Cover of Say What Your Longing Heart Desires by Niloofar Haeri
Say What Your Longing Heart Desires
Women, Prayer, and Poetry in Iran
Niloofar Haeri


November 2020
224 pages.
from $25.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503601772
Paperback ISBN: 9781503614246
Ebook ISBN: 9781503614253

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Following the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government set out to Islamize society. Muslim piety had to be visible, in personal appearance and in action. Iranians were told to pray, fast, and attend mosques to be true Muslims. The revolution turned questions of what it means to be a true Muslim into a matter of public debate, taken up widely outside the exclusive realm of male clerics and intellectuals.

Say What Your Longing Heart Desires offers an elegant ethnography of these debates among a group of educated, middle-class women whose voices are often muted in studies of Islam. Niloofar Haeri follows them in their daily lives as they engage with the classical poetry of Rumi, Hafez, and Saadi, illuminating a long-standing mutual inspiration between prayer and poetry. She recounts how different forms of prayer may transform into dialogues with God, and, in turn, Haeri illuminates the ways in which believers draw on prayer and ritual acts as the emotional and intellectual material through which they think, deliberate, and debate.

About the author

Niloofar Haeri is Professor of Anthropology and the Program Chair for Islamic Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and the author of Sacred Language, Ordinary People (2003), among other works.

"This is one of the best books on prayer in all of anthropology. Niloofar Haeri shows that prayer is not an empty ritual, but that it becomes a relationship that changes people—and allows the secular reader to understand how poetry enables women to feel spiritual presence. A beautifully written work."

—Tanya Luhrmann, Stanford University, author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

"Say What Your Longing Heart Desires is a work that deserves to be widely read by all who are interested in understanding the different approaches to 'authentic' religion that exist in the Muslim world. A rich and detailed account, and a valuable contribution to our knowledge of religious practice."

—Talal Asad, author of Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam

"Say What Your Longing Heart Desires establishes itself immediately as an essential work in the anthropology of prayer and a major contribution to the study of religious practice and experience. A subtle and compelling work."

—Robert A. Orsi, Northwestern University, author of Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them

"Say What Your Longing Heart Desires will change common perceptions about women's experiences in Iran. Niloofar Haeri examines competing claims of Muslimhood and offers novel readings of theological conversations on spirituality and religious conviction in the Islamic Republic. An empirically rich and theoretically nuanced book."

—Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Princeton University, author of Foucault in Iran: Islamic Revolution after the Enlightenment