The Charismatic Community: Shiite Identity in Early Islam (SUNY series in Islam)

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Published in: Spiritual. Full Name Comment goes here. Are you sure you want to Yes No. Be the first to like this. No Downloads. Views Total views. Actions Shares. Embeds 0 No embeds. No notes for slide. The charismatic community shiite identity in early islam 1. Looks at the emergence of Shiism as a distinct communal identity within Islam. The Charismatic Community examines the rise and development of Shiite religious identity in early Islamic history, analyzing the complex historical and intellectual processes that shaped the sense of individual and communal religious vocation.

These events, held in the main hall of the community centre in Arabic, primarily attract middle-aged middle- and upper-class Iraqis. The gathering majlis consists of a lecture by a religious scholar, the recitation of poetry combined with rhythmic self-beating latmiyya.

These two sides of the Foundation are also visible in the spatial separation between the offices of the Foundation on one side of its compound and the actual congregation hall located on the other side in a former synagogue. The resident scholar and imam of the congregation, Fadhil Milani, while being centrally involved in various interfaith activities of the Foundation, serves also as an important source for the religious legitimacy of the Foundation within the Iraqi Shia community, by being one of the students of Grand Ayatollah Al-Khoie and personal link to the clerical authorities in Najaf.

The centre was established in and moved to its current premises in It is a community centre running religious events according to the Shia calendar and attracts primarily middle- and upper-class Iraqis, secular educated professionals who have achieved a certain socio-economic status. In the programme, the party commits itself for the first time to supporting a pluralistic democratic system in Iraq post-Saddam Hussein Rahe : Following the fall of Saddam Hussein in , many members and attendees of Dar Al-Islam have returned to Iraq and assumed important political, economic or cultural roles.

Two post prime ministers of Iraq, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari b. Its former resident scholar and imam Husayn Al-Shami Al-Musawi returned to Iraq to establish a private university and other members now hold senior positions in government departments in Iraq. One can only observe indirect signs suggesting a connection to the main Iraqi Shia Islamist party. During major Shia events and their celebration or commemoration in the centre, the actual commemorative gathering with a sermon and devotional practices is not that well attended. The majority of male attendees roam around in the lobby or move from the main hall to the lobby to engage in conversations and socializing.

In June , the centre hosted a conference organized by the Islamic Unity Forum muntada al-wahda al-islamiyya , a London-based organization bringing Shia and Sunni Islamist activists together. In an effort to overcome sectarian fault lines so prominent in the Middle East post-Arab Spring, speakers of Sunni and Shia backgrounds repudiated the rise of sectarianism on either side and promoted Islamic unity to counter Western geopolitical hegemony. The discourses during this annual gathering of Islamists of both backgrounds reflect the pan-Islamic and anti-imperialist orientation of political Islam more generally.

The inclusion of Sunni Islamists in the conference equally reflects the official discourse of the Iranian regime emphasising Islamic unity as resistance to Western imperialism and rejecting any sectarianization of current geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East Akbarzadeh Other congregations promote an Iraqi Shia diasporic consciousness by using religio-cultural activities to forge distinct Shia sectarian identities. The Al-Hussaini Association al-majlis al-husayni , referred to in the community as Balaghiyyeh, emphasises a particular style of Iraqi Shia folklore that places ritual activities as its centre to articulate an Iraqi Shia identity in the diaspora.

In its religious gatherings, the Balaghiyyeh connects Brent with southern Iraq by recreating the rituals, discourses and overall atmosphere of a commemorative gathering in the homeland; speakers are invited from either Iraq or other countries in the Gulf, and there is a strong emphasis on the role Shia rituals play in maintaining the emotional and imagined link with the homeland Shanneik The Balaghiyyeh encourages in particular the inclusion of elements of Iraqi Shia folklore.

It can be up to three metres long and is decorated with lanterns in different shapes and colours and other glass decorations that reflect the light from the lanterns. A little boy is dressed up as Qasim with a multi-layered tablet, decorated with lanterns and flowers and a miniature dome-structure on top qubbat al-qasim , carried around. The procession is accompanied by drums and trumpets and flags being waved. The inclusion of Iraqi Shia material culture in the ritual activities give these gatherings a particular sense of authenticity and originality.

While such efforts to recreate an Iraqi Shia homeland which involves specific elements of Shia ritual culture suggests an understanding of Iraqi Shia identity defined in religio-cultural terms, background information on the Balaghi family on the website of the Al-Hussaini Association illustrates that such Shia ritual practices are imbued with political meaning. The biographical sketch on Balaghi does not provide much information on him but re-narrates the demonstration during the march to Karbala The Hussaini Association Hence, the accounts demonstrate the role of ritual activities as a tool to articulate a distinct Shia identity and to counter political oppression.

By highlighting the anti-regime activities of prominent members of Balaghi family in Iraq, the political credentials of the Balaghiyyeh as a place where this ritual heritage is kept alive in the diaspora are further advanced. The organisers of the Balaghiyyeh, as natives of Najaf, follow the clerical leadership of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, and his London representative and son-in-law Murtadha Kashmiri regularly attends and speaks at the gatherings.

The spatial extension occurring in this particular Shia space in London also leads to certain discursive dissonances. At the same time, it is also used as a space to remind young Shiis and their parents living in London of the core elements of their religion and their responsibilities as a minority community in the West. In the age of ISIS, a particular responsibility falls on Shiis living as a minority in the West to represent a different image of Islam and to ensure that Shia Muslims and their distinct sectarian identity are visible in the public and demarcated from violent expression of Sunni Islam.

Other congregations make efforts to demarcate themselves from both the clerical leadership in Najaf and various expressions of political Islam in Shiism. The Shiraziyyin constitute a global network of clerical families, their followers and political groups who adhere to the religious and socio-political teachings of Muhammad Al-Shirazi — and his younger brothers. Stemming from a prominent clerical family in Karbala, Shirazi challenged the pre-eminence and political quietism of the clerical establishment in Najaf in the s. However, Muhammad Al-Shirazi grew increasingly disillusioned by the Iranian regime and articulated his opposition to Khomeini.

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He was placed under house arrest and died in His younger brother Sadiq Al-Shirazi b. When examining the demographics of the Rasool Al-Adham congregation social class and regional identity markers are visible separating this congregation from other Iraqi Shia centres. Rasool Al-Adham primarily attracts a lower middle- and working-class congregation in contradistinction to the middle- and upper-class attendees of Al-Khoie and Dar Al-Islam. Regional identity markers are equally important. Being the followers of a prominent clerical family that originally hailed from Karbala, the Shiraziyyin in London primarily come from the Iraqi shrine city in which the third Shia Imam Husayn is buried.

While in other community centres, efforts were made to control and subdue the passionate display of emotions during the ritual performances, those leading and involved in their performance in Rasool Al-Adham encouraged the congregations to express their devotion to the family of the Prophet in their strongest possible terms.

The author observed the most intense rhythmic self-beating latmiyya in London in Rasool Al-Adham. The main wall of the husayniyya is decorated with a takiyya , a display of dozens of lambs in different colours which is an Iranian cultural tradition; such lamb displays are usually placed in front of houses in which the loss of a family member is mourned.

Other ritual practices are performed in Rasool Al-Adham that are outwardly rejected by other Iraqi Shia congregations in Brent. Rasool Al-Adham is one of the few congregations in London that performs Shia passion plays tashabih.

The latter practice illustrate the syncretic nature of Shia ritual practices; the Shiraziyyin in Karbala adopted walking on hot coal from South Asian Shiis when they performed a pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Husayn in the s. Khamenei is one of the few senior clerics in contemporary Shia Islam who, in , explicitly declared the performance of self-flagellation unlawful haram. As a consequence, congregations affiliated to Iran or close to it have shunned this practice. Maintaining its performance by the Shiraziyyin is therefore also an act of political defiance, rejecting the hegemonic ambitions of the political establishment in Iran to exercise transnational control over Shia Islam.

The Shiraziyyin also reject initiatives by the Islamic Republic and its clerical representatives to tone down the emotional intensity of Shia rituals and their sectarian message such as cursing some of the Companions of the Prophet or the early Umayyad caliphs to avoid antagonising and alienating Sunni Muslims.

For the Shiraziyyin in London, this is an effort by the Iranian regime to deprive Shia Islam of its authentic identity by ridding it of those features that most significantly separate it from Sunni Islam Dogra The Shiraziyyin in London accuse in particular the two community centres affiliated with political Shiism, Dar Al-Islam and the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Centre of England, of undermining the significance of Shia ritual practices to appease Sunni Muslims.

Since , a group of lay Iranian Shiis has organised religious activities according to the Shia religious calendar. Without a physical space of their own, the group has used different facilities across Brent.


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The attendees of the events are devout middle- and upper-class Iranian Shiis and also include a number of second-generation Iranians living in London. While the majority of the Iranian diaspora in Britain is secular, if not explicitly, anti-Islamic Gholami , ; Gholami and Sreberny , this group consists of Iranians who identify as Shia and seek alternative spaces to practice their religious identity.

Their choice to run a Persian-speaking programme outside of the Islamic Centre provides them with more freedom in terms of speakers they can invite, the performance of rituals as well as their outreach to segments of the Iranian Shia diaspora who are not secular but would not feel comfortable attending religious events run by organizations associated with the Iranian regime.

In and , the group invited a religious speaker from Iran coming from a prominent family of preachers.

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In one of his lectures, the speaker emphasised the central authority of the Mahdi whose sovereignty velayat overshadows any other authority. Taking this point even further, the speaker stated that all the writings and scholarship of the clerics are obliterated in the presence of the Mahdi.

Such statements are prima facie common iterations of fundamental precepts of Twelver Shiism; upon his appearance, any religious and secular authority will be made redundant. The performance of mourning rituals by this group of Iranian Shiis also differed from those performed in the Islamic Centre of England. While in the official London representation of the Supreme Leader, rituals are performed in a subdued manner, the Iranian group exhibited a much stronger emotional intensity when performing rhythmic self-beating sine zani in Persian. The room was completely darkened while recordings of recited devotional poetry were played, accompanied by intense and passionate self-beating and crying.

The reciters whose recordings were played are part of the heyyati movement in contemporary Iran, a group of lay reciters who represent a contemporary example of Iranian Shia religious folk culture. Their public performances during Shia holidays attract large young crowds and are viewed with disdain by the clerical establishment in the country Thurfjell The Shiraziyyin counter this sense of marginalization by claiming a unique access to and representation of authentic Shia Islam. For the older attendees of the small group of Iranian Shiis organizing their own events outside of the Islamic Centre of England, the commemorative lectures and subsequent mourning rituals are reminiscent of their childhood and youth experiences in Iran see Dabashi : 1—7; Shanneik and articulate a certain nostalgia for the homeland in the diaspora.

The activities of this group allow them — as well as young attendees born in Britain — to reconnect with a part of their identity outside of the more politicized framework of religio-political institutions associated with the Islamic Republic. The urban concentration of different Shia community centres and organizations in Brent and their transnational connections with different clerical and political networks in contemporary Iraqi Shiism in particular allows for a close examination of their multilocality and complexity. They also reveal their segmented nature: the existence of different discursive and identitarian layers which are defined by class, clerical allegiance and ideological orientation and also strategically employed in their multilocal emplacement.

A differentiated perspective on these networks reveals their internal complexity and the simultaneity of divergent discourses, even within the same network. On a local and national level, an organization like the Al-Khoie Foundation supports progressive agendas in its public outreach activities while adhering to traditional conceptions of religious authority and maintaining a strong diasporic consciousness among its own constituency in Brent. Yet, even such a delineation does not do justice to complex discursive layers evident in these centres: with its use of elements of Iraqi Shia folklore and its explicit connections to the clerical establishment in Najaf, the Balaghiyyeh maintains diasporic links to the homeland Werbner : 74 while also politicizing the memory of such ritual practices as an anti-regime act in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein to further its credentials within the network of communities in Brent.

Similarly, Dar Al-Islam engages in different types of politics: from an identification and advancement of sectarian politics in Iraq post to more pan-Islamic notions of global Muslim solidarity against Western hegemony, a rejection of sectarian politics after the Arab Spring and an alignment with religio-political discourses of the Iranian regime. The co-existence of these different discursive layers within Dar Al-Islam challenges assumptions of a complete sectarianization of Shia identities in the diaspora or a clear cleavage between Iraqi and Iranian Shiis in London Degli Esposti a.

Demotic processes observed within some networks equally reveal different ideological positions.

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The Shiraziyyin promote more controversial aspects of Shia ritual practices to defy their ban by the Iranian leadership. At the same time, they include in their ritual space aspects of Iranian Shia culture such as the takiyye to mark the community space as a place of mourning or the recitation of Shia devotional poetry in Persian. A dissociation from Iranian political control of Shia spaces in the diaspora can be more implicit and involuntary, when considering the group of Iranian Shiis in Brent.

The orientation of their activities is triggered by nostalgia for aspects of Iranian Shia folklore lost in the diaspora or by the desire to carve out apolitical spaces of Shia religiosity outside state control.