‘The body is a tool for remembrance’

healing, transformation, and the instrumentality of the body in a North American Sufi order


  • Megan Adamson Sijapati Gettysburg College


Sufi, Sufism, Islam, healing, ritual, embodiment


This article is a preliminary analysis of the role of the body in core rituals of a North American branch of the Shadhilyya Sufi order. It draws upon fieldwork conducted between 2016 and 2020 to consider how spiritual healing practices involve the human body sensorily and in experiential, imaginative realms, as conveyed through practitioners’ verbal descriptions of what they feel in the body and how they understand their bodies and the bodies of others. I demonstrate how, in these healing practices, the body is instrumentalized in three key modes – as barometer, controller, and ground of energy – that change the way it is experienced. I argue that the ‘ordinary’ – or, non-extraordinary – body is instrumentalized through these healing modalities to become the site of transformation from spirit to material and material to spirit, and that through this the body emerges as central to everyday, lived Sufi practice. The healings discussed incorporate traditional Muslim devotional practices and long-standing Islamic and Sufi rituals such as dhikr (remembrance, recollection of the divine), recitation of the 99 names of the divine, Qur’anic recitation, cupping, and less traditionally Islamic practices such as acupuncture.

Author Biography

Megan Adamson Sijapati, Gettysburg College

Megan Adamson Sijapati is Professor of Religious Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She received her PhD from the University of California Santa Barbara. Her interests are in modernity and religion, the body, contemplative traditions, digital religion, contemporary Islam and Sufism. She is the author of the book Islamic Revival in Nepal: Religion and a New Nation (2011) and co-editor of the books Religion and Modernity in the Himalaya (2016) and Muslim Communities and Cultures of the Himalaya: Conceptualizing the Global Ummah (2021), all published with Routledge Press. Her most recent publications examine connections between Islamic piety, the body, and contemplative practices in digital contexts: ‘Sufi Remembrance Practices in a Meditation Marketplace of Mobile Apps’ in Anthropological Perspectives on the Religious Uses of Mobile Apps (Palgrave 2019) and ‘Islamic Meditation: Mindfulness Apps for Muslims in the Digital Spiritual Marketplace’ in Cyber Muslims: Mapping Islamic Networks in the Digital Age (OneWorld 2022).


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Body and Religion