Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Oral Presentation Session
In the Indonesian region of Seunagan, province of Aceh, there is buried an Islamic saint, Habib Abdurrahim. Among the saint’s devotees it is recognized that miraculous powers (keramat) pass among those genealogically related to him. Indeed, even when conventional genealogical reckonings fail to link some of these devotees to the saint, their possession of such powers can mark them as his kin. Some men contest otherwise normative assumptions regarding patrilineal descent by claiming that they might inherit the saint’s powers through their mothers, who inherited them from Habib Abdurrahim himself. Others anticipate the return of these abilities to relatives of their line of descent from the saint, relishing how this would affirm their own closeness to him after generations of marginality.
This paper examines these abilities as a kind of kinship substance, one that marks relationality through the embodiment of the saint’s powers. In so doing it reimagines the parameters of Islamic ethical subjectivity. The passing of keramat among the descendants of Habib Abdurrahim is described in idioms associated with Islamic work on the self. One who exhibits Habib Abdurrahim’s miraculous powers is said to have been bequeathed the saint’s knowledge (èleumèë). This, however, does not imply that one has undergone the ethical cultivation that might otherwise be required to claim such knowledge. Nonetheless, being in relationship to the saint is itself an ethical position. What kind of ethical position is it? What forms of subjectivity does it produce? And to what kind of Islamic ethics does it belong?