Poly-symbolic Religiosity and the Dilemmas of American Sufism

An Ethnographic Study of Zikr at a Sufi Shrine in Manhattan

  • Shermeen Bano Department of Sociology School of Social Sciences and Humanities University of Management and Technology, Lahore
  • Inam ul Haq Department of Sociology School of Social Sciences and Humanities University of Management and Technology, Lahore
Keywords: American Sufism, Zikr, Ethnography, Sufi Shrine, Manhattan, Poly Symbolic, Religiosity


This ethnographic endeavor seeks to explore the ritual of Zikr and its association with the shift and dilemmas in American Sufism at a Sufi Shrine in Manhattan, The United States of America. The study highlights the ways in which Islam accommodate socio- cultural change without losing its traditional identity: It has not changed in essence. Also, it throws light on the ways such monotheistic religions create social relevance for their followers in a culture alien to universalizing discourses and identities. The paper argues that esoteric versions of traditional monotheistic religions, like Sufism are more suited to postmodern religious consciousness of modern day individuals. The study employs the conceptual lens of postmodern religiosity. Four formal interviews of the Sufi followers (dervishes) alongside field jottings that expanded from January 2012 till December 2012 were conducted. The analysis was thematic in nature. The structure of the Zikr ritual was elaborated followed by offering prayer the ‘Sushi’ way. This form of prayer ensures convivial co-existence amongst intra-religious
collectivities. The study concluded that the concept of religiosity is poly-symbolic in nature. The Zikr ritual acts as a distinct plain that invokes a sense of belonging for the participants in diverse settings. American Sufism is multifaceted in essence and in spirits


Download data is not yet available.


Anjum, Tanvir. “Sufism in History and its Relationship with Power.” Islamic Studies 45, no. 2
(2006): 221-268.
Asad, Talal. “Medieval Heresy: an Anthropological View.” Social History 11, no. 3 (1986): 345-
Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. Oxford University Press, 1997.
Berger, Peter L. “The Sacred Canopy.” In Sociology of Religion. UK: Routledge, 2015.
Berger, Peter L., Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner. The Homeless Mind: Modernization and
Consciousness. London: Random House Publishing, 1973.
Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Delanty, Gerard. Challenging Knowledge: The University in the Knowledge Society. Buckingham:
Open University Press, 2001.
Ewing, Katherine. “The Politics of Sufism: Redefining the Saints of Pakistan.” The Journal of Asian
Studies 42, no. 2 (1983): 251-268.
Fujii, Ann Lee. Killing Neighbours: Networks of Violence in Rwanda. Ithaca, Cornell University
Press, 2009.
Hardwick, Charley D. “Elusive Religiosity, Illusions, and Truth Telling.” Journal of the American
Academy of Religion 49, no. 4 (1981): 645-655.
Kliever, Lonnie D. “Polysymbolism and Modern Religiosity.” The Journal of Religion 59, no. 2
(1979): 169-194.
How to Cite
Shermeen Bano, and Inam ul Haq. 2019. “Poly-Symbolic Religiosity and the Dilemmas of American Sufism”. Journal of Islamic Thought and Civilization 9 (1), 106-18. https://doi.org/10.32350/jitc.91.07.