Panel 2015 MESA annual Meeting, Nov 21-24, Denver, Colorado, USA
P4110] Rethinking Muharram: Shi’i Muslim Minorities and the Politics of Ashura Performances
Texts, Interpretation and Commemorating Imām Husayn. by El-Karanshawy, Samer
The Green Ashura: urban space, ritual, and post-election Iran by Rahimi, Babak
The ‘Africanization’ of Ashura in Senegal by Leichtman, Mara
Muharram Rituals and the Making of British Shi’ism by Spellman, Kathryn
The first ten days of the month of Muharram (known as Ashura) are often taken as an essential cultural paradigm for Shi’i Islam by academics and by Shi’i Muslims themselves. Mourning performances revolve around the story of the battle of Karbala (680 CE). In this Iraqi desert field, Husayn, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, along with his followers, died a martyr’s death by the army of Umayyad caliph Yazid (who ruled from 680-683). For Shi’a, remembering Karbala has served as a basic metaphor upon which many beliefs, worldviews, and ritual performances are based. The commemorative ceremonies have been used to affirm communal solidarity and express political, ideological, and social relationships and identities in shifting historical contexts. These ritual performances are also strategic in that they seek to affirm control of a community’s situation and flexibly reinvent rituals as ongoing processes to accommodate various ideas, symbols, and practices in culturally defined contexts.
This panel explores the creative ways Shi’i communities from various ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds use Muharram discourses and practices to further ethnic/nationalist goals, and to negotiate their identity in the context of shifting state-society relations. Such performances are studied here as new ways of commemorating Muharram that entail transgressive features yet remain conservative to affirm social solidarity and bring minority communities more visibility in society. In particular, we examine Shi’i Muharram rituals that do not conform to “official” models of religious action and yet promote Shi’i identity in terms of authenticity and appeal to “traditions.” In certain contexts, however, Ashura may challenge colonial or state hegemony, serve as expressions of self-revival, or as a means of displaying communal identity in a multicultural state.
Panel presenters expand on Muharram practices across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Ashura commemorations in Lebanon are analyzed as texts, open for interpretation and variability. Similarly, Ashura manifestations in Iran, shortly after the “Green Revolution” contesting the disputed 2009 elections, are examined in terms of carnivaleque theatricality and use of city space. In West Africa, Senegalese Shi’a do not participate in Muharram performances typical in the Middle East, but organize conferences on religious debates inclusive of the Sufi Muslim majority. In Britain, Shi’i youth use Ashura to contest the older generation and assert themselves within larger transnational Islamic movements and British secular space. Throughout all four papers, themes of Ashura performance as local political intervention permeate, regardless of Shi’i majority, Shi’i minority, or Shi’i diaspora contexts.
For full details on the MESA meeting and other panels see http://mesana.org/annual-meeting/Posted in: Field-specific (academic)
- November 06, 2015
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