Ashura in the Arab-Iranian Community of Bushehr, Iran

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UC San Diego
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Assistant Professor of Iranian and Islamic Studies: Shi'i Islam; Medieval and (early) modern Iranian culture and society, public sphere, civil society; Democracy and modernity. Babak Rahimi, who earned his BA at UCSD, received a Ph.D from the European University Institute, Florence, Italy, in October 2004. Rahimi has also studied at the University of Nottingham, where he obtained a M.A. in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, and London School of Economics and Political Science, where he was a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Anthropology, 2000-2001. Rahimi has written numerous articles on culture, religion and politics and regularly writes on contemporary Iraqi and Iranian politics. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the national endowment for the Humanities and Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European University Institute, and was a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC, where he conducted research on the institutional contribution of Shi’i political organizations in the creation of a vibrant civil society in post-Baathist Iraq. Rahimi’s current research project is on the religious cultural life of the Iranian port-city of Busher, southern Iran.

This paper offers an ethnographic and theoretical study of the Shia rituals of Muharram performed by the Arab community of the Iranian port-city of Bushehr. It interprets the varieties of dramatic performances in the course of Shi‘i Muharram rituals, performed by the minority Arab community in commemoration of martyrdom of the Prophet’s beloved grandson, Husayn, in 680 C.E., and aims to understand how individual and collective identities are shaped through dramas of mourning.  With miracles and magical experiences surrounding the events, the ethnographical data reveals how Muharram rituality, largely centered inside the local public square of the Hezar-dastgah district of Bushehr, serves as a communicative space wherein communal identity is solidified. The paper also expands on the history and the kind of Muharram practices that have been adopted and recreated by the Busheri Arabs in the context of the provinces long tradition of Taziyeh performances. It is argued that the mourning rites operate on several stage-like processes, ending in a final phase that is culminates in the burning procession of the stage where the performances were carried in the course of the ceremony. The burning ritual, it is argued, identifies a communal act of creative destruction through which older public sites are taken down in order to be replaced by new ritual sites through which new identities can be renewed and solidified in shared spaces such as a public square. At the broadest theoretical level, the Muharram public spaces of Arab-Iranian Bushehr are described here as multifaceted living fields of interaction and ensemble sites of association in terms of lived cultural locations wherein organizations, changes, (de) constructions, subversions and shifting of both individual and collective identities takes places.  

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