“Karbala Here We Come!”: Ritual, Space and Identity-Making in a Trinidadian Shīʿī Community
The Imam-e-Zamana Mission (IZM) is a small Twelver Shīʿī Muslim community based in Trinidad. This community is unique in that it administers the only Shīʿī mosque on an island that has the highest concentration of mosques in the Western Hemisphere. Another interesting feature of this community is that the overwhelming majority of its elders are “double” converts, given that they journeyed from Christianity to Sunnī Islam and later to Shīʿī Islam. The historical trajectory of this community, along with its distinct status within the polyethnic Trinidadian polity, serve as fascinating foundations for further inquiry.
The most important event on this community’s calendar is undoubtedly ʿĀshūrāʾ or the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, which marks the martyrdom of the third Shīʿī Imam Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī ibn Abū Ṭālib, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. During the first ten days of Muharram, Shīʿī Muslims the world over evoke the tragedy that befell Imam Ḥusayn and his small band of followers over fourteen centuries ago on the plains of Karbala. Muslims memorialize Karbala through a series of ritual observances that vary in different regional and cultural contexts.
Based on fieldwork conducted in the latter half of 2015 and January 2016, this thesis will focus on the role of IZM’s Muharram observances in defining individual and collective identities. I engage with the work of several spatial and ritual theorists of religion to explore the complex interconnections between ritual, space and identity. I argue that the embodied and emplaced rituals performed in honor of Imam Ḥusayn provide IZM members with a space for the negotiation and articulation of self and community.