2- “Martyrs” of Islam or of the Nation? Ambiguity in Shia Rituals of Muharram in Iran – Hamidreza Salehyar, University of Toronto
9:00 AM, Sunday 26 May 2019 (2 hours)
Coffee break 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM (30 minutes)
Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) - DS-1540
Since the 1979 revolution, Shia Muharram mourning rituals have been politicized to provide mass support for the Iranian state’s policies and actions. Inspired by the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD, these rituals have been sometimes employed to glorify the presence of Iran’s military personnel in the recent Syrian War (2011-present), representing them as the guardians of Shia holy shrines in Syria. While such narratives seem to diverge from nationalist discourses and promote the idea of an imagined transnational Shia community, my paper investigates how a complex relationship between secular nationalist and sacred Shia symbols is articulated through these musical-religious rituals. Focusing on an adaptation of a well-known nationalist song, composed during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11, into a Muharram ritual performance, my paper examines how adopting the nationalist song’s melodic and lexical elements enables the religious performer to attribute nationalist meanings and sentiments to religious symbols and histories. Through analyzing the ways music contributes to establishing hegemonic relations through strategic use of ambiguity, my paper demonstrates how the performer associates the Shia shrines in Syria with the Iranian homeland to represent the Syrian conflict as a defensive national war. Examining how religious and national politics intersect and inform one another in Iran, I would argue that, despite Islamists’ claims to create a transnational community of believers, Islamism has been developed within national frameworks and in response to national concerns.