Voicing God’s presence: Qurʾānic recitation, Sufi ontologies, and the theatro-graphic experience

Ismail Fajrie Alatas


This article examines Qurʾānic recitation as a modality of divine presence among Bā ʿAlawī Sufis in Tarīm (Yemen) and Jakarta (Indonesia). It engages with Sufi ontologies that have shaped Bā ʿAlawīs’ understanding of Qurʾānic recitation as capable of engendering a theatro-graphic experience of divine presence marked at once by scriptural distance and stability, and theatrical immediacy and instability. The article complicates some of the basic presuppositions that have shaped existing works on religion as mediation, particularly the conceptualizations of transcendence as distance, of medium as exterior to what it mediates, and of mediation/immediacy as an antithesis. If reliance on sensational forms to produce divine presence is often described as engendering anxieties regarding the possibility of immediacy, for Bā ʿAlawī Sufis the epistemic and practical problem lies in maintaining the productive tension between re-presentational mediation and existential immediacy without privileging one over the other.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/729499