Metamorphosis, Mediation, Mannāt: Sufi Spiritual Ecology and Endangered Animals in Bangladesh and Pakistan

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In the South Asian discourse of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, ‘natural’ functions can be transcended and bodily boundaries are permeable. Defying species boundaries, this relational ontology entails a belief in the capacity for bodily transformation, or metamorphosis, from one category of being to another (as from human to nonhuman animal). In turn, both human and animal actors enter into conversation with mediating ‘spirits’. To this day, these religious entanglements, passed down through generations, allow Sufi communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan to protect ‘sacred’ animals at shrines as vital refuges for wildlife species and to make an important contribution to their conservation. The relational dynamics allow for the cultural division between human and non-human life forms (plants, animals, and spirits) to be problematized, and permeable boundaries to be dissolved into liminal and dynamic zones of interaction. Deeply entangled, agents both human and non-human actively participate in shared ritual configurations that take place within and are nourished by a locally embedded Sufi spirituality. Ritual and devotional practices revolve around their intercessory mediation (shafāat) with the divine, which endows them with spiritual agency, as they engage in cycles of exchange, such as the practice of taking vows (mannāt). Within the framework of this Sufi-inspired, locally embedded spirituality, it is possible for animals to be genuine agents, to have spiritual ‘agency’ and to be involved in cycles of exchange.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-94
Number of pages33
JournalJournal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 504017 Cultural anthropology
  • 603905 Islam
  • 601031 Environmental history
  • 504029 Environmental sociology


  • Spiritual ecology
  • endangered animals
  • Sufism
  • species transformation
  • metamorphosis
  • intercessory mediation
  • ritual vows
  • animal agency
  • saints
  • friends of God
  • spirits
  • endangered animal species


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