The Memory of Husayn: the Drama of History and Ritual

Description or Abstract

Little is more definitive of Twelver Shī’īsm than the commemoration of Imām Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet and the sect’s third Imām. His memory is omnipresent; yet the height of its power is on ‛Āshūrā’, the 10th day of the hijrī calendar, when his martyrdom is believed to have taken place during the battle of Karbalā’ (680 A.D./61A.H.). On this day of every year, the Twelver World is at a standstill, immersed in various rituals that bring the Imām’s tragedy to life. The dramatic structure of the rituals of commemoration and the cathartic effect they have are plain to see, so is their political usage. However, behind the manipulation of the narrative of Karbalā’, lies a struggle over interpretation. The talk will examine the ways in the which the memory of Husayn was born out of this interface between the oral and the written in early Muslim history and historiography, and the manners in which it was also shaped by the need for dramatization, whereby it is safe to argue that it was ritualization that wrote the “history”, rather than the other way round.


Qahwa and Kalam


Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department

Performance Date

November 2019

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