Niloofar Haeri, "Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: Women, Prayer and Poetry in Iran" (Stanford UP, 2020)

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Say What Your Longing Heart Desires: Women, Prayer & Poetry in Iran (Stanford University Press, 2020) by Niloofar Haeri is a stunning and absorbing ethnography of the lived ritual experiences of contemporary Iranian women. The place of Persian poetry, especially in the tradition of erfan or mysticism, is central to many features of Iranian life, be it in school curriculum for children, who learn to recite these poems when they are young, or at family gatherings over meal. Poetry, particularly, informs other aspects of ritual life, namely prayer or namaz, and do’a (supplication). By capturing conversations that unfold during Qur’an and poetry classes, Haeri showcases how a group of educated, middle-class women encounter, engage, and embody the lived legacies of classical poetry of Rumi, Hafez, Saadi and many more in their day to day lives. In highlighting these intimate moments of conversation with God (do’a) or through the use of prayers composed by the Imams, Haeri highlights how prayer and ritual acts ebb and flow through affective moments of life while being subjected to intellectual challenges by its supplicant. Ritual life for these Iranian women is not rote or stale, but rather richly complex, deliberate, and emotive, challenging how we approach religious debates that are seemingly persistent in the landscape of Iranian society while further disrupting the use of simple binaries of secular-sacred or private-public when discussing gendered Muslim piety. This book will be of interest to those who think and write about ritual life in Islam, ethnography, Iran, Shi‘ism, gender, and much more.

Shobhana Xavier is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Queen’s University. More details about her research and scholarship may be found here and here. She may be reached at You can follow her on Twitter via @shobhanaxavier.

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