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The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi'i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran Paperback – October 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 680 CE, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hoseyn and 70 associates were slaughtered by troops of the rival Umayyad caliphate. This massacre, known as the Battle of Karbala, was a decisive event in the schism between Sunni and Shi'i Muslims, and as such is remembered by Shi'ites in story, song, drama and ritual procession. In this book, Islamic historian Aghaie traces the political uses of Karbala symbolism in 19th- and 20th-century Iran, arguing that it has been a "very flexible" narrative for Iranian rulers. Some, like the Qajar regime (1796–1925), enthusiastically sponsored the story in drama and song, and found that their use of Karbala symbolism helped legitimate their rule. Others, like the more secular and Westernized Pahlavi regime (1925–1979), ignored or suppressed the story's retelling—at their peril. Although the prose is dry and formal, Aghaie is sensitive to the way that Karbala symbolism serves as a valuable lens for examining change in modern Iranian society.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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."―American Historical 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."―Virginia Quarterly Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295984554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295984551
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The Tragedy of Karbala is a historical event which took place in 680 A.D. in Karbala, Iraq, where a grandson of the Prophet of Islam named Husayn (spelled variously as Husain, Hussein, etc.) was brutally killed by the orders of Yazeed, the Umayyad Caliph of the time, after having fought desperately with a handful of his companions.

Since that time, the Tragedy is remembered as a solemn event by sad lamentations (populalrly known as AZADARI), as an effort to protect the basic human rights by a lone crusader against a tyrannical despot, and as the struggle for true and pristine Islam against a debauch oppressor who had taken the garb of a Caliph.

The Shi’a Muslims have taken that as a part of their religious duty and practice that lamentation mixed with some demonstrations. Iran being the majority Shi’a country, stands out for that practice. However, the Iranian general public has developed a custom of T’aziyya to commemorate the tragedy which consists of street dramas which look like a celebration more than a solemn observation of a tragedy. Scholars who have written about the Tragedy have obviously been attracted to those dramas rather than to the true passion and the underlying philosophy of the great sacrifice presented by Husayn.

A number of books have appeared describing the Tragedy. Kamran Scott Aghai’s The Martyrs of Karbala is one such book. This book, as we mentioned, is also full of glossy pictures and describes the Iranian tradition of T’aziyya.

However, the main spread of the Karbala observance has happened in the wider world through the South Asian culture of India/Pakistan, so is true about the U.K. and the U.S.A.
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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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Professor Aghaie is my professor at The University of Texas at Austin and he's amazing! His book depicts eye-opening facts about the battle and is just as good as his teaching!
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This book is the premiere comprehensive analysis of how the battlefield death of the Shiite's third Imam Hoseyn/Hussain at Karbala, Iraq, led to the development of Shiite religious rituals that were used by the Shiite imams in influencing their successful dethronment of Iran's Mohammed Reza Shah in late 1978. This book is really about the historical development of Shiite symbols and rituals commemorating the martyrdom of Hoseyn, rather than an expansive history of the 1970s-era of student demonstrations against the shah of Iran. The battle resulting in Hoseyn's martyrdom occurred on 10 October 680 C.E. (Ahsura Moharram 352 A.H.). The author presented two reasons as to why Hoseyn started his ride towards his martyrdom. The author clearly opined that Hoseyn rode towards Damascus to at least upbraid the new Muslim caliph Yazid for being cruel and despotic to his Muslim minions. [Yazid's father, Muawiyah had moved the Muslim government from Mecca to Damascus in 661-662.] This makes Hoseyn's adventure look really unselfish, and even highly moralistic. However, what is obliquely mentioned in the book (on pages 7 and 93), but not as clearly portrayed, is the contention that Hoseyn really rode forth in an armed coup attempt to unseat Yazid. Briefly, when the Muslim prophet Mohammad died, his successors were: (#1) caliph Bakr (Sunni), (#2) caliph Umar/Omar (Sunni), (#3) caliph Uthman/Othman (Sunni), and (#4) caliph Ali (while all Sunni respect Ali has the fourth caliph, as the Shiites regard Ali as the first proper successor to his uncle Mohammad, Ali is the first Shiite imam). As Ali attempted to consolidate his rule, he was opposed by the military-governor of Damascus: General Muawiyah/Moaviyeh (who had been appointed governor of Syria by #2 Sunni caliph Umar in 640).Read more ›
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