” Current Directions in Psychological Science 20(2): 99–103. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721411402596

Schimmel, Annemarie. 1985. And Muhammad Is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Schindler, Ines, Veronika Zink, Johannes Windrich and Winfried Menninghaus. 2013. “Admiration and Adoration: Their Different Ways of Showing and Shaping Who We Are.” Cognition & Emotion 27(1): 85–118. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2012.698253

Sharma, Piyush, Marcela Morales, John Gountas and Sandra Gountas. 2019. “Celebrity Endorsement Influence on Consumer Decision Making: New Insights and Research Directions.” Journal of Marketing Management 35(13/14): 1159–1192. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2019.1632373

Slone, D. Jason. 2004. Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/0195169263.001.0001

Sørensen, Jesper. 2006. A Cognitive Theory of Magic. Lanham: AltaMira.

Sperber, Dan. 1996. Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach. Cambridge: Blackwell.

Strong, John S. 2005. “Relics.” In Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 7686–7692. Detroit: Gale.

SufiLive. 2013. “Ziyara to the Holy Hair of Prophet.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MewXqV1rYTg&ab_channel=SufiLive

Walsham, Alexandra, ed. 2010. Relics and Remains. (Past and Present. Supplement 5.) Oxford: Oxford Univsersity Press.

Wheeler, Brannon. 2010. “Gift of the Body in Islam: The Prophet Muhammad’s Camel Sacrifice and Distribution of Hair and Nails at His Farewell Pilgrimage.” Numen: International Review for the History of Religions 57(3/4): 341–388. https://doi.org/10.1163/156852710X501342

Williams, Ian G. 2006. “Relics and ‘Baraka’: Devotion to the Prophet Muhammad among Sufis in Nottingham, UK.” In Reading Religion in Text and Context: Reflections of Faith and Practice in Religious Materials, edited by Elisabeth Arweck and Peter Collins, 65–82. Aldershot: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315245256-5

Published

2020-12-31

How to Cite

Svensson, J. (2020). The Contagious Muhammad: Addressing Prophetic Relics in Islam from the Perspective of the Cognitive Science of Religion. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 5(2), 187–204. https://doi.org/10.1558/jcsr.40987