The Martyrs of Karbala: Shii Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran

Paperback | October 1, 2004

byKamran Scot Aghaie

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This innovative study examines patterns of change in Shi’i symbols and rituals over the past two centuries to reveal how modernization has influenced the societal, political, and religious culture of Iran. Shi’is, who support the Prophet Mohammad’s progeny as his successors in opposition to the Sunni caliphate tradition, make up 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population, roughly half of whom live in Iran. Throughout the early history of the Islamic Middle East, the Sunnis have been associated with the state and the ruling elite, while Shi’is have most often represented the political opposition and have had broad appeal among the masses. Moharram symbols and rituals commemorate the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, in which the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hoseyn and most of his family and supporters were massacred by the troops of the Umayyad caliph Yazid.

Moharram symbols and rituals are among the most pervasive and popular aspects of Iranian culture and society. This book traces patterns of continuity and change of Moharran symbols and rituals in three aspects of Iranian life: the importance of these rituals in promoting social bonds, status, identities, and ideals; ways in which the three major successive regimes (Qujars, Pahlavis, and the Islamic Republic), have either used these rituals to promote their legitimacy, or have suppressed them because they viewed them as a potential political threat; and the uses of Moharram symbolism by opposition groups interested in overthrowing the regime.

While the patterns of government patronage have been radically discontinuous over the past two centuries, the roles of these rituals in popular society and culture have been relatively continuous or have evolved independently of the state. The political uses of modern-day rituals and the enduring symbolism of the Karbala narratives continue today.

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This innovative study examines patterns of change in Shi’i symbols and rituals over the past two centuries to reveal how modernization has influenced the societal, political, and religious culture of Iran. Shi’is, who support the Prophet Mohammad’s progeny as his successors in opposition to the Sunni caliphate tradition, make up 10 to ...

Kamran Scot Aghaie is assistant professor of Islamic and Iranian history at the University of Texas at Austin.

other books by Kamran Scot Aghaie

Format:PaperbackDimensions:248 pages, 9.02 × 5.98 × 0.62 inPublished:October 1, 2004Publisher:University Of Washington PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0295984554

ISBN - 13:9780295984551

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Table of Contents

PrefaceAcknowledgments1. A Brief Historical Background of Shi'ism and Moharram2. The Qajar Elites and Religious Patronage (1796-1925)3. Qajar Society and Religious Culture: Tehran as a Case Study4. The Pahlavi Regime and the Emergence of Secular Modernism (1925-1979)5. Religious Rituals, Society, and Politics during the Pahlavi Period6. Hoseyn, "The Prince of Martyrs"7. Fatemeh, Zeynab, and Emerging Discourses on Gender8. The Islamic Republic9. ConclusionNotesBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

This innovative study examines patterns of change in Shi’i symbols and rituals over the past two centuries to reveal how modernization has influenced the societal, political, and religious culture of Iran. Shi’is, who support the Prophet Mohammad’s progeny as his successors in opposition to the Sunni caliphate tradition, make up 10 to 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population, roughly half of whom live in Iran. Throughout the early history of the Islamic Middle East, the Sunnis have been associated with the state and the ruling elite, while Shi’is have most often represented the political opposition and have had broad appeal among the masses. Moharram symbols and rituals commemorate the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, in which the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hoseyn and most of his family and supporters were massacred by the troops of the Umayyad caliph Yazid.Moharram symbols and rituals are among the most pervasive and popular aspects of Iranian culture and society. This book traces patterns of continuity and change of Moharran symbols and rituals in three aspects of Iranian life: the importance of these rituals in promoting social bonds, status, identities, and ideals; ways in which the three major successive regimes (Qujars, Pahlavis, and the Islamic Republic), have either used these rituals to promote their legitimacy, or have suppressed them because they viewed them as a potential political threat; and the uses of Moharram symbolism by opposition groups interested in overthrowing the regime.While the patterns of government patronage have been radically discontinuous over the past two centuries, the roles of these rituals in popular society and culture have been relatively continuous or have evolved independently of the state. The political uses of modern-day rituals and the enduring symbolism of the Karbala narratives continue today.This is an erudite, highly textured, multivoiced study of perhaps the most essential aspect of Shi’ism. - Yasser Tabbaa, Oberlin College