In the 1903 text Madar al-Zar (The Damages of Zar), Egyptian writer Muhammad Hilmi Zayn al-Din decried the growing popularity of zar rituals and the superstitious women who participated in them as an epidemic ravaging his country. This article employs Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb’s method of “epidemiological reading” to reveal and analyze the racial and imperial anxieties that underlie this understudied text. The article begins with a summary of Madar al-Zar and an account of the sociopolitical context in which it was published. It then pulls back the surface layers of the text to reveal that the “disease” running rampant in early twentieth-century Egypt was not zar, but the scourge of African enslavement and the ever-looming specter of Egypt’s imperial desires in Sudan. The article concludes with a meditation on zar as an archive of African dispossession, displacement, and resilience.

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