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'Ashura in Bahrain: Analyses of an Analytical Event

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Abstract

'Ashura is an annual Shi'i ritual commemorating the death of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala in AD 680. In Bahrain, the ritual runs for two weeks and involves processions with more than 100,000 participants. Bahrain is a small but ethno-sectarian heterogeneous island state, where a Sunni minority dominates a Shi'i majority. The religious ritual of 'Ashura therefore has deep political connotations, and a variety of analyses, aspirations, and actions are played out in the context of the ceremonies. This article discusses 'Ashura from the various viewpoints of participants and observers, thereby raising the question of the relationship between analysis and event. I argue that the ritual itself includes an interpretation of the relationship between the Sunni and Shi'i sects, and that this leads to a variety of reflections among Bahrainis on what 'Ashura is and should be.

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... The performance of Ashura rituals in Kuwait is a testimony to the variety of Shi'a ritual practice, doctrine and ideas of political involvement. Along with Dabashi (2011) and others (Deeb 2006;Fibiger 2010) I argue that that Ashura cannot be reduced to politics, but relates profoundly to people's strong, personal and emotional relationship with central figures of early Islam, in particular Imam Husayn and his family, including his grandfather, the Prophet Muhammad, who is the basis of the Imamate (Dabashi 2011: 15-16;Deeb 2009). However, although Ashura rituals in Kuwait do not explicitly address politics, ritual performance is a way for Shi'a to assert their identity in Kuwait, not simply as being Shi'a but in indicating which religious authority they follow. ...
... The legitimacy of the practice was debated amongst ritual participants and discussed from the minbar on the last nights before Ashura. The practice is illegal in Kuwait, contrary to nearby Bahrain (Fibiger 2010;Flaskerud 2016). The discussions in the ritual assembly halls did not, however, revolve around the government's policy but highlighted disagreements that exist between Shi'a religious authorities on the matter. ...
... 7. Chatelard (2017: 90) notes that in Iraq mawakib have two forms: processions and stalls for food and drinks. In Bahrain, mawakib designates the outside, public procession, while the stalls for food and drinks are called mudhif (Fibiger 2010). In Kuwait, processions are seldom organised. ...
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