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Heavenly Ornaments: Three Books for Women

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve sent in my paper for the conference – Changing Concepts of the Person in Two Ahl-e Sunnat/Barelwi Texts for Women: The “Sunni Bihishti Zewar” and “Jannati Zewar.” It looks at similarities and differences among three books, all of which are called Heavenly Ornaments, and are directed at women.

The first, written a century ago by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi of Deoband, is according to Barbara Metcalf, “one of [the twentieth century’s] most influential books.” The second, from the “Barelwi” or Ahl-e Sunnat wa Jama’at movement, which opposes the Deobandis on a number of issues, is more recent. The third, the “Jannati Zewar” (which also translates as Heavenly Ornaments), is also a Barelwi book.

Although the two latter books differ from the Deobandi original on the issues that have divided the movements historically, I found that the overall message for women in the Deobandi book and the two Barelwi books, namely, the Sunni Bihishti Zewar for Women: A Collection of All Life’s Questions, and the Jannati Zewar, is in fact more similar than different.

However, in comparing the two Barelwi books with one another, I see a significant difference of approach between them. I have characterized the Jannati Zewar as more “modern” in outlook than the Sunni Bihishti Zewar, for reasons that the paper makes clear.