Thursday, September 8, 2016

LANDSCAPE S OF SPIRITUALITY: THE TOPOGRAPHY OF ISMAILI SACRED SITES IN XINJIANG, CHINA

AMIER SAIDULA

Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford Online
ISSN: 2040-1876 New Series, Volume VIII, no. 3 (2016)

Introduction
When  speaking  of  t he  attributes  of  p laces , it  might  be  worth  not ing that  they  are  not  only  geophysical,  biological,  cultu ral  and  historical ,  but  also  religious,  spiritual  or  mystical.  N atural phenomena, such as mountains, rocks,  fossils,  individual trees, grov es, springs, lakes and rivers,  are  also  considered  sacred by  some  cultures .  The  Abrahamic  religions and  many  other  faith  systems all  at tach  spiritual  importance  to  certain  places , and  millions  of  people  worldwide recognize and value the special significance  that is  attributed to them.
In the pluralistic cultural landscape of Islam, apart from the annual  h ajj pilgrimage, one of the  Five  Pillars  of  Islam,  mazar visit s ,  a  pilgrimage - like  practice,  are symbolic  of  the  regional  cultural  expression  of  Islam  in  many  Muslim  societies , though  some  such  societies  may  proscribe it . This  study  is a brief ethnography of sacred sites venerated ( mazur  tawuf chaig in  the local vernacular ) by the small Shi’i Ismaili community  of  Tashkurgan,  in Xinjiang  in the  People’s Republic of  China (PRC ; see map below ). 
This article documents some of the important sacred sites and their relevance today, in an age  of  economic and social change. Since in Islam the term ‘pilgrimage’ is  often  associated w ith  the annual  hajj to Mecca, the term ‘visit’ is used for the local pilgrimage - like tradition being  discussed  here  to  avoid  confusion.  The  study  is  based  on  data  collect ed  in  the  Tashkurgan  Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang  in the summer of 2011. 

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