Conceptualizing Compassion in Communication for Communication

Emotional Experience in Islamic Sermons (Bengali waʿẓ maḥfils)

in Contributions to the History of Concepts


This article argues that conceptual change can be brought about and shaped by communication practice by approaching emotional experience in a particular strand of Islamic sermons from contemporary Bangladesh. It utilizes an extended rhetorical analysis, pertaining to the intertwining of concepts to be communicated, concepts of communication, and performance patterns of the sermons. It argues that by the juncture of narrative techniques of immediacy and momentarization with a bodily grounding of the voice, the listeners and preacher jointly reach the self-affection of the bodily and salvific emotions of (com)passion. From this perspective, the role of rhetorical practice is not limited to an ex post facto translation of conceptual change into practice; instead, the rhetorical goal of self-affection turns out to be an active factor in shaping concepts decisive for contemporary Islamic religiosity.

This article is about communication practice as a driving force to bring about conceptual change. It approaches the emotional experience in a particular strand of Islamic sermons from contemporary Bangladesh1 by an extended rhetorical analysis, which emphasizes the interlinkage of concepts to be communicated, concepts of communication, and performance patterns.

Among the various genres of Islamic sermons,2 the most important distinction is that between the Friday sermon, which is a ritual prerequisite for the validity of the important Friday prayer, and sermons delivered at various times and places, such as after prayer in the mosque, but also in private houses, public spaces, or via mass media. The sermons under consideration here were held in congregations called waʿẓmaḥfils,3 which are usually held in the late evening in colorful tents that are set up, for example, in public spaces such as street corners, school yards, or fields after harvest in what is a typical arrangement for fairs and festivities in the region. As an oral tradition, their history is to a large extent obscure, but the genre is reported at the latest in the wake of the religious movements of the early nineteenth century.4 Of course, there are differences between different settings, such as those between smaller “community” sermons held in villages and huge gatherings in larger cities, or sermons directed at a more specialized audience in religious schools, not to mention sermons in the diaspora.5 Nevertheless, there also are common genre distinctions relating to spatial setup, codes of conduct, and most importantly, ways of narration and persuasion. In one congregation, several preachers speak one after the other. They sit down, together with guests of honor and their entourages, on a slightly elevated stage, facing the audience. The audience assembles on the floor, which is covered with mats made out of bamboo or cotton. The members of the audience are largely quiet, sometimes sleeping, but often also excited, reciting along with the preacher, uttering affirmative interjections, or even crying. Regardless of whether the focus lies on pleasing Allah or on being entertained, there is certainly a high expectation and willingness for communal expression of heightened emotions. Linguistically, the sermons include Arabic parts, such as Qur’anic recitations, the liturgical introduction, or blessings on holy figures, as well as poems and expressions in Urdu and Farsi. The largest part of the sermons is, however, often held in colloquial Bengali. As the sermons are approximately as long as a motion picture (one to three hours), there is sufficient space for narrative accounts of various kinds, including jokes, dialectal speech, and the recitation of liturgical as well as poetical texts. While the contents of the sermons might connect to occasions of the liturgical calendar, they are by no means limited to these and often follow the interests of the respective preacher. These liberties enable adaptation to the specific communicative environments, and the sermons therefore vary in respect to religious and political orientation.

Many of the examples in this article are derived from the sermons of a very popular and popularizing preacher, but sermons by other preachers are also utilized, most of whom theologically belong to a Sunni school of thought known by the toponym Barelwī.6 The particular importance of the archive considered here for the study of the evocation and practice of emotions lies in the fact that it provides the actual text of the sermons (which can be difficult to verify in historical cases), as well as aspects of performance space, bodily features such as gestures and voice, and audience reactions, which allows us to extend the analysis of how emotions are evoked to corporeal and aesthetic processes. This extended rhetorical analysis opens up new possibilities and a promising field to conceptual history.

Although the approach to experience suggested here might be new to conceptual history, experience as a category has been well-known to conceptual history for a long time. Reinhart Koselleck used the formal categories of “experience” and “expectation” because they “assist the foundation of the possibility of a history”7 and claimed that “‘[h]istory’ is and remains to be a ‘science of experience’ [Erfahrungswissenschaft].”8 Koselleck related experience not only to time, but also to sensuality and communication: “It is the body and the senses that convey experiences to the human being. … No history without sensuality.”9 This, of course, implies heavy theoretical baggage: discussions on sensuality and experience are nearly coextensive with the history of the disciplines of aesthetics and phenomenology. For heuristic purposes, it may suffice to recall that experience is usually conceptualized as being directed toward an object, but that it is only through particular concepts, thoughts, emotions, and so forth that the specific content of this act of experience emerges. Emotions and aesthetic qualities are not attributes of the objects, but rely on complex constitutions of experience, involving the situation and subjective constellations as well as the object.10 Communication, from this point of view, creates objects of sensual perception, causing certain experiences among the recipients. These experiences are not predetermined; they are, however, prefigured by the message—an approach reaching back to the guidance of the recipients’ passions in ancient rhetoric,11 but refined in modern hermeneutics,12 theories of reception13 and aesthetic response,14 and expanded with a focus on the creation of “atmospheres”.15 It is not by coincidence that all of these theories, in one way or another, focus on emotion knowledge and production, and much is to be learned from them when exploring the conditions for the possibility of emotional experiences.

This article argues that it is one major goal of the sermons to enable an emotional experience of closeness and presence, which is in turn associated with positive salvific effects; that preacher and audience strive for collective self-affection that is linked to a performance of rhetorical—that is, narrative and vocal—techniques; and that this communication in turn has repercussions on the concepts of emotions and salvation, as these are to match this technique.16 In other words, the emotional experience elicited in communication is not only the outcome of concepts that are defined beforehand and then communicated; it is also communication that influences emotion concepts by making new aesthetic (for example, auditory and narrative) connections. We will see how the communicational goal of reaching a high emotional arousal in an audience familiar with the workings of mimetic identification of drama and television leads the preacher to choose objects and ways of depiction that make this bid successful. In this process, specific emotions, namely, love, passion, and mercy, acquire new qualities and a reconfigured taxonomy. Furthermore, when inquiring into the narrative techniques of the sermon, we will see how different ways of communication engage the listeners differently, albeit vis-à-vis the same emotions. Such focus on narration is an important addition to studies that, while stressing the importance of literary genres for the change of emotion concepts, stop at confirming the appearance of particular emotions and do not take into account the means of their depiction and evocation.17

The first step of the analysis is to approach central emotion concepts in the sermons, that is, the taxonomy of single emotions, particularly their relation to human allegories and divine mercy. In order to understand how this conceptual structure feeds into the presentation of the sermons, the second step is to take a short intermediate reflection on the topic of self-affection. On this basis, we will, in a third step, approach the particular narrative and auditory design of the sermons with an extended rhetorical analysis. The final remarks on conceptual change and emotional experience will demonstrate that this order might be turned upside down, thus inverting the conventional logic of conceptual change.

(Com)passion and Mercy in waʿẓ maḥfils

Let us start with one term often used in the sermons of a very popular preacher: kalijā (Hindi/Urdu kalejā) denotes the liver as well as the heart. It has a long history, including the humoralism of the yū nā nī tradition and poetic discourse in which the liver was seen as the seat of emotions, before interactions with the English semantics of the “heart”.18 For us, it provides an entry point into an emotional constellation in which pain and compassion are inextricably interwoven with one another and with the body and are encapsulated in the figure of the mother. In the sermons of one popular preacher, Tofā jjal Hosen Bhairabī, kalijā operates along rhetorical relations,19 which are of interest because they build affiliations between several emotions and the subject. Often, kalijā is metonymically identified with the pain-sensitive body: if the person is beaten, the liver-heart is beaten;20 if the body receives pain, the liver-heart receives pain; and if the liver-heart dries out, the person should drink.21 However, as in English, the heart can be stabbed metaphorically, so the liver-heart can receive strokes from painful emotions;22 and in a sermon of a more belligerent preacher, the enemy’s liver-heart trembles from fear.23 Building on humoralistic concepts, in the sermons the liver-heart is reported to change its temperature due to pain: it gets hot and even burns24 when pain—particularly that of longing—is felt; cooling it down is desirable, as this eases the pain.25 Similarly, it can be cleaned from grief.26 What is very interesting for the reflections on the link to theology is that the liver-heart also seems to act as a typical container metaphor of emotions,27 and can thus burst (phāṭā) when it is filled up, be it with too much pain28 or with exceeding love such as between mothers and their children.29

Linked to this idea of filling up the heart is the common expression that the liver-heart cannot accommodate (mā nā) any more pain or painful memories: in one instance, the Prophet refuses to reproduce a memory, saying that to think of it could not be “taken” by his liver-heart.30 The importance of this last example is that it links pain to another emotion, compassion: often the liver-heart is described as not being able to bear the pain caused by the perception of the suffering of someone else. In one incident elaborated upon in a sermon, a father is driven to extreme action when his liver-heart can no longer stand him looking at the faces of his starving children;31 while in another case a brother-in-law’s liver-heart is unable to stand him seeing his sister-in-law’s tears.32 As is already evident from these few examples, the sermons evoke basic human constellations to build up and convey pain and compassion, taken to gether as (com)passion in the bodily reactions of the liver-heart. The most productive of these constellations are narratives of mothers and their children33—the intimacy of whom is indicated by the common denomination of the latter as the former’s “pieces of the liver-heart” (kalijā ṭuk’ro).34 A typical narrative is that the child misbehaved toward his mother, even to the extent of maltreating her, but nevertheless finds her unwavering support and identification: she would shoulder the father’s anger, care for her child even though his deadly illness might kill her,35 or save the child from punishment by the police.36 What her liver-heart yearns for and is appeased with is the child addressing her as “Mother” or “Mom” (). This call is an integral part of the Bengali literary and religious elaboration of the figure of the mother, which is in turn related to depictions of the pained woman in South Asian literature.37 As in many popular works of different genres,38 it is emphatically quoted in direct speech in many sermons.

In short, the liver-heart not only metonymically relates to one’s own body and pain, but also to that of close relatives who might, in the case of children, even be seen as parts of the liver-heart. Their pain adds a painful experience that might as well be one’s own, thus making compassion an involuntary and necessary bodily reaction to their pain. How does this link between pain and compassion and the nearly involuntary, naturally compassionate behavior of the mother toward her children relate to theology?

First and foremost, the mother’s behavior is explained using an analogy between a mother’s compassion and Allah’s compassion. This is, of course, not new in the history of Islam. The Arabic root r-ḥ–m, to which denominations of Allah as al-Raḥī m and al-Raḥmā n (the merciful and compassionate) as well as related verbs such as raḥima (showing mercy) or nouns such as (mercy) can be traced, is also related to raḥim (the womb).39 The comparison between a mother’s love for her children and Allah’s love for his servants is already transmitted in a saying of the Prophet. Upon seeing a woman breastfeeding helpless children on the battlefield, Muhammad asks his companions whether they think that this woman would throw her children into fire, concluding that “Allā h is more merciful [arḥam] towards his servants than this mother is to her child.”40 This clear hierarchy, with an emphasis on Allah’s mercy, is also reiterated in a well-known comparison that is often included in the sermons analyzed here: Allah gave only 1 percent of the universe’s mercy to humankind while keeping 99 percent for himself.41

While the analogy between motherly love and Allah’s mercy, which is taken up by the sermons, is traditional in one sense:42 the allegorical narratives of the sermons produce an irreducible surplus. They develop their own schemes of identification and emotional upheavals, which are not exclusively linked to theology. While some preachers put considerable effort into “recapturing” the emotional effect these allegories made on the listeners for predefined dogmatic purposes,43 this only works on the level of dogmatic truths, not on that of their emotional experience. For our purposes here, it is interesting to note that the relation between Allah and the mother, which is built up by the allegorical relation, also carries along many, primarily emotional, connotations from the mother to Allah.44 As the mother’s liver-heart cannot bear the suffering of her child and is willing to forgive, particularly if called upon by the child, so Allah can be expected to forgive his servants if they call upon him with all their liver-heart.45 When he is, for example, described as not being able to endure the mother’s liver-heart receiving a blow (mār kalijāẏ āghāt dile khodā sahe nā), it seems that he also has a liver-heart, or put more mildly, that Allah’s compassion works similarly to the workings of compassion in the liver-heart.

The analogy of the mother affects the communicative and emotional position of the believer: according to the analogy, the believer best approaches Allah as a desperate and crying child asking for forgiveness. The overflow of motherly love, as well as a possible lack of constancy in this love, might be debated in theology as well as pedagogy.46 In the context of the sermons analyzed here, however, it primarily raises the hope that Allah, as the mother, will surely forgive the sinner. This expectation matches the theological promise of many of the congregations: that they are a medium (Bengali uchila, from Arabic wasī la)47 for bestowing forgiveness on those organizing and participating in it.48 This medium relies on the mediating role of emotions, which are in turn conceptualized along the workings of the liver-heart and are extended and made experienceable by the allegory of the mother. The figure of the mother is particularly important due to a limit on the communicative functions that can be attached to Allah with respect to the workings of pain and compassion. While he is conceptualized as being able to “experience” both these emotions as a reaction to the suffering of his servants, he cannot be described as suffering from anything else, nor can he express his emotions in a “human” way. This “lack” of the painful aspects of this (com)passion elicits a need for human figures who can be described as feeling and expressing pain: hence the importance of the extensive descriptions of the pains of the mother in the allegories of her suffering. These narrative techniques and their effects on listener experience are analyzed in more detail below. Outside of longer narratives, the pained mother might be addressed in interjections such as: “The poor mother, alas, oh, ten months! She keeps us in her belly nearly ten months and ten days!”49

The allegory of the mother thus shapes the emotional roles of the sermon congregation, making the certainty of salvation and the painful side of compassion emotionally experienceable in ways it would not be otherwise. However, the mother’s theological power is limited: even if aspects of her compassion influence the way Allah’s compassion is experienced, he remains the agent; and although her suffering makes an important impression on the audience, she is only doing so by a reinterpretation of these emotions as relating also to the sacral. The strong cultural and religious belief in the power of the mother’s blessing (māẏer doẏā /duʿā ʾ), which may be traced back to the many female saints of Bengal50 and which many preachers emphasize and narratively elaborate on, forms a border case, as it may be depicted as a question of life or death if the child received the blessing or not.51 Generally speaking, however, the mother lends her emotional connotations to the sacred sphere without “gaining” sacral powers.52

This is different in the case of holy figures: they can be described as feeling the pains of a liver-heart, while their compassion is at the same time powerful in the sacred sphere. Unsurprisingly, the most important of such figures in the sermons is the prophet Muhammad. His status as an intercessor (shafīʿī) for the believers on the day of judgment, presence or nonpresence in the world in general or his grave in particular, and related topics have been critical points of theological debates for most of Islamic history, and continue to be controversial in contemporary Bangladesh, with preachers taking various stances on them.53 In many congregations, the Prophet is the primary medium (wasī la) both for salvation and for producing the accompanying emotionality, thus achieving a union of pain and compassion on both emotional and salvific levels.

Also here, there are long-established connections to theology: the congregation is often conceptualized as directing their calls to the prophet’s grave in Medina so that he can make these calls reach Allah; the conviction is stated that, as Muhammad’s powers are great, he can easily redeem the believers.54 The narrations about the Prophet’s intercession on the day of judgment are among the oldest and most stable55 fascinosa tremenda in the popular Islamic imagination, arousing images of both the horror of hell and the joy popularly linked to the Prophet’s divine bestowal.56 As in the case of the analogy of the mother, what concerns us are the possibilities for the production of emotions arising from the particular configuration of (com)passion. Here it is significant that the prophet’s pain and compassion are often evoked in relation to the basic human relationships described previously. Narratives of the preacher focused on here emphasize the Prophet’s pain as an orphan, as expressed when calling upon his deceased father while visiting his grave: “Dad, oh dad, how did you become so hard-hearted, oh dad? All children of Mecca climbed on (their) dads’ lap, I haven’t climbed on (my) dad’s lap once. I came from Mecca to Medina, oh dad, please get up, caress me, please!”57 The communicative dimensions of this needy aspect of the Prophet58 will be further elaborated upon below; let us here at least mention that identification with the prophet allows the listeners to acquire the ideal position in reaching Allah’s compassion, which, as we remember from above, is triggered best by the emotional disposition of a helplessly crying child. This link to the listeners is even stated explicitly in a sermon that quotes Allah addressing the Prophet crying at his mother’s grave: “My Allah says: ‘Oh my friend, if any motherless child cries like you in this manner, if he cries at his mother’s grave, I promise that for each drop of tears which he can show to me like you, I will, by the medium of the child’s tears, build his parents’ grave into a heavenly garden.’”59 A triple promise of compassion is made: that Allah is merciful to the Prophet; that Allah is merciful to any orphan who calls him in the described manner; and that the Prophet, who knows an orphan’s pains by experience, will use the special mercy bestowed on him for those who are suffering from this particular pain. The first two points guide the listener toward a certain emotional disposition. The third point, the connection of pain and compassion to the Prophet, is again emphasized in narratives and in dramatic scenes such as one preacher’s account of ʿĀʾisha, Muhammad’s wife, who sees him grieving and crying and starts to wonder: “Why so many tears? What pain, what grief! Even his body became black. I understood that there was grief in his mind. In his whole life he did not once call his father.”60 She continues reflecting upon and adding details to the orphan’s sorrows, such as his never having held the father’s hand, being given festive dress despite a shortage of money, or being fed caringly by the father, concluding, again: “I understand that you are crying because of the pain for that father.”61 The preacher continues quoting the dialogue between the Prophet and his wife:

“Oh Ayesha, I do indeed have that pain inside me, oh Ayesha! But today’s tears I don’t shed for my father.” “So did your mother’s pain enter your mind?” “No, Ayesha, I don’t cry for my mother.” “So, on that day, having lost your mother, having lost your father, you went to your grandfather. Grandfather was drawing you to his breast, hugging your neck. Grandfather was caressing you a lot. Being caressed like this by him, you forgot even your parents. This grandfather has now, having cared for you until the age of eight years, two months and ten days, gone to the grave, and you are, I understand, crying out of pain for that grandfather.” My Prophet is answering: “Oh Ayesha! Listen for whom I cry! Not for grandfather, not for father, not for mother—today’s tears, oh Ayesha, are for my sinning community!”62

The Prophet’s compassion is here climactically building on a compassion developed by pain, a learning that is a goal and a means also for the listeners. The allegory of the mother shapes both the theological expectation (redemption) of the compassionate Allah, and the emotional attitude with which the listeners of the sermons should ask for it. Similarly, the “human” pains of the Prophet affect both his own attitude toward salvation and the emotional disposition of the listeners. As the Prophet is shown to have learned to be compassionate by experiencing these pains, it is implicitly suggested that by identification with the Prophet the listeners experience his pain, reach his emotional state, and in turn achieve his compassion. This process might be seen as the emotional experience of the theological connection between blessing the Prophet and the Prophet’s blessing, the belief that the intercessory prayer (duʿā ʾ) is particularly effective once prayers for the Prophet are included.63 The importance of emotional identification is reaffirmed in a narrative of Muhammad, who is described as explicitly referring to the emotional expression of the listeners of waʿẓ maḥfils with his pains. Addressing his companions, he states:

“Oh companions, I tell you which people are my friends! One thousand four hundred years, one thousand four hundred and fifty years from now, my crazi[ly loving] community will sit down to listen about me, the prophet, hour after hour, night after night. When they hear about my, the Prophet’s, sadness, they will moan, ‘Oh, ah.’ Some will shed a rushing stream [jhar jhar kare] of tears.” The companions say: “Master, we’re surprised! Those will, without having seen you, shed tears out of compassion [māẏā ] for you, and remain seated at night, hour after hour and make moaning sounds of, ‘Ohh, ow.’ Huh, what an astonishing matter. So many years later, they will have so much love, so much compassion.” My Prophet says: “Oh companions, don’t be surprised! You will be witnesses: I, the Prophet, am telling you that my community from that time will be friends of me, the Prophet!”64

So far we have learned by which means the sermons achieve a connection between (bodily) pain and compassion, and link these emotions to salvation. This configuration has implications for the conceptualization of the mercy of Allah, the mercy of the Prophet, and the position of the listener’s emotional and salvific communication with the divine.

At first glance, both the emotions that are evoked and the processes of evoking them continue known practices of Islamic preaching. Angelika Hartmann, for example, stresses the importance of “the religious experience, which admittedly often combined with the need for belief in wonders, curiosity and emotional satisfaction”65 already in the reception of medieval Islamic sermons. However, a more detailed discussion of the emotions and experiences she refers to would be beneficial. Here we can only hint at some specificities of the emotional configuration of the Bengali waʿẓ maḥfils. Like sermons in other languages and settings66 as well as other genres such as Arabic praise songs of the Prophet,67 they take up the ḥadīts on the Prophet’s intercession on the day of judgment.68 However, in the above quote of Muhammad giving the reasons for the spots on his body, the climactic structure of the ḥadīts in which the community approaches a row of prophets before finally reaching Muhammad, is transformed into an intimate conversation and individual (com)passion.69 In the sermons discussed here, we furthermore only rarely find allegories of the ecstatic desire and longing of lovers, as they were employed, for example, by the Arabic star preacher of the twelfth century Hartman describes,70 or by mystical songs of contemporary Bangladesh.71 In addition, the aspect of fearfulness seems much less central in our case than in many other descriptions of past72 and contemporary preaching. Charles Hirschkind describes fear as probably the central emotion elicited by the narratives of preachers, who have “memorized a veritable encyclopedia of stories, poetry, and hadith geared to the task of eliciting emotions of fear (khawf), sadness (ḥuzn), or terror (rubʿ),”73 with the goal to “install fear into the heart of a listener so as to steer him or her toward correct practice.”74 While references to the day of judgment certainly are not devoid of eliciting fear, the main thrust of the sermons’ passion lies not in the fearfulness but in the gleeful anticipation of the Prophet’s intercession. And while we know of examples of Sufi adepts’ relationships with their master, which are expressed by allegories of the master being the spiritual mothers or wet nurses of the adherent,75 the narratives of the mother’s compassion described above open up different ways of relating to Allah’s mercy. A sermon from Jordan in the 1960s might be similar in equating Allah with a womb,76 but that makes only marginal reference to the topic under discussion here, simply because the womb cannot transmit emotions utilizing personal identification and mimesis as the figure of the mother can. The Jordanian sermon creates a strong semantic net around the Arabic root r-ḥ–m, but its “ethical negation and conditional salvation”77 functions along ethical commands and not loving (com)passion, let alone the narrative and vocal technique described below.

From a genre point of view, an important influence to the allegorical and imaginative background of the sermons seems to be linked to the tradition of celebrating Muhammad’s birthday (mawlid). This tradition, as A. K. Muneer has highlighted in his ethnographic study of mawlid performances in the South Indian state of Kerala, contrasts with ethnographic studies on Islam in Egypt in that it is not “painful emotions such as fear and remorse are regarded as central to the practice of moral discrimination,” but “pleasant emotions … that are integral to the practice of ethical formation enabled by Mappila devotional narratives.”78 Furthermore, the salvific aspects of the loving personal contact with Muhammad as a child has been elaborated in medieval Arabic mawlid-narratives.79 As in the sermons discussed above, furthermore, narratives of the child visiting his parents’ graves were a popular topic of the mawlid tradition. However, they focused solely on the need of the parents for salvation, not on the need of the Prophet for affection. This points to remarkable differences between the narratives described above and those of the joyous mawlid tradition. The sermons discussed in this article emphasize not only the prophetic power, but the orphan’s “human” emotions of longing for his parents, often evoking emotion-laden memories of these pains, both inside the narrative and in the listeners’ lifeworld. While the focus on intimate relations and compassion thus might be derived from the mawlid tradition, the linkages to the Prophet’s human pain in the sermons cannot be explained as stemming from this genre.80

In short, both the mystical tradition’s allegories of the love relationship to Allah in which the believer identifies with the lover—thus creating an interaction between the emotions of erotic love and belief—and the joyful focus on intimacy and salvation in the mawlid tradition feed into, yet remain apart from, the particular (com)passion of the Prophet in the sermons discussed here. The interrelation of this configuration to other genres at this point has to remain an open question to be dealt with elsewhere. This concerns, for example, the question of the influence of Shiite sermons beyond the climactic structure referred to in the next section, as well as the qiṣṣa/dastān performances beyond common rhetoric concepts. Probably even more importantly, it concerns the wider historical frame. At this point, it is not possible to decide whether the configuration described here builds on the prior establishment of the relationship between compassion and friendship described by Pernau,81 or if religious genres are antecedents to the semantic shift occurring at the end of the nineteenth century.82 The point here is to present the configuration of the central emotions within the sermons and indicate the narrative potential of these configurations. Let us, on this basis, turn to the following question: How do the sermons shape the way the emotions are received, that is, the content of the listeners’ emotional experience?

Expression, Performance, Self-Affection

In the above quote of Muhammad telling his companions about his future compassionate community, he refers to the bodily expressions of emotions. Next to the tears themselves, he repeatedly mentions the sounds of sobbing and moaning, sensual perceptions of human expressions with great communicative potential. This achieves the reciprocal communication aimed for: it depicts the Prophet as suffering, so that the believer can suffer with him, and in turn can reach the emotional state toward which the Prophet will be compassionate. When the listeners express emotions appropriately (for example, by crying), this is, to some extent, a “spontaneous expression of well-rehearsed emotions”83 building on long-term reiterability of essentially open performative acts, as Saba Mahmood described in her inquiry into bodily expressions of emotions as self-formation. As A. K. Muneer observes, “it is also through the mawlud and related practices such as invocation of salat that” attendees “develop such virtuous emotions and affects.”84 The naming of these emotions inside the narratives, for example, by the Prophet (“my, the Prophet’s, sadness,” “I do indeed have that pain inside me”), helps the listeners navigate their feelings.85 Of course, the words that express emotions are formative for the person uttering them, as “that which comes into language is not something that is pregiven before language; rather, the word gives it its own determinateness.”86 However, this does not limit it to a concern with the inner states, to the expression of something. For the approach taken in this article, “[t]he dominant aspect is that of communication and communicability—i.e., it is a question of finding the expression. But to find the expression means to find an expression that aims at making an impression.”87

This view of expression reiterates a general position of rhetorical theory that had often focused particularly on the evocation of emotions as a central and yet difficult task.88 In a rhetorical situation, the speaker relies on a “bridge of affect,”89 and poetic theories, from Greek to South Asian drama theories, have sought to conceptualize affection by signs and language.90 While it is impossible here to deal with the many poetic and rhetorical questions touched upon, I want to draw on one central theorem of rhetoric theory, namely, that of self-affection.91 Already in the classical tradition,92 this process comprises two aspects: that to make an impression, the speaker himself has to experience the emotion he wants to express; and that, in order to experience these emotions, he has to vividly represent images to himself. While we yet lack a transcultural history of this crucial rhetorical concept, it is reported to have been crucial for the oral performance of narratives in Islamicate South Asia as early as the seventeenth century.93 The most influential book among students of religious schools in Bangladesh today describes this process similarly to both classics of Greek and Arabic rhetoric94 and the seventeenth-century Handbook for Storytellers from North India. It states:

To affect others by speech, it is necessary to be yourself affected. … One has to realize deeply: “it is as if the words of agony and revolution which I am uttering are happening, in a burning reality, in my very own life. This is in front of my eyes. I am being torn apart. I am burning. A huge mountain of grief is in me.” Talking about the same agony which tires me and smears me in blood will evoke a different force of passion and faith (ābeg o biśwas) and will touch the listener’s heart. The feeling (anubhūti) will be moved and will induce a revolutionary change in thinking and conviction. If the speaker does not smear his words on his body, then the words will not leave any mark (dāg) on the listener’s mind. So if you want to make others cry there is no alternative than crying yourself beforehand.95

Given the link between pain and salvation described above, one might explain the production of emotion, and thus salvation, in the sermon congregation as an effort to collective (self-)affection. It is a central goal of the sermon to conjure up images to make both preacher and audience experience and express the desired emotions. The preacher on whose sermons we have concentrated so far says that he once described his style of preaching to another preacher who prepares his speech by reading books in the following way:

I said: “Look, you are holding sermons from reading, I from seeing. I go to the field of Uhud [place of a famous battle in early Islamic history], when I hold a sermon, the field of Uhud appears in front of my eyes, and I thus present the talk’s feelings. The listeners are also as if they are seeing it: the events of the field of Uhud happen in front of their eyes, and this is the moment when tears are shed.”96

As this self-affection is a collective endeavor, there is a strong reciprocal effect of the expressed emotions of others, particularly in relation to the “contaminating” effect of laughing and crying, an effect that is called a feedback loop in theater studies and is supported by making the other listeners visible in the glaringly lighted tents. This effect also encompasses the preachers and bars them from preaching in a studio without any audience.97 As mentioned above, this collective process builds on rehearsal, leading, for example, to exact timings of audience responses. However, it is not limited to the body, as it includes an aesthetic education of the senses and the workings of mental images, which are not only or not even primarily produced by utterances of single words (such as “emotives”), but by the imagination triggered by the narrative world of the sermons. As the emotions are aroused in the sermons by analogies to human relationships, it is easy for the listeners to imagine them as their own by drawing on their own prior experiences,98 be they in relation to their own life, to stories they have heard, or to fictional accounts, such as television series taking up similar issues.99

The described communication concept thus urges us to look at the sermons’ effects beyond the mention of particular emotions, to the level of their narrative linkages and forms. To elaborate on how the specific content of the listeners’ experience is brought about by self-affection in the sermon congregation, it is necessary to concentrate on the sermon’s stylistic design.100 This conceptual shift toward guided processes of imagination was emphasized by the preacher of Bangladesh’s national mosque, who addressed the audience when introducing the preacher we quoted above with the following words: “What he says—that everybody knows; has heard it hundreds of times. But how he says it—that is amazing!”101 We have seen that self-affection prominently relies on imagining situations of great emotional upheaval “visually” and “closely”. How does the presentational design support the listeners’ ability to have such imaginations? How is the specific content of the experience shaped by the sermons’ way of presenting the emotions to the listeners? When approaching these questions, two aspects need to be highlighted: the way of narration and the workings of the voice.

Shaping the Content of Experience: Voice and Narration

Let us start by returning to some of the longer passages quoted above that describe Muhammad’s pains. It is no coincidence that Muhammad’s expression of his pains takes place in dialogues with intimate persons, his wife and his companions. The narratological questions “who speaks” (voice) and “who perceives” (perspective) are of great importance for the communication of emotions. This also holds true for a third related category, that of mediacy: while the preacher is always present as a mediator and thus it is never a “direct” communication from the dramatic figure (such as the Prophet experiencing pain) to the recipients, its effect is much more immediate than if the same events were told by a narrator, be it in indirect speech or even in a summary of outer events (“the Prophet has been sad”). This opposition between the narrator’s depiction of events and the figures’ speech is called the “mode” of narration.102 It is no coincidence that in delineating what Gérard Genette calls a mimetic as opposed to a diegetic mode, narratology has often had recourse to spatial and visual metaphors such as distance and closeness, or “showing” and “telling.” We could say that a mimetic mode of narration—passages of scenic presentation in which the figures’ speech is quoted—draws the listeners into the scene. The emotions seem to be directly expressed by the figures, who, so to speak, adhere to the rhetorical demand of feeling—and uttering—their own feelings themselves and not merely reporting them.103 This is already a strong device for conveying and creating emotions, one that helps each listener put “the words of agony … in a burning reality … in front of my eyes,” as self-affection would have it. In short, we can note that the sermons under discussion make use of this important narrative device to achieve an “illusion of mimesis”104 and communicate and produce emotions. What is more, in the sermons under consideration here, this narrative technique is joined by yet another communicative dimension that is pivotal for the production of emotions in the sermons in question: the melodically encoded voice of the preacher.

Voice is, next to gestures, the aspect of speech most closely linked to the body, as it is produced in the body’s inner depths, carrying along its states and affecting it even when no other meaning is understood.105 The general importance of this level of communication for Islamic sermons has been stressed in a study in Egypt106 and was referred to by Muhammad’s linkage to the moaning audience response in the quote above: an example of an expression making a bodily impression. Mentioning—and citing—such prelingual emotional utterances of pain is as universal as the mimetic adoption of a crying voice used frequently by the preachers, and thus fits well with the basic human constellations in which both are uttered. They greatly emphasize the emotional parallels of the different levels of the allegories: the crying voice of the son addressing his mother is the same as that of the supplicant during the prayer to Allah. In the sermons under consideration here, however, another vocal technique is employed on top of such mimetic vocal modulation that interestingly goes largely unmentioned by preachers, manuals, or training discourses. This is actually an indication of the technique’s controversial status, which is at least partly due to its power in eliciting emotions.107 Preachers often take up simple melodic lines by which they “chant” whole passages of the sermon’s text, thus adding another style of “recitation” besides those used in quotes of poetry and the Qur’an. This chanting, denominated in Bengali as “speaking melodically” (sure balā), is an important genre characteristic of the sermons and marks the congregations from afar. The musical structure is “word-centered,” as are many “religious chant forms”108 such as those performed in the Shiite lamenting liturgy in South Asia to which it might bear resemblances in many respects. It sometimes specifically underlines the text on the level of single tropes as a powerful rhetorical device, thus enhancing its emotional effect.

The close connection between the melodic speech and the narrative aspects outlined above is crucial for the sermons’ emotional communication. I argue that “speaking melodically” is linked to the abovementioned narrative strategy of dramatization: it is primarily adopted at passages presenting, preferably in a dramatic mode, moments of emotional and salvific (com)passion. Through its direct bodily impact, it embeds the images of the dramatically presented scenes in the body. Its melodic recurrences and its constancy in mode and key holds together the whole sermon and the participants, who occasionally even join in, for example, by pronouncing “Allah” in unison in the sermon’s keynote.109 The mentioned link to the dramatic mode of narration also has important functions in guiding the listeners’ reception process and thereby constituting the content of their emotional experience. Next to once more emphasizing the conceptual connection between (com)passion and salvation, it also highlights these passages from the rest of the sermons. Due to the linkage with the dramatic mode of narration and its effect of presence and closeness of the dramatic figures, this coincides with—and thereby enhances—a heightened identification of the listeners with the emotions of these figures and a reorientation of the listeners’ deictic system. The longer quotations from the sermons in the first section were not narrated by the preacher in his normal voice, but were chanted, thus raising (and immediately fulfilling) expectations of a passage expressing (com)passion to elicit an emotional and salvific response. One should take into consideration the interaction between the melodic parts and the remainder of the sermon. This remainder is told in a normal voice, does not include such elaborate narratives, and contains less direct speech, thus presenting the emotions of the mother, the Prophet, or other holy persons in a more distanced manner. As the sermon proceeds, each of the two modes of speaking and narrating—melodically presented scenes and teachings narrated and directed in a nonmelodic voice—alternate, forming combinations, relations, and a rhythm of their own. The points of change from one mode to the other are pivotal points, a reorientation of the listeners to a different deictic system. In the dramatic scenes, the references—such as the frequent addresses in direct speech (in the passages quoted above, “Oh companions,” “Lord,” “Oh Ayesha,” “Oh my friend”), and the personal and possessive pronouns (“I,” “you,” “my,” “your”), which are also often supported by an addition of the name (“I, Allah,” “I, the Prophet”) to help the listeners in this orientation—have to be understood as directions within the referential system of the story, while in diegetic and instructive passages told in a normal speaker’s voice, the addresses and references are to (the outer world of) the speaker and the listeners. This reorientation also encompasses an ever-shifting position of the listeners between identification and distance. This triggers their mental participation, as they have to relate the different passages to each other on another level. It also means that they constantly have to position themselves vis-à-vis the object of their emotional experience.

As the classics of reader-response criticism and affective stylistics have already shown,110 even single sentences affect the reader sequentially: the emotional effect is generated by building on what has been read before.111 This is also true for the sequence of what Hans-Robert Jauß calls “primary aesthetic experience,”112 which is “the communicative framework for an imaginative consciousness which is prepared to enter into emotional identification with the action and situation of the character.”113 The vocally and narratively patterned alternation of different perspectives and degrees of identification of the text form a pattern of what Wolfgang Iser calls the “theme” and the “horizon,” as in the course of reception, the reader always only perceives one segment that, “however, always stands before the ‘horizon’ of the other perspective segments in which he had previously been situated.”114 The combination of voice and narrative mode importantly contribute to the “structure of theme and horizon,” which “ensures that the reaction of text to world will trigger a matching response in the reader”115—a pattern that reaches its emotional climax in the final supplicatory prayer, where the listeners can conjure up the stock of images and emotional responses lived through as they went along with the sermon. The emotional importance of such workings of memory is emblematized in the description of the Prophet fearing that his liver-heart could not stand conjuring up a painful memory. The melodic passages lead to this point. They form a melodic thread throughout the sermons and, as their frequency increases over the course of the sermon, an ever-faster rhythm of the change of emotional attitudes is established. Equally, the proportionate share of the identificatory emotional experience brought about by these passages rises.

An increase in emotionality and a climax in the end are common rhetorical phenomena.116 In our context, they have been recommended for Islamic sermons as early as the twelfth century (“the terminal part of the sermon has to be of particular heat and arousal”117), and have been features of oral storytelling of South Asia since premodernity,118 as well as of the Shiite mourning assembly (majlis).119 The crucial question is how the sermons’ design works to situate the emotional climax temporally—in the moment of the prayer—and spatially—in the sermon congregation. To see how different levels of time are condensed for this purpose, let us return to the quotation from the sermon that represented Muhammad’s reference to the congregation’s emotional response. When the preacher quotes Muhammad as addressing his companions about the painful emotions of his community fourteen hundred years later, this is, first of all, an anticipation—called “prolepsis”120 in narratological (and “prophecy” in theological) terms. Thus, the way of narration conflates sacred time and profane present. The companions—inside the narrative and thus in temporal distance—react emotionally to the congregation’s projected emotions. Moreover, it is a leap in the narrative position of the listeners, who are outside the narrative (“heterodiegetical”) but become drawn into it (“homodiegetical”) when they are represented by the inner narrative character of the Prophet. Overall, this technique achieves the permeability of the communication situation of the preacher addressing the audience and that of Muhammad addressing his companions (and the audience).

Conceptual Change and Emotional Experience

Ritual descriptions fit the present-tense modes of narration well. A Bengali manual describes the experience of a well-performed prayer (duʿāʾ) as an emotionally triggered “sighting” of the divine presence. To conceptualize this experience, it employs the term darśana, a term from Hindu worship that “claims to experience direct vision of a deity.”121 The present-tense narrative mode also corresponds to a controversial ritual practice: in many waʿẓ maḥfils, the audience rises (Bengali kiẏām, Arabic qiyām122) at the end of the sermon in order to pronounce greetings (salām) and blessings (taṣliyya) for Muhammad, who is conceived to be present in the congregation: “As in a face-to-face encounter, the participant performs a physical action that expresses an affective relationship.”123

We now understand that this affective relationship is conceptualized on various levels of communication. By highlighting the importance of and suggesting an approach to emotional experience with the example of a genre of Islamic sermons in contemporary Bangladesh, this article has pointed out the role of communication for conceptual change. It argued that by the juncture of narrative techniques of immediacy and momentarization with a bodily grounding of the voice, the listeners and preacher, by a joint self-affection, reach the bodily and salvific emotions of (com)passion. It is no coincidence that this argumentation runs in the opposite direction not only of the order of presentation of this article, but also of the way philosophy and rhetoric are commonly thought about. This inversion is to show that the role of rhetoric is not limited to an ex post facto translation of conceptual change into practice, but that, to the contrary, the rhetorical goal of self-affection is itself an active factor in shaping concepts.124 The particular configuration of emotions—their linkages to each other and to salvation—is shaped by a communication that aims at particular content in the listeners’ experience. Creating the conditions for the possibility of emotional experience is an important factor, which shapes the concepts conveyed in the sermons. The article has explored the combination of music and narrative as creating the condition for the possibility of a self-affection on both bodily and imaginative levels. The specific rhetoric of emotional self-evidence links to long-established reception attitudes125 and in turn shapes the concept of the narrative constellations presented in the sermons. Appearing immediately in vocally highlighted passages, Muhammad does not emerge as a distant superior who might be admired and longed for in mad but hardly fulfilled love, but as a suffering peer, with whom a much more intimate identification is possible126—a figure much more apt to trigger self-affection.

Further questions arise regarding the means of identification on which the emotions evoked in the sermons are built. Allegorical narratives of mystical love and of the mother’s compassion add a parallel second narrative to make the experience of religious concepts possible. The Prophet’s emotions of pain and compassion, on the other hand, seem to work along a more “direct” relationship. It is the listeners’ salvific and emotional goal to experience his emotions along with him without having to decode them from another level of meaning. The emotions are meant to be adopted mimetically, thus leading “directly” to the desired emotional empathy. The experience brought about does not stand “for something” but is the goal in itself. The identification with the hero, in the primary process of reception, is of the same fleeting character as identification with “any” fictional character and does not refer to religious experience in particular. Theologians (and practitioners) might debate at length about the desired kind of experience, separating authentic from inauthentic and appropriate from inappropriate emotions, for example, considering crying as correct only if it is an expression of piety. This, however, is but one interpretation of a polyvalent emotional expression and thus cannot suffice as a source for conceptual inquiry. Hopefully, this article’s examination of the production of emotional experiences through an extended rhetorical analysis proves to be a more stable foundation for understanding the role of emotions in waʿẓmaḥfils in particular and the role of communication in shaping concepts in general.


The sermons come from a collection of audio recordings of about thirty-five sermons. In the following, the sermons are marked in the form of Name of Preacher: Name/Location/ Year of Sermon. The preachers are TH = Tafājjal Hosen Bhairabī; AKN = Abul Kasem Nūrī; AS = Abu Sufiẏān āl Kāderī; DHS = Deloẏār Hosen Sāīdī; and SD = Prof. Sālāhuddīn. The sermons are: BHA = Bhairab; DH = Dhākā; DMK = Duḥkhinī Māẏer Kānnā; LON = London; KOM = Kamillā; KTT = Kālemā Tāiẏẏebar Artha Tātparya; MBDK = Mā Bābā r Duḥkha Kaṣṭa; and MN = Milādunnābī.


For an early overview, see Johannes Pedersen, “The Islamic Preacher: Wāʿiẓ, mudhakkir, qāṣṣ,” in Ignace Goldziher Memorial Volume, Samuel Löwinger, ed. (Budapest, 1948).


Here, the Arabic transliteration scheme is used; in Bengali, the most common spelling is oẏāj māh’fil.


Rafiuddin Ahmed, The Bengal Muslims, 1871–1906: A Quest for Identity (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), 100–104.


For an overview, see Max Stille, “Islamic Non-Friday Sermons in Bangladesh,” South Asia Chronicle/Südasien-Chronik 4 (2014): 94–114.


There is no comprehensive study on the issue in relation to Bangladesh yet. For a still very useful historical introduction, see Usha Sanyal, Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and his Movement, 1870–1920 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996).


Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 256.


Reinhart Koselleck and Hans-Georg Gadamer, Zeitschichten: Studien zur Historik, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1656 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2003), 30.


Hubert Locher and Adriana Markantonatos, eds., Reinhart Koselleck und die politische Ikonologie, Transformationen des Visuellen 1 (Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2013), 27.


For a current positioning of this thought, which has been crucial for phenomenology since Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft, cf. Stefan Deines and Martin Seel, Kunst und Erfahrung: Beiträge zu einer philosophischen Kontroverse, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 2045 (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012).


The second and third books of Aristotle’s rhetoric contain an analysis of human emotions and how to guide them. This line of thought is continued prominently, for example, in Cicero’s introductory comments to “all the emotions with which nature has endowed the human race” (De oratore 1.17). See also the section “Expression, Performance, Self-Affection” below.


Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik (Tübingen: Mohr, 1965).


Hans Robert Jauss, Aesthetic Experience and Literary Hermeneutics, trans. Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982).


Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978).


Gernot Böhme, Atmosphäre: Essays zur neuen Ästhetik, Edition Suhrkamp 1927 = n.F., Bd. 927 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1995).


Interestingly, a similar view was already uttered by Tor Andrae, Die Person Muhammeds in Lehre und Glauben seiner Gemeinde (Stockholm: Norstedt & Söner, 1917), 28, albeit with a negative point of view of something “outer” (illegitimately) changing the “essence” of religion—in short, a view not trying to map conceptual change but rather to deny it.


Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Witness to Suffering: Domestic Cruelty and the Birth of the Modern Subject in Bengal,” in Questions of Modernity, Timothy Mitchell, ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 49–96, tries to put more emphasis on means of depiction than Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: Norton, 2007); nevertheless, here also even basic literary questions pass unnoticed.


While it is not a very common word in contemporary Bengali, it is found in religious poetry; see Hans Harder, Sufism and Saint Veneration in Contemporary Bangladesh: The Maijbhandaris of Chittagong, Routledge Advances in South Asian Studies (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2011), 196, 198.


Most of the usages mentioned are also listed in the lemma kalejā in John T. Platts, A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1884).


TH:DMK: “kalijāẏ lāṭhi khāiche.”


TH:MBDK: “ekṭu pāni khāo, kalijā mane haẏ tomār śukiẏe geche.”


TH:DMK: “kālijāẏ āghāt.”


DHS:80s: “kāfirer kalijā thar thar kare kā̃pbe.”


TH:MBDK: “kalijāẏ āgun”; see also DMK, KOM; TH:DMK: “āmār kalijāẏ āgun jvalche.”


TH:BHA: “āmār nātīr kalijāṭā ṭhāṇḍā habe”; TH:BHA: “mā-bābār kalijā ṭāṇḍā kare diogo Āllāh.” For a lament about this cooling as a decrease in passion and belief, see Christina Oesterheld, “Fighting for the Community,” in “Feeling Communities,” special issue 2017, Indian Economic & Social History Review (forthcoming).


DHS:80s: “śok sab āmār kalijā theke dhuiẏā muichā sā ph haẏe geche.” As with a possible background of kalijā in the humor system, little can be said here about connections to the heart as a mirror in antique thought and Islamic traditions, particularly with al-Ghazzā lī.


Zoltán Kövecses, Metaphor and Emotion: Language, Culture, and Body in Human Feeling, Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction, second series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Paris: Editions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2000).


TH:DMK: “mār kalijā phā ṭāicho.”


AS:LON: “mā mā mā! māke yadi ḍāk dii kalijā pheṭe yāẏ.”


TH:MBDK: “ei dāger kathā mane haile āmi nabī r kalijā mānenā.” The same expression can be used with another word for the seat of feeling, the heart-mind, mana: “eṭātei āmār man māne nā,” in TH:MN.


TH:DMK: “bāccāder mukher dike tākāile āmār kalijā mānenā.”


TH:MIL: “baumā tomār cokher pāni dekhe āmār kalijā mānenā.”


The narratives are centered on the sons.


Interestingly, the same expression is reported in Jonathan P. Parry, “Ankalu’s Errant Wife: Sex, Marriage and Industry in Contemporary Chhattisgarh,” Modern Asian Studies 35, no. 2 (2001): 805, in a region far from Bangladesh, thus indicating broad cultural configurations.


For an account of a child infected by tuberculosis, see TH:MBDK.


DHS:2006: “mā kā̃dteche, ā mār kalijār ṭukro bāccat.āre māiro nā. o āmāre bhāt khāite nā dik, o āmāre māruk, ore tumi māiro nā.”


See Margrit Pernau, “Introduction,” this issue; Christina Oesterheld, “Changing Landscapes of Love and Passion in the Urdu Novel,” this issue; as well as Chakrabarty, Witness.


Among the innumerable examples figure Bonbibi, a ballad from the end of the nineteenth century; novels such as Saiẏad Oẏālīullāh’s classic Lāl Sālu; and contemporary TV series such as Tomār Doẏāẏ Bhālo Āchi Ma, featuring Moshā rraph Karī m.


Edward William Lane, An Arabic-English lexicon (London: Williams and Norgate, 1893), 1055–1057.


“Allāhu arḥamu bi-ʿibā dihi min hādhihi bi-waladihā.”




Richard T. Antoun, Muslim Preacher in the Modern World: A Jordanian Case Study in Comparative Perspective (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 106–125.


See Hans-Robert Jauß, Ästhetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991), 410. The chapter on the hermeneutics of question and answer was not included in the first edition of the book and thus the translation cited previously, Jauss, Aesthetic Experience.


See the “interactional” view of metaphor as formulated in Max Black, “Metaphor,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 55, no. 1 (1954): 273–294; Max Black, Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1962), 22–47.


DHS:2006: “kalijā diẏe.”


See Oesterheld, “Changing Landscapes of Love and Passion in the Urdu Novel.”


The other important term in this regard is jāriẏā (Arabic/Urdu ẓarīʿa).


DHS:80s: “mā hfile ā mā der sakaler jany˙a nājāter jariẏā māniẏe dio Āllāh”; TH:DMK: “ei māhfiler uchilāẏ mā–bonder saha ei mā hfiler sabāike tumi māph kare dāo go Āllāh”; TH:KOM: “eiṭa ki āmāder janẏa uchilā haite pāre nā?”; for giving money as wasīla, see AKN:2014: “Āllāh eiṭā pratẏaker janẏa ekṭā nājāter uchilā kare dāo.”


SD:BM: “Becāri mā āhāhā daś mās! … eiṭā mā chāṛā ār keu bujhte pārbe nā ye ki kaṣḥa.”


See Bonbibi, a ballad from the end of the nineteenth century.


TH:DMK narrates the death of a son who prefers the parents of his wife and forgets his mother.


Here I consciously exclude speculations about possible parallels to or influences of Hindu ideas such as Rāmprasād Sen’s Kālī devotion.


Usha Sanyal, “Generational Changes in the Leadership of the Ahl-e Sunnat Movement in North India during the Twentieth Century,” Modern Asian Studies 32, no. 3 (1998): 635–656.


TH:DMK: “tumi ki nabīr uchilāẏ āmār guṇāhguli māph dite pāranā?”; AS:LON: “makkā nabīr uchilaẏ gunāh māph kare dāo.”


AS:LON. see Taede Huitema, De voorspraak (Shafāʿa) in den Islam (Leiden: Brill, 1936), 21–29.


Marion Holmes Katz, The Birth of the Prophet Muhammad: Devotional Piety in Sunni Islam, Culture and Civilization in the Middle East 11 (London: Routledge, 2007), 111.


TH:MBDK: “Bābā bābā go, eta niṣṭhur kemne hailā go bābā! makkār sakal chelera bābār kole uṭhla, āmi ekdino bābār kole uṭhlam nā. makkā theke madināẏ aslām go bābā, ekṭu uṭha nā, āmāre ādar kare dāo nā.”


Thanks to Tahera Qutbuddin for her question about this circumstance during the workshop Aesthetics of the Sublime, Cairo, 15–17 December 2012.


TH:DMK: “Āmār Āllāh bale: ‘bandhu go, māhārā kona santān yadi tomār mata ebhābe kā̃nde, mār kabare yāiẏā yadi kā̃nde, kathā dilām tomār matai ek phoṭā cokher pāni yadi āmāre dekhāite pāre, santāner cokher pānir uchilaẏ tār mā-bābār kabar jānnāter bāgān bānāiẏā diba.’”


TH:KOM: “Eta kānnā kena? ki bẏathā eta duḥkha? cehārā paryanta kālo haẏe geche. Hujur bujhechi kona bẏathā mane haẏeche. jībane konodin ekṭābār bābā kaiẏā ḍāken nāi.”


TH:KOM: “Sei bābār bẏāthaẏ bujhi kā̃ntechen.”


TH:KOM: “Āẏeśāre se bẏathā antare ache re Āẏeśā! tabe ājker kānnā āmi bābār janẏa kā̃di nā. tahale ki māẏer kathā mane haẏe geche? nāre Āẏeśā! māẏer janẏao kā̃di nā. tāhale ki mā hārā bābā hārā bẏathȧ laiẏā yedin dādār kāche giẏechilen. dādā ṭāinā buke jaṛāiẏā galār madhẏe jāpairā dharechila. sei dādā eta ādar karta. yei dādār ādar pāiẏā mā-bābār kathā paryanta bhule giẏechilen. sei dādā āṭ bachar dui mās daś din baẏase āpnāke duniẏāẏ rekhe kabare cale geche sei dādār kathā bẏathāẏ bujhi kāntechen. āmār nabī jabāb dicche, Āẏeśāre. śuno re āmi kār janẏa kā̃di. dādār janẏa naẏ, bābār janẏa naẏ, maẏer janẏa naẏ. ājker kānnā re Āẏeśā āmār gōnāhgār ummater janẏa!”


See Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety, Studies in Religion (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 93; Tor Andrae, Die Person Muhammeds, 279f.


TH:KOM: “Duiṭā cokher pāni gāl beẏe beẏe cheṛe dilen. sāhābīrā bale: ‘hujur cokher pā ni cheṛe dilen kena?’ āmār nabī ḍākche: ‘sāhābīrāre śuno re āmār bandhu kārā! āj theke cauddaśat, sāṛe cauddaśat bachar par āmār pāgal ummaterāre āmi nabīr kathā śonār janẏa ghanṭār par ghanṭā, rātrer par rāt base thākbe. āmi nabīr duḥkher kathāgulo śunle uḥ āḥ śabda karbe. keu keu cokher pāni jhar jhar kare cheṛe dibe.’ sāhābī rā bale: ‘hujur āścarya halām. āpnāke nā dekhe, āpnār māẏāẏ cokher pāni cheṛe dibe, ghanṭār par ghanṭa rātre base thākbe. uḥ āḥ śabda karbe. o eṭā kemon ā ścaryer kathā. etadin pare āpnār janẏa tārā eta bhālobāsā eta māẏā habe.’ āmār nabī balen: ‘sāhābīrāre āścarya haio nā! tomrā sākṣī haẏe yāo. āmi nabī bale dilām re, oi yuger ummatgulo habe āmi rāsūler bandhu.’”


Angelika Hartmann, “Islamisches Predigtwesen im Mittelalter: Ibn al-Ǧauzī und sein ‘Buch der Schlußreden’ (1186 n.Chr.),” Saeculum 38 (1987): 339.


For an example of the famous Urdu preacher Tariq Jamil, who in many respects is an interesting point of comparison, see (accessed 1 January 2016).


This interesting point of comparison arose from discussions on the topic with Ines Weinrich, whom I thank for sharing her material on Lebanese praise songs for the Prophet.


The various quotations in all the big collections of ḥadīt can easily be found if searched using the keyword ummatī.


Again, there are interesting interrelations between Allah and a consoling woman figure, this time ʿĀʾisha, as well as between mercy and compassion, both of which are created by the intertext of the ḥadīts, in which it is Allah who finally consoles Muhammad’s pains by saying, “Raise your head” and granting redemption for the sinners.


Hartmann, “Islamisches Predigtwesen,” 365–366.


For different shades of the initially discussed liver-heart, compare the passionate metaphor in Harder, Sufism and Saint, 198.


Hartmann, “Islamisches Predigtwesen,” 354.


Charles Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counter-publics, Cultures of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 94.




Margaret Malamud, “Self-Fashioning: The Master-Disciple Relationship in Classical Sufism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64, no. 1 (1996): 96. Many thanks to Tony Stewart for the hint.


Antoun, Preacher, 114.


Ibid., 110.


Aram K. Muneer, “Poetics of Piety: Genre, Self-Fashioning, and the Mappila Life-scape,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (September 2015): 5.


Katz, Birth of the Prophet, 128.


This point needs further consideration, as there is a quite pain-laden passage quoted in Regula Burckhardt Qureshi, “Sounding the Word: Music in the Life of Islam,” in Enchanting Powers: Music in the World’s Religions, Lawrence E. Sullivan, ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions, 1997), 277.


Margrit Pernau, “Love and Compassion for the Community,” in “Feeling Communities,” special issue 2017, Indian Economic & Social History Review (forthcoming).


This direction is already indicated by Pernau’s comments on the influence of ʿishq and love poetry in prose texts; see ibid.


Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 129.


Muneer, Poetics of Piety, 19.


William M. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: Framework for a History of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 63–111; William M. Reddy, “Against Constructionism: The Historical Ethnography of Emotions,” Current Anthropology 38, no. 3 (1997).


Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. with the assistance of Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Continuum Impacts (London: Continuum, 2004), 470; Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, 450.


Gadamer, Truth and Method, 503.


For an overview, see Dietmar Till, “36. Rhetorik des Affekts (Pathos),” in Rhetoric and Stylistics: An International Handbook of Historical and Systematic Research, Ulla Fix, Andreas Gardt, and Joachim Knape, eds. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 646–669.


Heinrich Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik: Eine Grundlegung der Literaturwissenschaft, 4th ed., Philologie (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2008), §257.


From its relatively late start, Sanskrit literary theory has dealt with the question of how literature carries emotions; see, for example, Sheldon Pollock, “Introduction,” in Literary Cultures in History, Sheldon Pollock, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 39–130.


For the historical roots of this concept at the border of rhetoric and poetics (drama) and ethos and pathos, as well as for the decisive option into reformist homiletics, see R. B. Kremer, “Selbstaffektion,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, vol. 8, Gert Ueding et al., eds. (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2007), 1217–1224.


See Aristoteles, Rhetoric, III, 7, 11; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, XI, 2, 26–29; Horace, Ars Poetica, II, 101–102.


See Pasha Khan, “A Handbook for Storytellers: The Ṭirāz al-akhbār and the Qissa Genre,” in Tellings and Texts, Francesca Orsini and Katherine Butler Schofield, eds. (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015), 198–199.


It seems a noteworthy topic for further consideration that the deviation of the last sentence from the famous Horacean phrase, “Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum ipsi tibi” can be explained by the same deviation in Arabic preaching manuals; see the yet unpublished manuscript “The Listener According to Islamic Preaching Theory in Egypt” by Jan Scholz.


Muhāmmad Yāinul Ābidīn, Baktṛtār klās, 9th ed. (Dhākā: Māktābātul ākhtār, 2011), 34: “Swīẏa baktṛtār dwārā anẏake prabhābita karte hale prabhābita hate habe prathame nijeke. baktṛtār pratiṭi barṇa marma gabhirbhābe upalabdhi karte habe. mane mane bhābte habe: ye bedanā biplaber kathā āmi balchi e yena āmāri jīban ghaṭe yāoẏā ek jwalanta bāstabatā. yā ā mār cokher samne. āmi dīrṇa hacchi. āmi jwalchi. biṣāder biśāl pāhāṛ āmār bhetar. ye bedanāẏ āmi nije klānta āchanna raktākta sei bedanār kathā yakhan balte yāba takhan pratiṭi śabde ābeg o biśwāser ekṭi bhinna śakti yukta habe – śrotār hṛidaẏ chuẏe yābe. anubhūtike nāṛā diẏe yābe-baẏe ānbe cintā o biśwāse ek boiplabik paribartan. pakṣāntare baktānijei yadi tā̃r kathāguloke gāẏe nā mākhāẏ tāhale śrotār mane se kathā konoi dāg kāṭe nā. sutarāng anẏake kā̃dte hale tā̃r āge nije kā̃dār kona bikalpa nei.”


Interview with Tafājjal Hosen, 26 March 2014, at his private house in Bhairab in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. “Āmi ballām dekhen, āpnerā oẏāj karen paiṛā ār āmi oẏāj kari deikhā. āmi ohuder jamine gelām, āmār oẏājer samaẏ ohuder jaminṭā āmār cokhe bhāse, ār alocanār bhābṭā eibhābei uposthāpan kari, śrotārāo yena dekhteche, ohuder jaminṭā tāder sāmne ghaṭanā ghaṭteche, ei takhani cokher pāni ber haẏ.”


Interview with Tafājjal Hosen, 26 March 2014.


See Iser, Act of Reading, for example, 143.


For example, the popular serial Tomar doẏāẏ bhālo achi mā, which started in the beginning of 2014.


Till, “Rhetorik des Affekts,” 658.


SD in TH:MN.


The present article intentionally does not follow “mood” as the standard translation for the French “mode,” as it is misleading in the context of emotion research.


Let us add that also in the mawlid genre, the women’s “voice” is important, particularly the voice of Ā mina, see Katz, Birth of the Prophet, 125.


Gérard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980), 164.


See, for example, Paul Zumthor, Einführung in die mündliche Dichtung (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1990), 13; Reinhart Meyer-Kalkus, “38. Rhetorik der Stimme (Actio II: Pronuntiatio),” in Fix, Gardt, and Knape, Rhetoric and Stylistics; Doris Kolesch and Sybille Krämer, Stimme: Annäherung an ein Phänomen, STW 1789 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2006).


See Hirschkind, The Ethical Soundscape, particularly 82–83 for references to the importance of aesthetic bodily dimensions.


ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. al-Jawzī al-Baghdādī, Ṣaid al-khāṭir (Bayrūt: Dār al-kutub al-ʿilmīya, 1992), 100.


Regula B. Qureshi, “Islamic Music in an Indian Environment: The Shi’a Majlis,” Ethnomusicology 25, no. 1 (1981): 47.


DHS:KTT. For a detailed analysis see Carla Petievich and Max Stille, “Emotions in Performance: Poetry and Preaching,” in “Feeling Communities,” special issue 2017, Indian Economic & Social History Review (forthcoming).


Such as the abovementioned theories of Jauß, Iser, and Stanley Fish, “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics,” New Literary History 2, no. 1 (1970): 123–162.


Fish, Literature in the Reader, 124–125.


Hans Robert Jauß, “Levels of Identification of Hero and Audience,” New Literary History 5, no. 2 (1974): 287.


Ibid., 287.


Iser, Act of Reading, 97.


Ibid., 99.


See, for example, Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, 6, 1, 52.


Angelika Hartmann, “Les ambivalences d’un sermonnaire ḥanbalite: Ibn al-Gˇawzī (m. en 597/1201), sa carrière et son ouvrage autographe, le Kitāb al-Ḫawātīm (avec 10 planches),” Annales Islamologiques 22 (1986): 106 (kā na majlisa ‘l–waʿẓi yanbaghī an yakūna ashadduhu ḥarāratan wa izʿājatan ā khiruhu).


Philip Lutgendorf, The Life of a Text: Performing the Rāmcaritmānas of Tulsidas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 185–186.


Qureshi, “Islamic Music,” 44.


Genette, Narrative Discourse, 67.


Kenneth Valpey, “Pūja and Darśana,” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Knut A. Jacobsen et al., eds.,


Katz, Birth of the Prophet, 128–139.


Ibid., 141.


As noted above, this argument goes together well with that of Muneer, Poetics of Piety, despite differences in disciplinary outlook and focus.


For a possible antecedent to the change of voice in Bengali literary history, see Max Stille, “Metrik und Poetik der Josephsgeschichte Muhammad Sagirs,” Working Papers in Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures 1 (2013),


See Jauß, “Levels of Identification,” 307–308, for the concept of the “middling hero.” For a more detailed discussion of possible relationships between narration and theology, see Max Stille, “Sufism in Bengali wa‘z mahfils,” in Islam, Sufism and Everyday Politics in South Asia, Deepra Dandekar and Torsten Tschacher, eds. (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

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