Master thesis

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Comments on case story 1:

In this case story we see, contrary to what the literature on the Moharram-rituals describes, an emphasis on the processions (called "demonstrations" in our Western mass media) on the expense of especial­ly the ta'ziyeh, but also on the rowzeh-khânis. Ta'zi­yeh was conspicuous by its absence. I were, as said, socializing with two different groups, whose activities I followed. Ta'ziyeh and rowzeh-khâni did not play a big role for either of these groups in these days. Only at a distance, and on street corners could I see erected Ta'kiehs, but I never saw a per­formance, neither did any of the people with whom I par­ticipated in the Moharram-rituals.

This might be explained with the soteriological trans­formation from the active to the passive understanding of the Kerbalâ-paradigm. The massive popular support for the revol­ution, which caused participation in the Moharram processions to inflate in the years before the revolution (Hegland 1983), maybe no longer exists. However, though Moharram is full of mourning rituals, I felt that the atmos­phere, as well in the preparation as in the execution of the rituals, resembled more that of a happy celebra­tion. Thus the "weeping and bewailing women", and the "feverish exaltation of the participants", which Hjärpe speaks about (Hjärpe 1981; p.169), were not to be seen anywhere. Likewise, when Richard Tapper told his informants that he felt that there was rather the spirit of a party, they were shocked to hear this sugges­tion (Tapper 1979; p.162). Even though the current regime has exploited grief as a response to an unjust society's cruel treatment of the just and has appropriated the Moharram rituals to its own favour, I still believe that the expressions of sorrow (or hostility towards the enemies of Hosain) in the rituals may have a cathar­tic effect. Geertz finds this explanation too "simple-minded", but nevertheless acknowledges it (Geertz 1993/73). It is true, though, that we are saying the obvious (people are feeling relieved after having cried), but at the same time it might act as a motivation for people to embrace the rituals.

Gluckman talks about "rituals of rebellion," in which

"to act the conflicts, whether directly or by in­ver­sion or in other sym­bolic form, emphasizes the social cohesion within which the conflicts exist" (Gluckman 1963: "Order and rebellion in tribal Africa", London, p.127).

Regarding the Iranian Revolution we see that the Moharram rituals to a high degree emphasized, or even created social cohesion, and that social conflicts were acted. The Moharram rituals described in case story 1 is very different, though. The "emphasis [on] the social cohesion" is totally lacking, and conflicts are in no way acted out, neither directly, nor in inversion or in other symbolic forms. Rather, in this mode of the rituals, the passive mode, the participants can, by crying with Hos­ain, tolerate their oppressors, the hardships of today.

Hegland points out that all rituals have an accompanying ideology. When the disparities between reality and ideology become too great, that is when the accompanying ideologies are judged inaccurate and ineffective, then rituals loose meaning, potency and importance. Or an alternative ideology is supported. Thus ritual participants use their intellectual and critical faculties before, during, and after a ritual (Hegland 1983, pp.77-78). Hegland's argument is convincing, but in the case of the Moharram rituals it seems that no alterna­tive ideology exists. The ideology connected to the rituals is the one described under the passive mode. But when Good & Good say that the Kerbalâ-paradigm has lost its power of tran­scen­dence and of trans­for­mation, and that it lacks the potential to resolve either symbolical­ly or politi­cally the injustices of contempor­ary Iranian life, I would beg to disagree. It is my estimation that its power of tran­scendence is still very strong. It is true that the identifica­tion of the "Yazids" has been blurred, that the symbolic paradigm requires agents of injustice and cruelty. The identification of the evil ones has been blurred, but this simply means that participation becomes idiosyncratic. People are instead crying for their own personal prob­lems. What is important is that people are crying. In other words, the ritual power of transcen­dence is still at work.

Beeman (1983) elaborates on the problem with identify­ing the good and the bad in the contemporary drama. Accord­ing to him the biggest problem in Iran prior to the Revol­ution was a "spiri­tual crisis". This is to be explained by what he sees as the central symbolic pattern in Iran, the pattern giving meaning to small and great acts alike in life, and that is the "struggle of the inside, the internal, the core, to conquer the outside, the external, the periphery" (Beeman 1983; p.193). Prior to the Revol­ution this were expressed by both sides (the Shâh and his opponents) claiming to defend Iran from exterior forces. The same thoughts are expressed in Zoroastrianism, where a sharp division between good (repre­sented by the god Ormizd) and evil (repre­sented by the devil Ahriman) exists43, and Fer­dovsi compares the good with Allah, whereas the evil are reduced to a Koranic "Eblis" or "Jin".diskutér denne dualisme i Zarathustrismen. Ondt og Godt er ligeværdige, i modsætning til i Kristendommen. Thus Hosain is the symbol for the fight against evil and corrupt exterior forces. These evil and corrupt exterior forces, the difference between good and bad, are difficult to distinguish for many people today. The cat­egories are blurred, because the regime, repre­senting the official Islam, is seen to have some flaws (especially suffering from a bad econ­omy, unem­ployment, wide difference between rich and poor, etc.44). At the same time there is the Evil, the West, which is blamed for just about all problems in Iran, seen to have some attrac­tions (everything that Iran has not). Thus people generally do not accept the regime's propaganda trying to create new enemies. Inwardly these new enemies are the Mojahed­din, and outwardly USA (who by the way is one of the biggest trade partners to Iran), Saddam Hosain and Israel. When it not is poss­ible to point out the evil ones in this way, with certainty, it becomes difficult to partici­pate in the ritual with a common convic­tion. Participa­tion thus becomes idiosyncratic.

This conclusion is supported by another salient feature of the case story, namely the differ­ence in mood between the first eight days of Moharram and the last two. Naturally there is an intensification up to '_shurâ. On the last two days, which importantly are national holidays, all the different groups are out in the streets. There are processions several times during the day. However, I did not find any emotionally intensi­fica­tion. It is difficult to measure the degree of emotional commitment, but several phenom­ena point in the direction of less passionate involvement during Tâsu'â and '_shurâ, than during the first eight days. For example the route which our procession was to follow was shortened. It was too warm to cover that much distance, it was argued. And even though it was very warm, many just walked indifferently, hardly bothering to use the chain(s) in their hand(s). What I detected was a simple lack of spirit on those last two days, where we were with many other groups in the streets. It might be because of our inferior amplifier, that was not powerful enough to bring our chanting above the level of the other groups, and nobody really tried to raise his voice because of that. Rather there was a feeling of resignation in our group. On the evening of '_shurâ we stayed in our taki'eh instead of having our pro­cession in the streets, I felt that I missed a climax of the day. However, the group excused them­selves with the amplifier being broken, therefore they would rather stay in the taki'eh doing some sineh zani in the dark.

This resignation might be explained by a privatization of the ritual which partly can be seen as a consequence of the changing to the passive mode. Instead of dropping participation altogether, the group tried to "privatize" it: staying away from the street in the evening, shortening the route. This is a reaction to the phenomena Good & Good speak about when they suggest that a major transform­ation of the Iranian paradigm of selfhood has taken place, namely that religious activity no longer belongs to the bâten, pure self, but to the birun, world of compromise and hypocri­sy. kommer lidt nemt om det.

Gør mere ud af det. Privatisering af det religiøse snaere. Kom længere med det her. Gør mere ud af det. The more communal Tâsu'â and '_shurâ were accordingly shunned to the advantage of the more private processions and rowzeh-khânis on the first eight days, and this can be interpreted as a disapproval of the appropriation of the rituals by the regime.

The incidence between my landlady and I concerning the nazri illustrates differ­ent expectations to the rituals. Maybe I was carried away by the high vision I had got of the Moharram rituals and of their importance, a vision achieved from reading the literature concerning the rituals, and momentarily forgot that everybody is not fasci­nated to the same degree as I were. For my landlady there was nothing touching in the pro­cessions, rather she seemed to enjoy coming out "check­ing out the neighbourhood," as she told me with a laugh. The differ­ence between our appre­hen­sions might also stem from the par­tici­pant/spectator view­point. Thus returning to our square after having been in procession I felt the high-spirited and cheerful atmosphere, normally occurring when adrenalin has been released, among the proces­sion's par­ticipants, which she seemingly did not experi­ence.

On television it was the "wildest" and most bloody45 dastehhâ that were shown. Likewise the most populous gatherings were shown. This points seemingly to an official valorization of the 'ac­tive' under­standing of the rituals. More likely, and simply, I and many Iranians think we should regard it as a wish to show the strength of the hezbol­lâhs. Surely the regime does not want to advocate the active understanding of the Kerbalâ paradigm. Before the Revol­ution, when the Shâh's regime was the target of the Moharram rituals, the possibilities of making a difference with the rituals were great. Today it would be difficult to have an active use of the paradigm, since this, rather than showing what deep religious sentiments towards Hosain which rest in society, would be seen as a sign of support for the regime's policies which thus would be consolidated. However 'intense' and 'wild' some of the processions were, one should con­sider the silent proces­sions amid the silent night that had preceded those television transmitted rituals, and how their solemn mood was in contrast to the more 'wild', noisy and disorganized '_shurâ and Tâsu'â. On those days a multi­tude of dasteh-hâ showed off, all competing to appear most visible and zeal­ous. The general mode of the rituals are despite these displays passive, they have changed from an active to a passive mode, and they no longer empha­size the social cohesion which Gluckman spoke about (op.cit.). Rather they testify to the disunited and fragmented nature of the Tehranian society.Hvordan forholder dette sig i forhold til Turner?Formuler pointerne klarere

One should also mention, that though this is a popular event, many people, especially among the higher socio-economic strata, resent it, and regard it as a form of corrupt and backward Islam. They would never dream of participating. However, one should be careful about understanding this as expressions of non-religiosity. On this point I do agree with Loeffler (1988), who suggest that so-called non-relig­iosity is a miscon­ception, while it is only considered so when set in relation to the formal, officially sanctioned version of Islam. That people do not par­ticipate in prayers at the mosque or at public, official rituals, is not necessarily a sign of their irreli­giousity, but rather of their lack of interest in being associ­ated with the this officially sanctioned Islam. Kommenter andre teorier. Er det aktivt eller ej, politisk eller er...?

In the following chapters I intend to turn away from the highly "discoursified" Moharram-rituals and instead turn the focus to aspects of expressions of a more popular, or privatized religion which can be seen as less 'official'46 and less appropriated by the regime.

The three vignettes in the next chapter describe dif­ferent aspects of the relationship between people and the religion. The first is a vignette of a Sufi-meeting, which can be characterized as a highly private, unofficial, and intimate happening. This is followed by a vignette depicting an equally private, but quite normative and accepted activity, namely a pilgri­mage to a Saint Shrine. Finally there is a description of a visit to the Martyrs' Cemetery, and the chapter ends with a discussion of these cases.

CASE STORY 2: Khâneqâh47

Tematisér overskrift. (måske 1,2 og 3 sammen). Mangler mentalt landkort, hvem deltager.

Forklar i fodnote at jeg har været der mere end en gang. The senti­ments of sorrow so vital to the Iranian under­standing of selfhood (as explained by Good & Good above) are finding other ways of expressions than through the official sanctioned channels. Case-story two describes a sermon at a khâneqâh (house of dervishes), which can be said to be outside the official control. The practises encountered here are also met in the mosques, but there is a differ­ence, I feel, in intensity.

My friend and I arrived to the khâneqâh through a large gate leading into a long and wide alley. Vendors were selling souvenirs such as pictures of Emâm Ali, the founder of the selseleh, the son of the founder who is the present qotb (leader), key-rings, etc. My friend's father has been a dervish since he was 16 years old. His father, too, had been a dervish. The târiqa48 is part of the popular and larger Nematullâhi Sufi order, its proper name is "Nematullâh Sultân Ali Shâhi" and that is derived from its founder, Sultân Ali Shâhi. It can also be referred to as Gonâbâdi Târiqa, after the city where the founder was from, namely Gonâbâd in the province of Khorasân, thus a way to distinguish them in a conversation.

Another huge door led into the house, and on entering we would receive a number and in return give our shoes to the kafsh-dâr (shoe keeper). The building was big, and it consisted of four parts. The central room was flanked by rooms a few steps elevated and they were each separated by four pillars. A chair was standing by the wall in the central room, and a picture of the deceased founder was placed on it. Behind this chair there was another, smaller room. Carpets, mainly beautiful Kâshâns, were on the floor, and on the wall there were pic­tures of the three aforementioned persons, but most were of the founder. People were sitting in long rows, facing the chair, and three or four men were constantly serving tea. The man beside me asked friendly and curiously about my presence, and I explained that I had just come to observe their session. He bid me warmly welcome. Suddenly everybody got up and moved towards the chair. The Qotb had arrived. He placed himself on the floor besides the chair, a few old men were sitting at his side. He himself was around 50, I guessed. People were sitting closely around him, in half-cir­cles, and an electric fan was brought up to him (as it was very hot in the full house). A man started to read aloud from a book with a singing voice, and there were a few problems with the microphone. The fellow sitting beside me was next to go up and read from a book (maqtal-nâmeh). Finally the qotb started to speak, calmly and softly. He explained that they can have God in their hearts, only if there is room for Him there, and that will only be the case if they are not occupied with secular matters and problems. At this time I heard scat­tered sobs, and after a short while everybody were sitting sobbing and crying. Some were even crying so loud that I thought that they were making fun. Tears ran from their eyes. Gradu­ally the sobbing and crying diminished, and when the qotb had finished reading (most likely from a maqtal-nâmeh) people went up to him in order that they could kiss his hand. After this he walked through the room to the other end. He was now going to lead the prayer.

During all this my friend had acquired a piece of paper that described 14 ways to reach God.Oversæt de fjorten måder til en fodnote! Many people liked to see it, and before they read it they kissed it, having an extremely reverential behaviour towards the paper. They also kissed the key-holder that I had bought with the pictures of the founder and his son.

On leaving (prematurely) we could glance at the women's department, which was to the right of the men's entrance. Also this place was very crowded. The qotb had first been speaking there, but the women could additionally follow his speech over the loud­speaker system.

Both my friend and I had the feeling that we had witnessed a very tense and highly emotional sermon, a sermon where the mean to reach the goal, zikr (unity with God), was to give up control with ones feelingsOpsummer vigtigste observationer! . My friend was able to bring this emotional pitch down to normal with a few cynical remarks such as: "They are crying for their money!" He elaborated telling me that they preach abstention from the material world, but that they are all well-to-do, and that their biggest problem is how to make more money. For my friend this was just one more example of the prevailing hypocrisy in society. As to the validity of his claim I can only say that indeed it seemed to be well-to-do, well-established, people who participated in these sufi-meetings. The beautiful Kâshâns additionally testified to this.

A somewhat more relaxed, less emotional involvement in religious rituals was to be found in the Haram in Qom which will be the scene for our next case story. There are at least two harams in Tehran49, but I have chosen to describe the one in Qom because of the city's central place in Shi'i ideology.
CASE STORY 3: The Haram in Qom

This case-story relates to an aspect of the popular religion, namely the practice of pilgrimage, which, even though it often is scorned by the Shi'a establishment, is an important part of many Shi'a Muslims' life.

Qom is the religious centre in Iran. By the Western-educated secular elite I was told that this is the place of the 'most black reaction.' The more religious minded person and the clergy are likely to agree more with Aqiqi Bakhshayeshi's de­scription:

"It was natural for a city where such an organized power and frightening solidarity pre­vailed [against the Abbasid Caliphs], to serve from the very beginning as a secure centre of refuge for great men of religion and learning who were guarded like jewels on a ring by the devoted people of Qom and deeply respected by them. That is why Qom soon became the cradle for the nurture and rise of dis­tinguished men of knowledge and virtue. Throughout history, the city of Qom has been an unconquerable fortress of Shi'ism owing to the presence of great religious leaders, exalted scholars, fine narrators and lofty personal­ities. These, together with learned scholars devoted to the line of imamate and virtue, have risen or been trained there. Moreover, there is also the existence of scholarly and reli­gious centres, rich libraries full of treasures of know­ledge, as well as divinity schools from the cham­bers of which have risen great men of learning, chastity and crusade (Bakhshayeshi 1985; p.224).

In this patriotic rhetoric it is the city as a place of great learning that is praised. Qom is an old city. It was established in the seventh century, after a group of Iraqi Shi'as had taken refuge in the Qom valley after the Kerbalâ tragedy. Due to the Arabs' concentra­tion of military and economic power it became possible to extend irrigation, grow cash crops, and thereby establish the town of Qom. At the beginning of the ninth century the great-great-great-grandson of Hosain, who was recognized by most of the Shia as their leader, died in eastern Iran (in Mashhad)Shamsi fortalte en historie om at han blev forgivet af folk i Khorassân, og at det bla. medførte at Khomeini aldrig besøgte den provins. Undersøg!, and around the same time did his sister Fâtemeh die in Qom. Ordinarily the tomb of a sister of even the most important descendants of Hosain would have been a place of only local pilgrimage, but in Qom Fâtemeh was treasured and Shi'i visitors to the shrine were treated with respect, and the town gradually expanded from the Arab settle­ment towards the shrine (Mottahedeh 1985; pp.21-22).

Today also Qom is a warm and dusty city. The water is low quality, extremely salty, and people seem not as warm hearted as other places. The holy city is situated on a two hours drive south of Tehran. The sister of the eight Emâm is buried here and her shrine (Haram-e Hasrat-e Ma'sumeh) is a centre for pilgrimage for Muslims from all over Iran and from other countries as well. It is a very beautiful place and the dome is covered with gold. Beside the Haram is a madraseh situated. Fayzieh is the largest and most important religious school in Iran, but it was holiday when I was there so it seemed rather empty. One of the stu­dents, however, brought me to prayer in one of the classrooms. I did not participate in the prayer, but was merely sitting watching the others, enjoying the history of the place. Famous scholars have been teaching here: Borujerdi, Khomeini, Montazeri, etc. After this we went to his room and talked together with other students the rest of the afternoon. Two of them were going to Tehran in the evening and we left together. They were very informal and we covered many non-religious topics in our conversation.

A friendly young man followed me to the Haram-e Hasrat-e Ma'sumeh, the shrine of Emâm Rezâ's (the eight Emâm's) sister, the grand daughter of the 6th Emâm, Ja'far Sâdeq50. Around the Haram there is a big bâzâr, especially selling religious items such as rosary (tasbih)51, prayer stones52 and carpets, pic­tures of the ha­ram, perfume, etc. It was not too crowded, but the weather was very warm.

The Haram is a big complex, with a mosque and library and madreseh affiliated with it. There were many entrances with kafshdâri, and inside, it resembled somewhat the haram Shâh abd'l 'Azim in Shahr-e Rey in as much as everything was covered with small pieces of mirror. It was of course very big, but not very beautiful, maybe because of the crowd. Black clothes was hung around the pillars, and on the walls. This was because of Moharram and Safar, months of mourning. Nat­urally the entrance was sex segregated, and the shrine was divided by a wall, women on one side, men on the other. How­ever, in continuation of the shrine room there was a big hall where women and men sat together. The other side of a cover that was put through half of the room was reserved for women. Children were running freely and playfully between the two parts.

In the small and crowded room of the shrine people were praying, shedding tears, kissing the shrine, and throwing money to the shrine53. Not only the shrine was kissed, but doors and inscriptions other places in the buil­ding as well. In other rooms there were groups of men sitting, often in company with a mullah, reading the Koran or Hadith. Many come to the Haram to consult these books before they take a major decision, for example concerning their economy, mar­riage, or travels54.

Many pictures were hanging in the building, pictures of parliaments members that had been martyred, of past great ayatol­lahs. People, that is both men and women would touch the dead's picture or the inscription under it and say a prayer for themselves. This is common way to show respect for the dead, to show that they have come here to honour them (the same is done at the grave of great poets, where they will recite some of his poetry). There were many graves as well, many merely with a plate in the floor. Ayatollah Borujerdi55 was the only one who was buried in a coffin.

Outside, in the courtyard, there was a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. The pilgrims were sitting comfort­ably on blankets, pillows, and surrounded by their kitchen-utensils. Many used the haram as a holiday destination, some even toured the whole country for visiting places alike56. At each place they are likely to buy souvenirs and have their picture taken, preferably in front of a picture of a holy place. And one can see what Mot­ta­­hedeh means when he cynically writes that Qom can be regarded as a tourist trap where "piety is used to milk you at all levels, from the rowzeh-khâns to the beg­gars. The latter, knowing the high religious merit of giving alms, pop up near the graves of your ancestors crying pious phrases at you and sticking out their hand." (1985; p.24-25).
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