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The Zar Cult in Sudan

What is it about this rather arcane phenomenon, not widely known in the West, that causes so much consternation in Sudan? Zar is the name given to what is variously called a cult, ritual, ceremony, or group therapy that is engaged in chiefly by Muslim women in northern and eastern Africa. Zar also refers to any of a variety of spirit entities that are encountered in a zar ceremony. According to Hale, zar is "conventionally" designated "as a healing cult that specializes in women's 'ailments,'" whether physical or psychological. Group participation and spiritual content are significant attributes of the zar; it brings together women in a participatory group effort "for the purpose of helping a possessed 'sister' rid herself of the demons in her" that may be causing the ailment being treated (Hale 234). But it would be incorrect to describe zar as demonic possession that must somehow be exorcised. Rather, the human being is meant to come to some accommodation with the spirit and thereby achieve a sense of release or cure. This implies that one medical benefit of zar practice lies in its apparent ability to relieve psychological and possibly psychosomatic stress.

Zar practice is located in the tradition in many Islamic societies in sub-Saharan Africa, not least the rural villages of Sudan, of attributing both physical and mental illnesses to supernatural phenomena (Patel 1292ff). Muslim Sudanese, in particular in rural regions, have traditionally perceived illness in a way consistent with belief in "the evil eye (lailit), spirits (jantaib or jinn), and mysterious diseases (tisaramt), whose explanations lie in the social construction of 'foreignness' and its threat to procreation and social well-being" (Fadlallah 1). Under that belief system, physical health is an index of personal integrity and a whole range of psychological and social conditions. Islamic thought about the jinn spirits is that they are attracted to the human body's cavit...

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The Zar Cult in Sudan. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 04:51, September 21, 2017, from
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