Gendering madness

Figuring the majdhuba in modern Moroccan hagiography


  • Brittany Landorf Emory University


Sufism, gender, madness, majdhūba, hagiography, Muhammad ibn Ja‘far al-Kattānī, Morocco


In this article, I examine what narratives of enraptured madness (jadhb) and the figure of the mad female saint (majdhuba) reveal about the articulation of gendered saintly orthodoxy within the modern Moroccan hagiographical compendium Salwat al-Anfas wa-Muhadathat al-Akyas bi-man Uqbira min al-‘Ulama’ wa’l-Sulaha’ bi-Fas (The entertainment of souls and the discourse of the wise concerning the scholars and the Sufis who in Fez met their demise). Written by the nineteenth-century Moroccan historian and Sufi, Muhammad ibn Ja‘far al-Kattani, this text draws on and also plays with the genre of Sufi hagiography. Because it is arranged as a ‘tomb visiting guide,’ it appears to scatter traditional vestiges of Sufi hierarchies and rhetorical organization strategies, presenting a composite picture of Sufi sainthood. However, al-Kattani also reaffirms entrenched gendered hierarchies of spiritual authority. Throughout Salwat al-Anfas, al-Kattani’s depiction of the majdhuba acts as a literary foil for the paradigm of the ‘good Sufi woman’ or normative female sainthood. Although al-Kattani includes narratives of the majdhuba that depict potentially transgressive gender performances experienced within the state of enraptured madness – such as uncovering the body, growing a beard, babbling, gossiping, and acting aggressively in public spaces – these deviant performances serve to solidify normative modes of sainthood. Or, in other words, enraptured madness sticks to certain saints more than others, creating gendered hierarchies of spiritual authority.


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