Martyrs Of Karbala / Edition 1

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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.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
Overall, for fusing together cultural, social, and political history of the Moharram rituals and symbols, Aghaie's book is highly recommended to all those interested in modern Shi'i and Iranian history.
Virginia Quarterly Review
For those concerned with the political currency of religious ritual and symbolism among the Shi'ites of Iran, take heed of Kamran Scot Aghaie's Martyrs of Karbala..An essential study for our leaders and general readers alike.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295984551
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

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

University of Washington Press

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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

University of Washington Press

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    religion and politics in Shi'i Islam society

    The Shi'i branch of Islam makes up only about 15 percent of the religion. But counting for nearly the entire population of Iran and 60 percent of Iraq's, the Shi'i have a crucial influence on Middle East and world affairs from their numbers in these strategically important countries. A professor of Islamic and Iranian history at the U. of Texas-Austin, Aghaie gives a view of Shi'i culture in Iran that is eye-opening and germane for Western readers. Basically, one sees that for the Shi'i there is no clear, or even worthwhile, distinction between religion and other aspects of society, including most significantly government. Whereas such a distinction is a part of the foundation of the U. S. and other democracies, Shi'i culture was founded with the defeat of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hoseyn and the massacre of his family by the caliph Yazidin in the 680AD battle of Karbala. Shi'i religious ceremonies, motives for behavior, social purposes, and community goals grew out of this defeat. A special intensity and commitment, as well as sacrifice, was called for so Islam as expressed by Mohammad and his descendants would not be lost. This branch of Islam faith is distinguished from that reflected in the institutional rule of the caliphs came about throughout most of the Middle East. Aghaie's subject is the relationship between Iranian leaders from the Qajars of the 19th and early 20th century through the Shah of Iran to today's Islamic Republic and the symbols and rituals of Shiism. The Shah of Iran was overturned in a revolution because in an effort to modernize Iran, he sought to minimize the symbols and rituals. The work brings an insight into the Shi'i culture that is timely and germane considering current events in Iran and Iraq and U. S. ambitions to institute democracy in this area.

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