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Ethnography of Contemporary Shi'ism (1/2)

A099
Panel Chair: David Thurfjell | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The last decade bear witness to massive changes within many Shi‘ite Muslim societies. In Iran, the Khomeinist system is challenged in hitherto unseen ways and critique of the dominating ideology is articulated also within the Islamist establishment. In Iraq, the political influence of the country’s Shi‘ite majority has drastically increased. In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s involvement in the country’s politics has changed as the organization became a member of the country’s government for the first time in 2011. The uprisings in many Arab countries and increasing sectarian tensions with Sunni-Muslim communities, furthermore, have also had great impact on the life of Shi‘ites both in their traditional heartlands and in the West. Based on ethnographic research, this panel focuses on how Shi’ite Muslims on a grass-roots level negotiate, interpret and practice their religious tradition in these new religious, cultural and political environments.

Oliver Scharbrodt

Remembering ‘Ashura’ in London: the embodiment and material culture of Shii rituals in the diaspora

The events around the murder of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad Husayn in Karbala (680CE) and their annual remembrance during ‘Ashura’ have been crucial in forming and maintaining Shii sectarian identity. During the period of ‘Ashura’, the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram, Shiis perform a number of rituals to remember, mourn and recreate the events of Karbala. Aspects of the mythico-historical narrative are re-created and the soteriological role of Imam Husayn’s martyrdom is articulated in a number of rituals. These distinct Shii rituals are also the result of various cultural influences, more consciously expressed in a diasporic context. This paper investigates how Shii historical narratives and poignant elements of Shii doctrine are embodied and translated into material cultural in Shii rituals performed among male diasporic Iraqi Shii communities in London.

Ingvild Flaskerud

Ahsura processions as Peace demonstrations

Sociological studies have demonstrated that public rituals are important for creating and maintaining identify within a religious community. The annual Ashura procession performed in many Shia Muslim communitas around the world serve such purposes. Drawing on ritual practices developed since the 1500, the localised performance of a procession is often shaped as a response to current local and international socio-political issues. In the present paper I examine five successive annual performances of Ashura processions in Oslo, to discuss how and why the commemorative ritual in this particular social setting is gradually being turned into statements on the issues peace and terror, while simultaneously serving as an arena for carving out a space of belonging also outside the religious community, in the public space.

Chris Heinhold

The use of political context to legitimise sectarianism discourse among Shia communities in the UK

The sectarian division between Shia and Sunni Islam is an issue of global geo-political importance. Daesh is spreading rapidly across Syria and Iraq, into post-‘Arab-spring’ states, and online. Shia organisations have seized this opportunity to portray themselves as natural allies of the West. This paper will examine how the current political context allows for overt sectarian sentiment to be expressed in highly public spaces. In portraying themselves as sharing a common enemy with the West, Shia groups may feel justified in making highly sectarian claims against their Sunni counterparts. I argue that some Shia communities in Britain have seized upon the current crisis in the Middle East in order to convey their own, self-styled, position as the moderate face of Islam in the West. In doing so they are portraying Sunni Muslims as inherently violent; while occupying for themselves a dual position of victim, and ally to the West.

Yafa Shanneik

Remembering the ‘Women of Karbala’ Past and Present: Shia Women in London

Twelver Shia remember the events of Karbala when the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Husayn, and almost his entire family were murdered in Southern Iraq in 680CE. This master-narrative (Wertsch 2002) of the ‘Karbala paradigm’ (Fischer 1980) is in turn de-constructed into several sub-narratives at which subjective understandings of historical events are connected to personal individual life circumstances producing various understandings and representations of historical events. This paper examines one of these sub-narratives and focuses on remembering the ‘women of Karbala’ as articulated through the majalis al qiraya rituals among various Shia women communities in London. A particular emphasis is placed on the geo-political context of the development of this memory in the Middle East and Europe expressed in traditional and modern Shia lamentation poetry.

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