The sincere subject: Mediation and interiority among a group of Muslim women in Iran

Niloofar Haeri


This article examines two genres of prayer, namaz  and du’a , among a group of Shi’a Muslim women in Iran. It analyzes the variety of ways in which the legal validity of prayers along with ideas about “presence of the heart” and “sincerity” in worship have been debated. I argue that the debates on worship, even among jurists, remain unsettled, and without a final resolution. I use the ethnographic context of a group of women in Tehran to carry out a comparative analysis of the notion of sincerity as analyzed in the anthropology of Christianity. I show that this comparison can both illuminate ideas and practices of worship in Iran and at the same time add dimensions that are perhaps underemphasized or unexplored in debates on Protestants. I make an attempt to define the concept of interiority and demonstrate its usefulness in understanding religious subjectivity. A historical analysis of religious subjectivity that is arrived at through a study of the power relations that result in particular authoritative discursive traditions is necessary but not sufficient in order to answer the question of what believers are doing, thinking, and struggling with as they attempt to follow the requirements of their religion.


prayer; Islam; interiority; sincerity; Iran

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.1.014