Hanna Nieber “Drinking the Written Qur’an: Scripture and Healing in Zanzibar Town”

Drinking the Written Qur’an: Scripture and Healing in Zanzibar Town

My PhD project “Drinking the Written Qur‟an” deals with manufacturing and drinking kombe, washed-off Qur‟anic verses to be drunk as medicine in Zanzibar. An engagement with text is central to my research: text that is dissolved / transformed in order to unfold its effect on the body. What happens to its script when the text is dissolved? What role does the particularity of Qur‟anic text play in its transformation and what exactly is maintained that facilitates healing? Through an engagement with the materiality of text I address these questions and touch on many central topics of the Summer Academy „World Scripts‟. Kombe stretches what „written text‟ is: a mark (or trace) is left, the practitioners express their expertise, transformed ink could be understood to “represent” what it had formed before or kombe could be seen to constitute another dimension of written text that involves various dimensions during its manufacture. Kombe also carries a particular genealogy that emphasizes its connectedness across the Indian Ocean to an envisioned wider Muslim world which has social and political repercussions in Zanzibar. Lastly, a focus on the script itself also points to kombe‟s situatedness in which the concepts and practices of writing allow written Qur‟anic verses to be dissolved to facilitate healing.

Hanna Nieber obtained her Master’s Degree in African Studies from Leipzig University. She currently is working on her PhD project about kombe (Qur’anic medicinal liquid) entitled “Drinking the Written Qur’an: Scripture and Healing in Zanzibar Town” at the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies (BGSMCS) and at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO). With this project she combines her research interests in a material approach to the anthropology of text, the body, religion, and medicine.


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