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The Charm of Graves

Perceptions of Death and After-Death among the Negev Bedouin

Gideon M. Kressel is professor emeritus at Ben-Gurion University’s Blaustein Institute for Desert Research.

Sasson Bar-Zvi deceased 2012) served as Military Governor of the Negev (1963– 68), and had lasting personal involvement with the social concerns of the tribes.

‘Aref Abu-Rabi’a observes the Bedouin past and present from a unique position of participant-observer, and is a professor in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University.

The authors provide a comprehensive picture of burial, mourning rituals, commemoration practices and veneration of the dead among the Negev Bedouin. A primary emphasis is the pivotal linkages between the living and the dead embodied in the intermediary role of healers, sorcerers, seers and other arbitrators between heaven and earth, who supplicate – publicly and privately – at the gravesite of chosen awliyâh (deceased saints).

The Charm of Graves brings together integrated findings of three scholars, based on decades of field work that combine close to 65 years of scrutiny. It maps out the locations and particularities of venerated tombs, the identity of the occupants and their individual abilities vis-à-vis the Almighty. Attitudes, beliefs and customs surrounding each gravesite, when combined on a longitudinal scale, reveal changes over time in beliefs and practices in grave worship and burial, mourning and condolence customs. Analysis of the data reveals that the dynamic of grave worship among the Negev Bedouin throws light on ancient traditions in a complex relationship with mainstream Islamic doctrine and the impact of modernity on Bedouin conduct and belief.

The authors’ observations and interviews with practitioners about their beliefs are compared and augmented with references that exist in the professional literature, including grave worship elsewhere in the Arab world. The Charm of Graves is essential reading for anthropologists, scholars of the sociology of religion, and students of Islam at university and popular levels. The topic has received only marginal attention in existing anthropological works and has been keenly awaited.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-584-7
Hardback Price: £65.00 / $74.95
Release Date: June 2013
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-708-7
Paperback Price: £29.95 / $39.95
Release Date: February 2016
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


A Note to the Reader
About the Authors
About the Format
Arabic Terms in the Text


Mourning Customs: Anthropological Perspectives
The Range of Human Practices
A Common Denominator
Islamic Fundamentals and Graveside Worshiping
Grave Worship among the Negev Bedouin
Various Objectives in Visiting Graves

Chapter 1: Death in the Bedouin Tradition
The Perception of Death in the Bedouin Tradition
Remnants of Canaanite Beliefs and Rituals: The Sea as a Source of Death and Rebirth
Mourning: Bedouin Traditions and Newly-Forming Shar‘i Conventions
When a Death Occurs
Funeral Protocols and Practices
Mourning Practices upon Returning from the Burial
Norms and Practices during Forty Days of Mourning
Consoling Mourners

Chapter 2:Awliyyâ Graves in the Negev: An Anthropology of Oral Traditions

Chapter 3: The Power of Awliyyâ Sites to Help or Cause Harm: An Analysis

The Duality of Awliyyâ Perceptions
“Inherited” Antipathy
Champion of Group Solidarity
Defender of Social Status
Desecration of Wali Graves
The Dynamics of Reciprocity
‘Amri: The Embodiment of Evil Intent
Dealing with Iniquitous Impulses
The Source of Evil Intent: Incest
Possible Origins of ‘Amri’s Presence
“Threatening” Graves as Social Control
The Power of Amulets, Control of Ghosts, and Incantations
The Dynamics of Arbitration through the Dead
The Dynamics of Situational Veneration
Zana: Magnification of a Mystical Setting by a Mystifying Event
The House of Sheikh Ibrâhîm Abu Riyâsh

Chapter 4: Healing Processes and the “World of the Dead”
Role of the Darwish
Appearance of a Darwish Tradition in the Negev
Spiritual Powers and Treatment of Sickness
Hereditary Tendencies among Drâwîsh
Primary Drâwîsh of the Negev
The Psychosocial Essence of Healing
The Mechanics of Amulets
Use of Magical and Meaningless Words
Demons and Mental Illness
Treatment of Physical Ailments
Sorcery, Sexual Prowess, and Progeny
Intentional Acts Using the Evil Eye
Concepts of Communing with the “World of the Dead”
Evil Forces: Ghosts, Demons, Satan, and the Angel of Death
Perceptions of Mental Disorders
Whisperers who Neutralize the Evil Eye
Appraisal of the Reputation of Drâwîsh
When Drâwîsh Operate as a Group
An Evening Together with a Band of Drâwîsh
Sanctity as an Inherited Trait
al ‘Arâf: Master of Divinating the Future
Drâwîsh Who Collar Thieves
Inherited Mystique and Mentoring
Specificities of Negotiating with the World of the Occult
Four Specialties of the Occult Practitioners
North African vs. Palestinian Practices
‘Arâf (Fortune-tellers) and Dajâl (Frauds)
The Role of Social Status in Healer-Client Dynamics
Defamatory Stories and Rogue Drâwîsh

Chapter 5: Common Traits Shared by Awliyyâ Graves
The Geographical Factor
How Cemeteries Develop
Visit to a Sacred Grave En Masse (Ziyâra)
Gender and Grave Worship
Burial among Kin vs. Burial among Non-Agnates
The Phenomenology of Hilltop Shuyûĥ1Graves
Ranking Graves by their Relative Importance
Personifying Awliyyâ Graves as “Brands”
Signs of Sanctification that Appear Post-Mortem
Shifts in Emphasis from Partisan to Inclusive Ascription
Nature of Pleas that Explain Success or Failure
A Closing Note
Graveside Protocols
Present-day Mourning Customs

Glossary of Arabic Terms and Phrases
Map of Grave Sites and Geographical Place Names


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