Project Description

The Institute for Sufi Studies, Humanity, Sufi Thought and Healing Lecture Series

Dr. Waleed Ziad

The Extraordinary, Enchanted Journey of a Female Scholar Saint in the Afghan Empire

September 29, Friday 2023, at 15.00-16.00

Room B-1- 13 A Building of South Campus of Üsküdar University


“The Extraordinary, Enchanted Journey of a Female Scholar Saint in the Afghan Empire”

At the turn of the 19th century, Bibi Sahiba Kalan (1752-1803), Kabul’s great female Sufi master and scholar, was recognized as the “most exalted saint” of the age. Her network of thousands of disciples spanned the Arabian Sea to Central Asia. She was the spiritual guide of scholars, poets, and nobles, invited to Bukhara by the khan himself. She led a caravan to Mecca, and built and managed colleges and shrines at Kandahar, Yemen, and Sindh. Bibi Sahiba’s sons and grandchildren – Sufi masters in their own right – defended Afghanistan in the Anglo-Afghan Wars. They expanded Bibi Sahiba’s spiritual network all the way to the Thar desert and Rajasthan, where at least fifteen great female saints were appointed as their successors – each with Muslim and Hindu disciples in the thousands.

These female saints are the subject of Prof. Waleed Ziad’s forthcoming book Sufi Masters of the Afghan Empire: Bibi Sahiba and her Sacred networks (Harvard 2024), based on fieldwork in five languages in several dozen towns and villages from the Thar desert to the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands to Central Asia. Dr Ziad’s research overturns our assumptions on Muslim women’s empowerment before colonialism; His research indicates that Bibi Sahiba was one of many female religious leaders in what is today Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan from the 18th to 20th centuries.

Who is Waleed Ziad?

Waleed Ziad is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to this, he was the Islamic Law and Civilization Research Fellow at Yale Law School. He completed his PhD in the Department of History at Yale University, where he won the university-wide Field Prize, the highest Yale doctoral dissertation award across all disciplines. He also received his MA/MPhil and BA from Yale. For over a decade, Dr. Ziad has conducted fieldwork on historical and contemporary religious revivalism and Sufism in over 140 towns across Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. Dr. Ziad has studied Persian, Urdu, Arabic, French, Sindhi, Uzbek / Chaghatai and Romanian.

His book Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints beyond the Oxus and Indus (Harvard, 2021) was awarded the Albert Hourani award, the most prestigious book prize in Middle East and Islamic Studies of the year. He also recently published In the Treasure Room of the Sakra King: Votive Coinage from Gandharan Shrines (ANS, 2022). His forthcoming books include Sufi Masters of the Afghan Empire: Bibi Sahiba and Her Spiritual Network (Harvard, exp. 2024), and Beyond the Khutba and Sikka: Sovereignty and Coinage in Sindh (in progress). His articles on historical and ideological trends in the Muslim world have appeared in the New York TimesInternational Herald Tribune, the Wall Street JournalForeign PolicyChristian Science Monitor, and The Hill, among others.