A Comparative Analysis of the Cultural Effect of Azādārī and its components, including Islamic Poetry and its Impact on Shi’ism in Muslim and English Speaking Countries
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The history of important events occurring after the time of the Prophet Muhammad, namely the heart-breaking events at Karbala and the ensuing traditions which followed are examined in an effort to determine the nature of this intricate aspect of Shi’a faith known as Azādārī. Many questions which arise include: how Azādārī and its components have impacted eastern culture and then later Western culture and how a culture so different, i.e. Western culture has embraced this. Quantitative research and questionnaires will help to identify the patterns which can help to offer deeper understanding of Azādārī in the west and its non-cognitive and emotive connection with Islam and Muslims.
The tragic martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali (peace be upon them), in Karbala, delineates a pivotal movement in Islamic history. This was especially important to Islamic civilization as it occurred only a few generations after the time of the holy Messenger, yet there was a presence of disregard and deviation from the pure Muhammadan Islam which needed to be defused and reckoned with. This manifested into an Armageddon of truth against those who were imposters of truth, misrepresenting Islam. Eventually this great war was lost and many lives were lost as well including many members of the family of the Prophet, the Ahl al-Bayt, and the Imam of the time, Imam Husayn (peace be upon him), who was horrifically martyred, with his body being trampled and his head placed upon a spear and taken to the palace of the tyrant ruler Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah. Islamic scholars still see this movement and revolution as a tremendous victory as the message that Imam Husayn stood for never ceased to be spread. Though his sick son (the fourth Imam), Ali ibn Husayn (peace be upon him) and the womenfolk and children were imprisoned, this message of truth and justice and the story of Karbala were constantly revisited by the narrators who were present and who shared this truth with others as they had been misinformed or uninformed about the tragedy. In fact it is mentioned that after the battle when the womenfolk were chained and being paraded through the streets of Kufa without their veils as to humiliate them even though they were innocent and were of the beloved family of the Prophet, some of the masses began to question who these individuals were. They responded that we are the Ahl al-Bayt. It was well known throughout the Muslim world that the status of the family of the Prophet was a very exalted in particular those who have been mentioned by the Prophet himself in traditions, and they were to be especially treated with a particular respect and honour due to the dignity and nobility of their ancestry and the piety they possessed. It very ironic that the people of Kufa were the ones who initially invited Imam Husayn to come and be their just leader, would be the same ones who would desert him and yet again they would be the same ones bewildered at the sight of the captures and overcome with sorrow. This sparked a very regretful mourning. Women scrambled to provide veils and food – for these were not just any captures, but the Ahl al-Bayt. The weeping and mourning and Azā’ began for many at that time. The effect that it has had on all Muslims and the Muslim world as a whole is tremendous, particularly for those followers of the Ahl-al-Bayt. By the better part of the19th century traditional mourning sessions were common in nearly every section of the world. With Islam being the fastest growing religion the global identity of Muslim culture began to become established. Muslims mourned during the months of Muharram and Safar and it became a custom to recite poetry in memory of these events. there are traditions that mention that these gatherings of mourning were held in memory of the tragedy at Karbala, commemorating the fact that Imam Husayn sacrificed his life to uphold Islam and when the succeeding Imams would hear the mourning, crying and poetry being recited, they would encourage the people to continue to have such gatherings and they would enjoin this tradition, and even they themselves would cry and be overcome with grief. Eventuality this culture grew and became the hallmark of those who called themselves the Shi’a. And within various Shi’a regions, Azādārī took on unique and more detailed styles based on the local culture. In so many words -it evolved taking on awe-inspiring form tailored to a specific cultures.
Statement of the Problem
Over the course of many long years the culture of Azādārī has grown stronger and stronger in the Muslim regions. A variety of styles of poetry have emerged, each unique in its own way. Azādārī was no longer a mere custom or tradition it had become a sort of rites of passage for Islam as a civilization. The various techniques and fashions in poetic address had outgrown the theme of custom or tradition as well and had metamorphosed into a finely honed art. As Islam grew across the globe and became more prominent in Western countries it was inevitable that some traditional aspects of Islam which had become amalgamated with eastern flavour would somehow transform into something with a slight Western twist. Islam is a very traditional religion and on one hand does not widely embrace change, as that is clear not just in the example of the holy Quran itself, but in dress and food and other customs. On the other hand each culture has its own unique tendencies which Islam does not debar, granted that it does not go against Islam or conflict with Islamic principles.
The dilemma lies in how a culture which in so many ways is extremely different from Islamic and eastern culture would make a tradition and art as complex and intricate as Azādārī of its own. In the west Islam is still in its infant stages in many ways and is still finding its own identity. During this process many Muslims feel inclined to connect Islam to the eastern cultures as they have been fused together extensively. We find that many Muslims despite their background – i.e. even those converts or reverts born and raised in the west – find it easier and more comfortable to associate themselves with a culture that, is itself more familiar with Islam, i.e. eastern culture as opposed to trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
With all the importance in Shi’a traditions about Azādārī or shedding tears for Imam Husayn, it is clear that this is a very authentic and original aspect of faith which cannot be simply manufactured and must come genuinely from the heart and with sincerity. Therefore trying to force the elements of an eastern style of Azādārī into a Western construct proves somewhat problematic and often is the cause for disassociation with an aspect of Islam altogether.
Thus far no studies academic or otherwise can be found which have focused on analysing the particulars of Western culture and how Azādārī and all of its components can coalesce. This is somewhat astonishing since Shi’a Islam is on the rise, globally and in particular in the west and this is perhaps one of the single most important aspects of Shi’as Islam. Such a research will prove to be the first of its kind to investigate and study the trends of the Muslim Shi’a in the west and offer a unique perspective of their psyche. This dissertation would serve as a means to understanding the connection between the west and a very impassioned and perceptual aspect of Islam and what in traditions has been known as the foundation of Islam: the love of the Ahl al-Bayt.
Background of the Study
Azādārī and Islamic poetry, including qasīdah, rawzah, marthiya and nawha are rich in heritage and consequently have had colossal impact upon Muslims as a whole, but in particular those who are Shi’a or reside in predominately Shi’a regions.
The spread of Islam is undeniable throughout the world in particular in Western states. The same goes for Shi’a Islam. However, the rich heritage and culture of Azādāri, which can be seen as very successful and influential in Muslim, in particular, Shi’a regions, has had a dissimilar effect on English speaking cultures.
This ground-breaking analysis will explore why English speaking Muslims, have not experienced the same emotional bond and association to the culture Azādārī and Islamic poetry and why it has not become an interwoven fabric of Shi’a Islam for English speakers. Especially considering the amazing emotional, spiritual and culturally intensive effect it has had for other Muslim languages, i.e. Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Turkish.
Likewise, the history of Azādārī and post-Islamic poetry has been reviewed and analysed a great deal. Countless articles can be found explaining the historic origin of this practice, as well as its legitimacy and variations in method of implementation. Unfortunately studies which focus on the rising prevalent tradition of Azādārī in regards to its transition into the Western hemisphere, in particular throughout English speaking countries, are non-existent. This may be due to the fact that Islam in the west is still premature in the West, and the same goes for the minority of Shi’a Muslims and the customs, rites and practices which are primarily particular to them. This analysis will be the first of its kind in this particular issue and the inconsequential amount of research on this relatively important topic warrants a comparative and in depth investigation and study.
Research Questions or Hypotheses
- When did Azādārī originate?
- How has this culture of mourning during Muharram been sustained for such a long period?
- What has caused this tradition of mourning to become a global tradition?
- Does the message of Imam Husayn (peace be upon him) uphold any universal principles?
- Why is this tradition of mourning less present amongst non-Shi’a Muslims?
- Is there an active movement to defame the culture of Azādārī and if so why? And are there any examples to prove this?
- What are some Western perspectives, philosophies and notions regarding the psychology and methods of grieving and bereavement?
- What influence did Islam have on poetry?
- Did the Prophet and Saint Imams (peace be upon them) enjoin Azādārī and Islamic poetry?
- How did the culture of Azādārī affect Muslims, emotionally, spiritually, culturally and politically?
- Are there any differences in methods of grieving with respect to various cultures?
- Was the impact of this culture widespread, beyond Muslims?
- Is Azādārī practiced and or implemented in the same traditional fashions in the English language as in traditional “Islamic” languages?
- Are etymological differences between Muslim languages and the English language a cause for contrast in effectiveness?
- What effect if any does Western culture have in its amalgamation with such religious practices such as those practices in mourning during the month of Muharram?
- What role, if any, has environment and social atmosphere played in this comparative difference?
- Is there any evidence that the emotive connection between Azādārī and the revolutionary movement of Husayn ibn Ali (peace be upon him) has played a significant role in application and or expressive implementation?
Methods and Procedures
Quantitative research will be used as a method to gather information regarding the effected group, i.e. English speakers. An ample number of Questionnaires – approximately 100, will assist in identifying the validity of the stated problem. It will also help to ascertain the viewpoints based upon various demographics.
Members of various Shi’a communities from a range of English speaking communities, from the U.K. to the U.S., will be focused upon to complete the study. As much as possible, the goal is to contact a wide variety of communities in order to get a more realistic overview of the perception and opinion of these respective communities. Since I have been making contacts with various communities I have visited over the past few years, contacting the communities themselves will be relatively easy. However, in an effort to keep the results as accurate as possible I will aim to target various age groups, gender and ethnicities within each of these communities. So while the communities will be outlined, the individuals selected will be at random although they will fall in some way within the various categories to ensure the most precise representation of the overall community at large.
Surveys will be completed on an individual basis to ensure integrity of information and data collected. Surveys will be submitted via, phone, email or in person. And in addition to basic demographical information, which will be necessary, inquiries relative to the issue at hand will be addressed to clarify the authenticity of the problem as well as possible solutions.
The collected data will be analysed in search of patterns and tendencies which pave the way for answers to some of the aforementioned questions. Of course, there are many variables to consider when deriving patterns and tendencies and the questionnaire will reflect this by delving into some detailed information in order to help gain better understanding.
Additionally, social media sources, such as Facebook, have been used in order to reach a wider audience by creating and utilizing groups, online polls and discussions.
The questionnaire consists of 29 questions and room for additional comments, and aims to generate specific categories which can be later cross-referenced in order to derive sub-categories and more specific data. Areas of focus include: family life, ethnic background, language, poetic inclination, emotive nature and religious confidence.
Quite naturally, analogous to any census there will be margin for error. In this instance, that will most likely be due to the fact that the number English speaking Shi’a Muslims is quite high, and the poll can obviously only represent a portion of the total mass. Also in a survey of this nature integrity of the applicant is key and the hope is that anonymity will increase accuracy of results and encourage participants not to feel subjected to judgement or that they are being judged based on their religious dispositions and views.
Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the success of the proposed solution(s) until implemented successfully on a large scale will remain somewhat hypothetical.
In retrospect, additional categories in the survey which were overlooked could have helped to pinpoint more specific demographics, i.e. if it was clear if the individual was a convert to Islam or born Muslim, or what the profession of the participant was. Should this study further develop, the limitations should be taken into consideration.
With regards to the survey, it came to light that a vast many Muslims living in the West are apprehensive about sharing information. Some questioned if this was a government affiliated project, others felt religion was a private matter, while others were generally unenthusiastic to spend any time completing any survey and seemed to view this as the typical ‘telemarketer syndrome’. Of course, the latter is somewhat typical and expected, especially in what seems to be relatively socially cold Western societies. Thus the gathering of data required extensive reminding seeking leads.
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