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Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism

Karen G. Ruffle

Publication Year: 2011

In this work, Ruffle examines traditional hagiographical texts and ritual performances of the Shi’i Muslims of Hyderabad, India, and demonstrates how understandings of sainthood, everyday religious rituals, and gender interact to shape the lives of Shi’i women & men. Taking as her focus the annual ceremonies commemorating the lamentable story of Fatimah Kubra and Qasem (whose unconsummated battlefield marriage was followed 3 days later by Qasem's death in battle), which comprises a literary tradition of central importance in the Islamic world, Ruffle shows how these practices of idealization and veneration (of Qasem and of Fatimah and other saintly women in the story) produce social and religious role models whom Shi’i Muslims aim to imitate in their daily lives. People undertake this practice of saintly imitation, Ruffle argues, to improve their personal religious practice and, on a broader social level, to help generate and reinforce group identity and shared ethics and sensibilities. The study is especially notable for its emphasis on women’s religious practice in everyday life and for its contribution to the understanding of gender and hagiography.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xi-xiii

Several organizations provided generous financial and administrative support for my ethnographic fieldwork and archival research in India, Iran, and Syria. My field research was funded by a Fulbright- Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship and by the American Institute of Iranian Studies (AIIrS). Additional research support was provided by a Center for ...

Notes on Transliteration

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pp. xv

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pp. 1-22

The young widow who has broken her bangles and removed her nose ring in grief, and the youthful groom whose hands and feet have been decorated with blood rather than the traditional bridal mehndī (henna)—such images are repeatedly invoked in the everyday practices and hagiographical literature of the Shiʿi Muslim community in the South Indian city of Hyderabad. ...

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1 SAINTS ARE “REAL” PEOPLE: Imitable Sainthood in Shi'ism

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pp. 23-58

Each month, the Shiʿi students’ association at Osmania University sponsors a mourning assembly (majlis- e ʿazā) to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain, his family members, and his supporters at the Battle of Karbala in 680 C.E. Each month a different majlis orator (ẕākir) is invited to deliver the discourse; in early June 2005, Dr. M. M. Taqui Khan spoke. A retired ...

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2 GOD’S STRONG WOMEN: Female & Feminine in Shi'i Sainthood

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pp. 59-83

I met Sabiha Asghar in February 2005, during the days leading up to Muharram. Asghar is the principal of the Solar School, an English- medium institution located in Hyderabad’s Old City. She is also the daughter of Sayyid Maulana Reza Agha, Hyderabad’s most senior Shiʿi religious scholar and a popular majlis orator (ẕākir). I met with Asghar on several occasions to ...

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3 THE SADDEST STORY EVER TOLD: Translating Karbala through Feminine Voices & Emotions into a Deccani Shi'i Idiom

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pp. 85-120

Beginning in the 1860s, Sayyid ʿAbbas Sahib moved from Madras (Chennai) to the princely state of Hyderabad, the capital of the Sunni Asaf Jahi dynasty. He was a renowned writer of marṡiya poems commemorating the Battle of Karbala. ʿAbbas Sahib came to Hyderabad seeking the patronage of the fifth Asaf Jahi Nizam, Afzal al- Dawlah Bahadur (r. 1857–69 C.E.). The observance of Muharram ...

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4 A BRIDE OF ONE NIGHT, A WIDOW FOREVER: Text & Ritual Performance in the Constitution of an Idealized South Asian Shi'i Selfhood

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pp. 121-143

In the Yaqutpura neighborhood in Hyderabad’s Old City, Dr. M. M. Taqui Khan’s family has been hosting the mehndī mourning assembly for nearly sixty years.1 In the early 1950s, this area was comparatively sparsely populated. The members of the Khan family had relocated from their residence on the banks of the Musi River to their current location near Nawab Shawkat Jang’s palace. ...

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5 WHO COULD MARRY AT A TIME LIKE THIS?: Debating the Mehndī kī Majlis in Hyderabad

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pp. 145-170

I arrived in Mashhad, Iran, in October 2004 to conduct research and visit the tomb of the eighth Shiʿi Imam, Reza. It was the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage scene in the city was quiet, unlike most of the rest of the year, when the bazaars, hotels, and restaurants surrounding the shrine/tomb complex burgeon with pilgrims from all over the ...


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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-187


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pp. 189-205


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pp. 207-222

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602981
E-ISBN-10: 1469602989
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834756
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834750

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks