Faculty of Humanities
University of Amsterdam

LECTURE 17 March 2022 by Liana Saif: Between Admiration and Repulsion: The ‘Witch’ in Medieval Islam

Between Admiration and Repulsion: The ‘Witch’ in Medieval Islam

In the series What’s New?! Spring Lecture Series 2022, organised by the University of Leiden, our Dr. Liana Saif will give a lecture:
Thursday 17 March between 17:15 – 18:15.

The study of the Islamic occult sciences has developed rapidly with impressive outcomes in the last 10 years. In addition to ground-breaking research, these include critical editions of overlooked texts that are essential to our knowledge of the occult sciences, and Islamic philosophical and scientific enterprise. The analysis thus far has confirmed the dominance of “maleness” as the paradigm of sagacity, ability, and authority. In this lecture, I will look at the place of women in the history of Islamicate medieval magic on two levels: 1) the theorisation of women’s magical practices in the works of authors and commentators on magic such as Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ (‘The Brethren of Purity’) and Ghāyat al-ḥakīm by Maslama al-Qurṭubī (both tenth-century productions), and 2) the presence of magical women in bio-bibliographical sources and historical narratives such as al-Masʿūdī’s Murūj al-Dhahab (‘The Meadows of Gold’) and Ibn Khaldūn’s Muqaddima and Tārīkh (‘Prolegomena’ and ‘History’, respectively) among others. I will show that despite insisting on the inferiority of the epistemological foundations of women magical practices, the power some witches (sāḥirāt and ḥakīmāt) yielded not only fascinated authors and medieval historians but were crucial for devising “sensational” catalyses that constructed an ancient heritage and an Islamic historical imaginary.

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