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29 April 2011

Ismail bin Yaha (1951–) dancer, preacher, healer.

Ismail was raised in Kedah province (map), in northwest Malaysia. He earned a living sewing clothes and dancing in female roles in local dance troupes.

In his twenties he became more and more aware that the dancing and his female clothing were contrary to Islam, but he could not give them up. One night during Ramadan he had a vision of heaven. He vowed to change, but not before a dance performance a few days later. Then he fell into a trance for three days.

On emerging he gave up dress-making, female clothing and dancing. He conducted a special purification for his house in that the materials had been purchased from a Chinese kafir.

He then dressed in the white robes of an alim and began preaching to his neighbours about hellfire. As the others knew him from before, his radical transformation was taken as divine intervention. The religious bureaucrats feared that he would be taken as a prophet. They interviewed him, declared him to be impious, and his preachings to be tempting but false. However he went on to a more prestigious role as a healer.
  • Sharifah Zaleha Syad Hassan. "Versions of Eternal Truth: Ulama and Religious Dissenters in Kedah Malay Society". Contributions to Southeast Asian Ethnography, 8, 1989: 43-69.
  • Michael G. Peletz. Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia Since Early Modern Times. London & NY: Routledge, 2009: 187-8.

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