SUFIMINISM: THE SEXUAL, THE SPIRITUAL, THE SELF
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My dissertation addresses the question: what does an exploration of sexual politics within Islam look like if the mandate of respectability is refused? It explores the possibilities of Sufi thought as an epistemological approach to thinking about sexuality studies and reframing the relationship between Islam and sex. Existing scholarship on Sufism, Islam, and feminism tends to overrely on legal framings of sexuality and heavily exegetical engagements with religion, and offers too many unstated concessions to respectability politics. I argue that by centering the poetic, the everyday, and the transgressive, Sufism can offer alternative understandings of counter-hegemonic Islamic traditions. I use an expansive range of texts such as Sufi qawwali (spiritual songs), Sufi poetry, Qur'anic exegeses, hagiographical texts, and oral storytelling to explore pivotal concepts in sexuality studies: heteronormativity, consent, and the divide between licit and illicit sex. In addition to textual analysis, I present interludes of experiential narratives that are drawn from semi-structured interviews with sexually marginalized Muslims as well as from autoethnographic reflections; they illustrate the complex relationships between religio-spirituality and sexual expression. Each analysis chapter is focused on distinct Sufi tropes, such as wisal/firaq (union/separation), niyyat (intentionality), ‘ubudiyya (servanthood), pain-and-pleasure, kanjri (whore), zaat (being), and izzat (honor). Together, these chapters challenge imperatives of marriage and sex, make the case for affective consent, reflect on unconventional sexual practices such as kink/BDSM, and reframe a conversation about sex work beyond the binary of licit versus illicit sex. I conclude by discussing the possibilities of future research on the contemporary resurgence of feminism and Sufism in South Asian popular culture, as well as my vision for a queer and interdisciplinary approach I call Sufiminism.