In the mid-90s, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Iranian Ayatollah Khamene’i both banned bloody forms of self-flagellation such as tatbir (cutting the forehead with a sword), calling them backward and un-Islamic. They argued that Shi‘a Muslims ought to imitate Husayn by actively fighting against oppressors rather than passively mourning Husayn’s martyrdom. This prohibition has not been unanimously applied in all Muslim countries, including Syria, where such practices persisted until the Arab Spring (when virtually all Shi‘a Muslims left the shrine-town where these practices were performed). By closely reading the linguistic, conceptual, and juridical discourses that circulated in Syria in order to justify this position, the paper shows that the performers of tatbir conceived of these rituals in revolutionary, rather than reactionary, terms. By examining the performance and reception of flagellation processions in terms of differing modalities of affect, the paper opens up spaces for rethinking ‘revolution’ and ‘redemption’ in contemporary Twelver Shi‘ism.


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pp. 75-91
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