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An Introduction to Shi'i Islam:
The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism

by Moojan Momen

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Chapter 13

                 The Popular Religion

In Chapter 10 Shi'i Islam was viewed from the aspect of the
ulama. In this chapter we will try to give an impression of
what the religion means to the Shi'i masses and how it
affects their lives.
  In Sunni Islam it has tended to be the Sufi Shaykhs and
their mysticism that have held sway over a large part of the
population. Shi'is, however, look to the ulama for guidance
in religious matters. And therefore Islam for the Shi'is is,
even more than for Sunnis, a religion of rituals,
obligations and prohibitions.

The Personal Religious Outlook

Life for a devout Shi'i is perceived very much as having an
account with God. This account is credited and debited
during one's life. At death, for those with a sufficiently
large positive balance in their account there is heaven; for
those with a large negative balance there is hell; and for
those in between there is the in-between world of barzakh
(purgatory) where they are punished for their sins
sufficiently to make them eventually worthy of heaven.
  In order to avoid debits to one's account, one must live
one's life within the bounds of what is permitted (halal)
but, in addition, one can credit one's account by living
one's life as closely as possible to the ideal pattern laid
down in the Sunna (pattern of words and deeds as conveyed in
the Traditions) of the Prophet and the Imams. This involves
performance of the various ritual observances which occur on
a daily basis (e. g. the obligatory prayers), a weekly basis
(e. g. the Friday prayer) or a yearly basis (e. g. the fast
in Ramadan). All of these must be observed with a rigorous
attention to detail, for the slightest error may result in a
state of ritual impurity thus negating all benefit from the
performance of the ritual.

In addition to this, one's account can be credited by the
performance of specific deeds which are not in themselves
obligatory. These include such things as performing a
visitation to a shrine or hosting a gathering


for the recital of the sufferings of the Imams. Charitable
deeds such as donating money for hospitals or helping
someone who is in trouble will also credit one's account.
  Any meritorious action which will credit one's account is
called a thawab and each action has its own scale of
recompense, thus one can have big thawabs and little

On the debit side of one's account go failure to perform
rituals when one is able to perform them; committing acts
that are forbidden (haram); and failing to live up to one's
social obligations.

Every action performed by an individual may be classified
into one of five categories and these, with their credit and
debit resulting from their commission or omission, are
listed below:

                    Commission of  Omission of
Action              that Action    that Action

Obligatory (wajib)       +              -
Desirable (mustahabb)    +              0
Neutral (mubah)          0              0
Undesirable (makruh)     0              +
Forbidden (haram)        -              +

          + =  credit to account
          - =  debit to account
          0 =  no change in account

The result of this concentration on the externals of the
religion is that in tight-knit social groups such as the
Bazaar, one's piety and religious merit are judged by others
not on the basis of one's beliefs (which are indeed seldom
discussed) but on the basis of being observed to be
performing the required rituals (i.e. orthopraxy rather than
orthodoxy is the standard by which one is assessed).

The ulama are of course necessary as a guide to the complex
details of what is and what is not permissible. Although
individual mullas may be regarded as charlatans or
hypocrites, the ulama as a class are highly regarded both
because of their guidance in traversing the snakes-and-
ladders world of obligations and prohibitions and also
because the local mulla is regarded as an intermediary
between the ordinary Shi'i and the great mujtahids who are
the maraji' at-taqlid. At the village level the mulla is
often the only literate person and serves an important role
in communications and in social and business transactions.

There is a great deal of genuine popular esteem for the
maraji' at-taqlid. This is partly because of their perceived
piety and sanctity and partly because of their role as the
deputies of the Hidden Imam, the latter being the focus of
the eschatological and soteriological aspirations of the


masses. This image of the marja' is carefully fostered by
stories told of miracles attributed to them. These miracles
are called by the term karamat (so as not to compare them to
the miracles, mu'jizat, which are one of the proofs of the
prophets and Imams).
  Whereas in Sunni Islam there is a direct relationship
between the believer and God as revealed in the religion of
Islam, in Shi'i Islam there is something of a triangular
relationship. While for some things, such as the daily
obligatory prayers, the individual is in direct relationship
to God, in other matters he looks (usually through the
mediation of the local mulla) to the marja' at-taqlid who is
regarded as being in a more direct relationship with God.
Indeed, in the minds of many of the less educated, the ulama
and the marja' are intermediaries between them and God and
the relationship is not so much triangular as hierarchical
(see Chart 6 on p. 243).

Another group who have a popularly perceived sanctity are
the Sayyids (those who claim descent from Muhammad through
'Ali and Fatima). Marriage into such a family is considered
a great honour and Sayyids are often asked to bless a
marriage or a new-born child.

The emphasis on the observation of the externals of the
religion does not mean, however, that there is no room for
individual piety. Apart from the obligatory prayer (salat)
which is said in Arabic, one can say personal prayer (du'a)
and communions with God (munajat) in one's own language,
addressing God in relation to the events of one's daily

It is, however, upon the Fourteen Pure Ones (Muhammad,
Fatima and the Twelve Imams) that the religious fervour of
the individual is concentrated. Not only can addressing them
in prayer and visiting their shrines induce them to act as
intercessors with God for the pardoning of sins, but,
through the recital of the details of their lives and
struggles (especially at gatherings commemorating their
births and deaths), they become models for and guides to the
daily existence of the individual. In particular it is the
Holy Family (consisting of Muhammad as a grandfather figure,
'Ali and Fatima, their sons Hasan and Husayn, and to a
lesser extent their daughter, Zaynab) which is looked to as
the model family for all Shi'is to follow in their family
inter-relationships. Fatima (and to a lesser extent Zaynab)
has become the model of ideal womanhood, while 'Ali or
Husayn serve that role for men.

The Holy Family are connected with a large range of
religious symbolism. Muhammad is, of course, the recipient
of the revelation, the link with God; he is, however, so
exalted as to be only approachable through one of the other
members of the family; 'Ali represents the intellectual,
esoteric side of religion (the way to obtain the true
meaning of the revelation) and its legalistic aspect ('Ali
had complete knowledge of the religious law and was the
perfect judge); Fatima is the Mother-


Creator figure, not very different from the image of Mary in
Roman Catholicism, she is even referred to as 'virgin'
(batul); Husayn represents atonement, his redemptive
martyrdom gives to all the possibility of salvation; the
Twelfth Imam is the focus of eschatological hopes of triumph
over tyranny and injustice and final salvation. While the
ulama look to the image of 'Ali, the image of the
intellectual, esoteric yet legalistic attitude towards
religion, it is undoubtedly Husayn and his representation of
redemption through sacrifice and martyrdom that has caught
the imagination and devotion of the Shi'i masses.
  The theme of martyrdom and patient suffering is one that
is very strong in Shi'ism. This is perhaps not surprising in
a sect that has for much of its existence been a persecuted
minority. This theme is embodied in the lives of the Imams
themselves who are each regarded as having suffered intense
persecution, in some cases imprisonment and physical
punishment and who are all popularly considered to have been
martyred (except of course the Twelfth Imam, but see Chapter
3 regarding the historicity of this claim). The essence of
this Shi'i attitude is summed up in the word mazlumiyyat
which means the patient endurance of suffering caused by the
tyrannical actions of those who have power over you. All the
Imams are considered to have displayed this virtue and, at
each of their anniversaries, their lives are recounted
emphasising in particular the wrongs that they suffered at
the hands of the Umayyad and 'Abbasid governments.

There is thus a strange paradox in Shi'i Islam in that two
apparently contradictory attitudes are both equally praised
and commended. The Imams are praised for their patient
endurance of suffering at the hands of those with political
power; they are commended for their use of taqiyya
(religious dissimulation) in the face of overwhelming odds.
And yet the greatest Shi'i hero, the Imam Husayn, is praised
and commended for not submitting to tyranny and rising up
(qiyamat) and fighting even in the face of overwhelming odds
and the certainty of martyrdom.

This paradox has indeed given Shi'is religious justification
for an extraordinary political versatility. Those who wish
to lead the Shi'i masses can, if the opposition seems
overwhelmingly superior or it is expedient to do so, enjoin
upon the Shi'is the patient endurance (mazlumiyyat) of the
Imams. And yet when the opportunity seems right, the Shi'i
masses can be whipped up to the frenzy of revolution by
appeal to the spirit of uprising (qiyam) of Husayn. In this
state, as was seen in Iran in 1979, the Shi'is are prepared
to go into the streets unarmed in eager anticipation of
martyrdom. Indeed, it is this (rather than, as has been
stated by many Western orientalists, any theoretical
illegitimacy of temporal power during the Occultation of the
Twelfth Imam) that is the source of the revolutionary
fervour latent within Shi'i Islam. '


  One further feature of the Shi'i world-view, which is also
a feature of many centuries of being a persecuted minority,
is the need for a scapegoat. Although it is centuries since
Shi'ism was made the official religion of Iran, this world-
view is still strong among Iranian Shi'is. Thaiss has
described it thus:

The environment (in the broadest sense) to an Iranian Shi'a
is seen as threatening a perception in which the
directionality involved is from the environment toward the
person, so that he is viewed as an effect, and various
external factors as cause. A person in such a cultural
situation would not likely hold himself accountable when
things go wrong and would generally react by turning anger
and hostility outward toward others -perceived Sunni
oppressors, an arbitrary and unjust government,
imperialists, agents of change and modernization, minority
groups such as Jews, Bahá'í etc.2

This world-view is as much present among the ulama as among
the ordinary people and usually it has been the ulama who,
as the natural leaders of the community, have directed the
people as to the identity of the scapegoat. While Shi'ism
was a minority, the Sunni majority were, of course, the
scapegoats and for a while under the Safavids they remained
in this role. Later, when the threat from the Ottoman Empire
receded, internal scapegoats were found, especially among
those who challenged the authority of the ulama. At first it
was the Akhbaris, then successively the Shaykhis, the Babis
and then the Bahá'ís. From time to time, the government or
the Jews have also been cast in this role. The motif was
very strong in the period immediately before the overthrow
of the Shah in 1979, with the Shah being openly identified
with Mu'awiya, the enemy of the Imam Husayn. Since the
Revolution, the Iraqi government, American imperialism and
the international Zionist conspiracy have become the major
external scapegoats, while the Bahá'ís have resumed their
role as internal scapegoats.

The Pattern of Religious Life

The pattern of life for the religiously devout is punctuated
by the rituals of the religion. These rituals may be
classified according to whether they occur on a daily,
weekly, yearly or irregular basis. These rituals are
described elsewhere in this book (see Chapter g) and are
only briefly listed here to demonstrate their pattern of

Daily:    Between dawn and sunrise           Call to prayer (adhan)
          Between noon and late afternoon    Ablutions (wudu)
          Between sunset and midnight        Prayer (salat)

Weekly:   Friday                             Friday prayer (salat


Yearly:   Month of Ramadan                   Fast (sawn, siyam)
Various commemorations on particular days (see Table 8):
          Births of Imams by joyous feasts ('Ids, Persian
          'Ayds) and
          Deaths of Imams by mourning ceremonies ('aza-

Irregular: Month of Dhu'l-Hijja,             Pilgrimage to Mecca
          Anytime                            Pilgrimage to shrines
                                             of Imams, descendants
                                             of Imams (Imamzadas)
                                             and other saints

The yearly cycle is punctuated by a large number of events
of religious significance. Several of these, such as the
month-long fast during Ramadan, the feast of Qurban
(Sacrifice, commemorating Abraham's intended sacrifice of
Ishmael) and the death of Muhammad are shared with the
Sunnis. In addition, however, the births and deaths of each
of the Imams are commemorated by festive gatherings or
mourning ceremonies as appropriate. A full list may be found
in Table 8.
  The most important of these commemorations is that of the
martyrdom of the Imam Husayn. The commemorations of this are
detailed later in this chapter. It is traditional to keep an
all-night vigil of mourning for the three days that
commemorate the interval between the stabbing and death of
the Imam 'Ali (19 to 21 Ramadan).
  Of the religious events that occur sporadically in the
life of an individual, the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) is of
course a high point and is undertaken by all who can afford
it. However, all of the important events of life such as
marriage, birth and death are commemorated by religious
gatherings both in the home and in the mosque. Indeed, for
the less devout these may be their only contact with

Religious Gatherings

It has been customary in Iran for the devout to gather
together in informal groups, usually on a neighbourhood
basis, for the purpose of religious instruction and the
commemoration of the events of the religious calendar. These
groups, which are called hay'ats, are not organised by the
ulama and the gatherings usually rotate among the houses of
the members of the group. A member of the ulama will,
however, often be asked to attend either to preach or to
assist in the study of the Qur'an.
  The most conservative and traditionally-devout section of
Iranian society has always been the Bazaar. Many of the
Bazaaris form hay'ats on the basis of their guilds (i.e. on
the basis of occupation). Other hay'ats may be formed on the
basis of ethnic affiliation (e. g. Turkish-speaking


     Table 8: Calendar of Religious Commemorations

Muharram    1-10    Martyrdom of the third Imam, Husayn at Karbala
         9[*],10[*] Tasu'a and Ashura, culmination of Karbala
              11[*] Death of fourth Imam, Zaynu'l-'Abidin
Safar          3[+] Birth of fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir
               7    Birth of seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim
              20    Arba'in (fortieth day after death of Husayn)
              28[*] Death of the Prophet Muhammad and second
                    Imam, Hasan
              30[+] Death of eighth Imam, 'Ali ar-Rida
Rabii I        8    Death of eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari
               9    Death of 'Umar the second Caliph (a joyful
                    occasion for Shi'is)
              17    Birth of Muhammad (Sunnis celebrate this on
                    12th and of sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq
Rabi II        8[+] Birth of eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari
Jamadi I       5    Birth of Zaynab, sister of Imam Husayn
              13[+] Death of Fatima
Jamadi II     20[+] Birth of Fatima
Rajab          3    Death of tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi
              10[+] Birth of ninth Imam, Muhammad at-Taqi
              13[*] Birth of first Imam, 'Ali
              15    Death of Zaynab, sister of Imam Husayn
              25    Death of seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim
              27[*] 'Id al-Maba'th (commemoration of the start
                    of the Prophet's mission)
Sha'ban        3[+] Birth of third Imam, Husayn
               5[+] Birth of fourth Imam, Zaynu'l-'Abidin
               8[+] Occultation of twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi
              15[*] Birth of twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi
Ramadan  Whole month  Month of fast--frequent religious gatherings
              15    Birth of second Imam, Hasan
              19    Stabbing of first Imam 'Ali
              21[*] Death of first Imam, 'Ali
Shawwal        1[*] 'Id al-Fitr (commemorates end of fast)
              25[*] Death of sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq
Dhu'l-Qad'a   11[*] Birth of eighth Imam, 'Ali ar-Rida
              29    Death of ninth Imam, Muhammad at-Taqi
Dhu'l-Hijja    7    Death of fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir
              10[*] 'Id al-Qurban (Feast of Sacrifice)
              15    Birth of tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi
              18[*] 'Id al-Ghadir (celebrates Muhammad's designation
                     of 'Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm,
                     see p. 15)
  * These more important commemorations are public holidays in Iran.
  + These dates are variable from one Shi'i community to another;
     the dates given in this table are the ones generally used
     in Iran.


Adharbayjanis) or just on friendship. Women, too, may have
their own hay'ats or participate in the neighbourhood ones.
  In the decades preceding the 1979 Revolution in Iran, some
religious groupings took on a more political aspect and
became foci of anti-government sentiment. In these groups,
names such as Mu'awiya and Umayyad became code-names for the
Shah and the government respectively and whole orations
could be given in such a mutually understood code. Some of
these groups such as the Fida'iyan and Mujahidin translated
the rhetoric of Husayn's rising against a tyrannical
government into action by forming themselves into terrorist

Apart from the gatherings of the hay'ats and other religious
groups, individual Shi'is will frequently convene other
religious gatherings, often in fulfilment of a vow taken to
hold such a meeting in return for recovery from an illness
or similar crisis.

The commonest of these meetings is the rawda-khani recital
of the sufferings and martyrdom of the Imam Husayn (or
sometimes the other Imams also). The host for the gathering
will send invitations to a number of friends and colleagues
at work, will invite the rawda-khan (reciter of the rawda),
and provide refreshments, usually in the form of tea and
sweet-meats. The rawda-khan is considered a good one if he
is able to raise the emotions of his audience to the point
of weeping and lamentation. At some meetings, some men will
start to beat themselves on the chest as the narration
reaches its climax while others call out to Husayn and weep.

Rawda-khani is held throughout the year but, in particular,
in the month of Muharram during which the martyrdom of
Husayn is commemorated. On 10 Muharram, the day of 'Ashura,
when the martyrdom itself occurred, most of the people
attend a rawda, either in a private house, or in a mosque,
or in another building called a Husayniyya, which has been
specially built or converted for such use. Another aspect of
the Muharram commemorations are street processions. These
processions often carry a simulated body or a replica
sarcophagus (naqi) and are, in effect, ritualised funeral
processions for the Imam Husayn. The procession goes through
the streets and the bazaar chanting eulogies and threnodies
to the martyred Imam while rows of men (dastas) beat
themselves rhythmically with sticks, chains and swords until
the blood flows from their backs or foreheads. This self-
flagellation can be seen in all parts of the Shi'i world
(see Figs. 46 9). In India the procession forms around a
replica of the tomb of Husayn in Karbala and the ceremony
ends with the burial of the replica tomb.

A third feature of the Muharram commemorations is the
ta'ziya. This is a highly stylised theatrical presentation
of the Karbala tragedy. It evolved in Iran during the late
Safavid and Qajar periods[3] and spread to


Iraq and south Lebanon but does not appear to be popular in
other Shi'i communities. It had almost died out in Iran in
recent years but has been revived since the 1979 Revolution.
It has been called the Shi'i equivalent of the Christian
Passion Play.
  The following is an account of a ta'ziya as witnessed by
J. M. Tancoigne at Tehran. Although this account relates to
the 19th century, it remains a remarkably good portrayal of
such events even to the present day:

But the most curious and extraordinary of all those we have
hitherto seen, is the Tazies, or desolations, a kind of
funeral games, instituted in memory of the martyrdom of the
Imams, Hassan and Hussein, sons of Ali. It is very difficult
to give an exact description of such a spectacle, even after
having seen it; I shall, however, attempt to give you an
idea of the scene. We were invited by the king to be present
at their celebration, and being placed conveniently in the
shade of a tent raised on one of the terraces of the palace,
it enabled us to enjoy a good sight of the whole at one

  . . . The object of the Tazies is to remind the people of
these memorable events and to preserve their hatred and
resentment against the Sunnis. The festival commences on the
first of Mouharrem, and lasts until the 11th of the same

During those days of mourning, all the mosques are hung in
black, the public squares and crossways are covered with
large awnings, and at regular distances are placed stands,
ornamented with vases of flowers, small bells, and arms of
every kind. The Mollahs stationed in pulpits sing in a
mournful voice sacred hymns and lamentations, and the whole
auditory respond to them with tears and deep sighs. Men
almost naked run through the city, striking their breasts
rapidly; others piercing their arms and legs with knives,
fastening padlocks in the flesh under their breasts, or
making wide ashes in their heads, invoke their saints with
frightful howlings, shouting out Hassan! Hussein!

It is in the great court of the king's palace that the five
last representations take place. They might be, in some
respects, compared to those ancient spectacles, in which the
miseries of the passion were acted. The vizirs pay the
expenses of the first day, and the city of Teheran, which is
divided into four districts, pays those of the remaining

On a theatre erected opposite the king's kiosk, is to be
seen the family of Hussein, represented by men in women's
dresses. They are in great agitation, seem to have a
foreboding of the dismal fate which that Iman must
experience in the plain of Kerbela, and make the air resound
with shrieks and dreadful moans. Horsemen soon arrive, load
them with chains and carry them off. The two armies of the
Iman Hussein and the caliph Yezid then appear in the square:
the battle commences, Hussein soon falls from his horse
covered with wounds, and Yezid orders his head to be cut
off. At that moment the sobbings and lamentations of all the
assembly are redoubled; the spectators strike their breasts,
and tears stream from every eye!

On the following days, the representation of this tragedy is
continued, Yezid successively destroys Hassan[*] and the two
children of Hussein, who had fallen into his power, and a
general procession terminates the fifth day.
  * This is evidently a mistake as the Imam Hasan had died
previously. However, these ta'ziya did often include
representations of the deaths of 'Ali and Hasan.


  The march was opened by a crowd of men of the lower
orders, carrying flags surmounted with a hand of steel, and
banners of Cachemire shawls, the richness of which formed a
singular contrast with the poverty of their own dresses.
Then came led horses magnificently caparisoned, their
trappings shining with gold and jewels; litters ornamented
with foliage and verdure; figures of dead bodies covered
with blood, and pierced with daggers, round which aquatic
birds moved. Naked and bleeding men marched behind, some of
them had a large scimitar stuck into a false skull half
open, fitted on their heads, or arrows which seemed to
pierce through their breasts. They were followed by a long
train of camels mounted by men dressed in black, as were the
female mourners, and an infinity of persons of that sort,
who threw ashes and chopped straw on their heads in token of
A more pompous and imposing spectacle suddenly came to
variegate these hideous scenes. There appeared two great
mosques of gilt wood, carried by more than three hundred
men: both were inlaid with mirrors, and surmounted with
little minarets: children placed in the galleries sang
sacred hymns, the soft harmony of which agreeably
recompensed the spectators for the frightful shoutings they
had heard just before. Several Mollahs, magnificently
dressed prayed in the interior, at the tomb of the two
Imams. The representation of the Kaaba, or house of Abraham,
at Mecca, appeared immediately after the two mosques, and
was not inferior to them in richness of ornament. It was
followed by Hussein's war horse, pierced all over with
arrows, and led at large by his faithful slave, naked and
armed with a battleaxe. A great number of children with
wings of painted pasteboard, figured as angels or genii,
marched in the rear.
  The procession was closed by two or three hundred of the
common people in tatters, who struck their breasts, and
drove two round pieces of wood with violence against each
other, crying 'Hassan, Hossein! Ali!' lastly, by Mollahs
each carrying a large torch of yellow wax in a candlestick.
The latter stopped a moment under the windows of the kiosk,
where the king was, and the Cheik ul Islam addressed,
according to custom, praises to his majesty.

We did not receive an invitation for the last day of the
festival: the kin wishing to spare the legation from
witnessing the assassination of a Greek ambassador, who
Yezid caused to be put to death, for having interceded with
him for the pardon of Hussein's brother. The Persians, from
what motive I know not, produce this ambassador in the
modern European dress.

All these ceremonies are also repeated in the houses of the
nobility. I give you only an imperfect idea of them, for it
would be impossible for me to recollect the numerous
peculiarities of the representation: yet I can assure you of
the exactness of those I have related.[4]

There appears to be a good deal of variation in different
parts of the Shi'i world for the terms associated with
mourning for the Imam Husayn. The terminology used above is
that which is prevalent in Iran. The word ta'ziya in India
denotes the model of Husayn's tomb carried in the
processions (also called darih); in Iran, as noted above, it
means the 'Passion Play'; in Lebanon it denotes the rawda
gathering; while in southern Iraq and Bahrain it is the name
given to the ceremonial processions (these latter are called
jalus in India). The rawda in India is called a majlis and
in southern Iraq a qiraya. The ta'ziya or 'Passion Play' is


sometimes in Iran and usually in Iraq called a shabih; in
Lebanon it is called shabih or tamthil al-Husayn. The
building used for rawdas is called a Husayniyya in Iran,
Iraq and Lebanon, an Imambara in India and a Ma'tam in
Bahrain (see Table 9).
  Although women also participate in rawda-khanis and may
host such events exclusively for women, there is another
type of religious meeting particular to women. This is
called the sufra (literally tablecloth) and consists of an
invitation by the hostess to a number of other women to join
her for a meal which is usually preceded or followed by a
discourse by a mulla (often female) on a religious theme.
Sufras are often held in the name of one of the members of
the Holy Family (who then becomes the theme Of the sermon
for the mulla) and are often in fulfilment of a vow.

[Chart 6. "Diagram illustrating religious relationships
          as perceived by the ordinary believer (see p. 235)


           Table 9: Names associated with mourning for
          the Imam Husayn in different Shi'i communities

        Oration   Place where    Theatrical perfor-
        mourning  such orations  mance of the        Ceremonial
Cntry   Imam Hsyn held           Karbala tragedy     Processions

Iran    Rawda     Husayniyya     Ta'ziya or Shabih   No particular name
Iraq    Qiraya    Husayniyya     Shabih              Ta'ziya, Mawkib
Bahrain 'Ashura   Ma'tam         Not performed       Ta'ziya
Lebanon Ta'ziya   Held in pri-   Shabih or Tamthil   No Particular name
        or Dhikra  vate houses    al-Husayn
India   Majlis    Imambara       Not often performed Jalus


The Role and Position of Women

The role and position of women is, throughout the Shi'i
world, more a matter of cultural than religious
determination. Although it is true that in most parts of the
Middle East women play a subordinate role in the society,
yet one can find examples, especially in tribal and village
societies, where women work alongside men unveiled and with
much greater social freedom.
  The most conservative and traditional sections of Shi'i
society, supported by the majority of the ulama, view the
role of women as being essentially to remain within the
house as domestic supervisor, to provide their husbands with
sexual pleasure, to bring up children and to keep away from
men other than close relatives. Women are regarded as not
worth any substantial education, too emotional to be trusted
with any important decisions and liable, if unveiled, to
lead men astray by arousing sexual desires. A woman is
considered incapable of becoming a mujtahid and giving legal

It is true that a woman has substantial but strictly defined
rights under Islamic
law: the right to inherit, to possess property independently
of her husband, to choose her husband, to work and to
initiate divorce. Few women, however, are in practice able
to exercise these rights effectively in a male-dominated
religion. There is no mechanism whereby women can act in
society independently of men. Thus
only an independently wealthy woman, who can buy the
services of a male agent, or
a woman who is fortunate enough to obtain the full backing
of the male members of
her family has any hope of bringing a legal action against
another person.

Modern Shi'i writers have attacked the image of the Western,
'liberated' woman which has penetrated Shi'i society. They
regard women in the West as being manipulated by society to
become sex objects, consumers of cosmetics and other
products of the Western economy. This degradation of women
has led, they maintain,
to promiscuity, adultery, divorce and the break-down of the
family unit in the West. Thus they vigorously reject all
movement towards importing any Western ideas
of female emancipation. Any movement that had been made in
that direction in Iran
in the last few decades has been more than reversed since
the 1979 Revolution.
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