Staying behind: Divine presence, virtuous emplacement, and sabr at the end of life among older Kyrgyz Muslims

Maria Louw


Drawing on fieldwork among older Kyrgyz people who become old in the absence of their relatives, this paper explores the afterlife as a horizon of possibility which intersects with the everyday in ways that collapse distinctions between the transcendent and the immanent. The ancestor spirits—who play a central role in many Kyrgyz peoples’ practice of Islam—often settle in peoples’ homes as connections with living others fade. They are seen as bridges to the afterlife—a life many of the older people long for—but they tend to encourage them to stay. I explore these moments as moments of divine presence which place people in the virtue of sabr, patience or perseverance, and argue that while Muslim virtues may be cultivated through active engagement with Islamic ideals and values, they may also be present in more spectral forms: in, for example, a vague sense that one’s existence—however unimportant it may seem—may matter and be virtuous.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/729467