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HUSAYNIYAH. A special site where ritual ceremonies commemorating the life and martyrdom of Imam Husayn are held, husayniyah can be a temporary tent set up especially for the Muharram mourning ceremonies or a permanent building that is also used for religious occasions throughout the year.

Husayniyahs are found in all Shi’i communities throughout the world and are known as such inIran,Iraq, andLebanon. InIranthe terms husayniyah and takiyah are used interchangeably, with local custom determining the relative usage. Among the Shi`i ofBahrainandOman, such sites are called ma’tam, while among the Shi’ i ofIndiathe terms imdmbdrah, `ashur-khanah, `aza-khanah are used. Indian Shi’i who were brought as indentured laborers toTrinidadalso use the term imdmbdrah (lit., “enclosure of the imam”).

The apparent precedent for the husayniyah comes from tenth-century Baghdad, when a ruler of the Shi’l Buyid dynasty (932-1055) ordered that tents be set up in public areas on the tenth of Muharram (`Ashura’), to allow mourners to commemorate the martyrdom of the third imam, Husayn (d. 68o). It was not until the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) established Shiism as the state religion ofIranin the sixteenth century, however, that these mourning ceremonies became fully integrated into popular religious practice. The most common sites for these early ceremonies were public areas, such as town squares or main crossroads, which were covered by a black cloth. Later, temporary husayniyahs were also set up in caravansaries, the courtyards of private houses, and mosques. By the eighteenth century, permanent imdmbdrah structures were built inIndia, and only later in that same century do we find evidence for permanent husayniyah/takiyah buildings inIran.

In ShM Muslim cities, town and village husayniyahs are as common as mosques in popular religious practice, with the number of husayniyah in each community often quite large.Lucknowis said to have had about two thousand imambarahs in the early 1800s;Tehranin the late 1960s is reported to have had around 63o husayniyah/takiyah. Usually each neighborhood has its own husayniyah and minimally there is at least one husayniyah in each quarter of the city. Most often they have been built by wealthy individuals-village landlords, merchants, or, especially during the nineteenth-century Qajar dynasty inIran, members of the nobility-who constructed them for reasons of personal piety and the desire for savab (religious blessings) as well as social prestige. Many husayniyahs have been built as the result of a vow of repayment to God for curing illnesses or in gratitude for a successful commercial or other venture. The majority of husayniyahs are sustained by an annual revenue or rental income from waqf (endowed property), such as shops and warehouses in the bazaars. Sometimes guilds finance the construction and maintenance of husayniyahs, such as the Husayniyah-i ‘Attarha (Grocers’ husayniyah) or the Husayniyah-i Bazzaz-ha (Cloth-sellers’ husayniyah) inSabzavar,Iran.

Guild members and others in the community tend to be involved in a network of associations and confraternities (hay’at-i mahallah; hay’at-i sinfi; an juman) which sponsor religious gatherings at various husayniyahs in the community, especially during the month of Muharram. These individuals take responsibility for decorating the husayniyahs with black drapery and flags often embroidered with the name of the sponsoring group and words of lamentation for the martyred imam. On the day of `Ashura’ women prepare food for distribution to those in attendance and the poor of the community. The word takiyah (also tekke; tekkiye), in fact, originally referred to a place where food and care was given to the poor and has associations with Sufi brotherhoods and their lodging.

The central event of these intensely emotional gatherings are recitations (rawzah-khvani) of the tragic circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Imam Husayn along with the reading and chanting of marathi (elegiac poetry) and, quite commonly, ecstatically induced rhythmic chest-beating. Often as well, especially in smaller towns and villages, the courtyard of the husayniyah is used for the performance of ta’ziyah (passion plays). The husayniyah is also used as a starting and culminating point for `Ashura’ dastah (mourning processions).

During the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979), the mourning processions often combined political and religious rhetoric, resulting in antigovernment demonstrations. Indeed, the symbolism of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn has always had important political implications, signifying a struggle against oppression and injustice, of good against evil.

Although new husayniyahs are continually being built, a particular husayniyah was established inTehranin 1965 which had profound implications for the future of the country and Islam in general. Husayniyah-i Irshad was founded by a wealthy philanthropist and built with funds collected from a heterogeneous segment of Iranian society-traditional bazaar tradesmen, merchants, intellectuals, and such professionals as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. It was a highly innovative and visionary religious center originally conceived to be a place where new methods could be developed for the teaching of Islam in order to reach the increasingly alienated educated youth ofIran. The building was air-conditioned and offered modern audiovisual techniques, such as closedcircuit television, film, and slide-shows, and for the very first time choirs were introduced into a Muslim place of worship (girl’s choirs sang separately at the women’s programs). Educated lay people (men and women) and young, enthusiastic members of the `ulama’ (community of religious scholars) who understood the modern mentality offered new ideas through challenging lectures rather than repetitious, often obscurantist, sermons of staid theological assumptions. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, it was transformed through the thought-provoking lectures of `Ali Shari’ati into the major, symbol of political dissent.

Women were encouraged to play significant roles and to participate fully in the upcoming struggle for social justice. The facilities of the religious center were set aside on certain days for the exclusive use of women who were inspired to model themselves after Fatimah, the wife of Imam `Ali, and Zaynab, Imam Husayn’s sister, who became a major voice of opposition to the Sunni caliph Yazid, her brother’s mortal enemy. Through the enormously popular teachings at the Husayniyah-yi Irshad, a much wider segment of the Iranian population began to believe that it was perfectly acceptable to fight for an Islam that offered both national liberation as well as enlightenment. However, as a result of growing dissent and opposition, government troops forcefully closed Husayniyah-yi Irshad in 1973. It was too little, too late, for the seeds of the revolution had already been scattered widely by the Husayniyah-yi Irshad through its publications and tape recordings of Shari`ati’s lectures. The Husayniyah-yi Irshad was reopened in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution but as a more conservative, subdued, and compliant institution.

[See also `Ashura’; Husayn ibn `Ali; Imamzadah; Khanqah; Muharram; Rawzah Khvani; Ta’ziyah; Zawiyah. ]


Only one reasonably extensive article devoted solely to the husayniyah exists, published in Persian: Mahmoud Tavasoli, “Husayniyah-ha, takaya, musalla-ha,” in Me’mari yeIrandawreh ye Islami (Iranian Architecture of the Islamic Period), edited by Mohammad Yousef Kiani (Tehran, 1987). However, this article is of somewhat limited use, since it deals exclusively with the architectural features of the husayniyah, rather than the socioreligious dimension. Scattered references to the husayniyah may be found in books and articles about other subjects. See the following sources:

Akhavi, Shahrough. Religion and Politics in ContemporaryIran.Albany,N.Y., 198o. Perhaps the first scholar to note the significance of Husayniyah-yi Irshad and its role in the Iranian Revolution of 1979

Bonine, Michael. “Islam and Commerce: Waqf and the Bazaar ofYazd,Iran.” Erkunde 41 (1987): 182-196.

Chelkowski, Peter. “Shi’a Muslim Processional Performances.” Drama Review 29.3 (Fall 1985): 18-30.

Cole, Juan R. I. Roots of North Indian Shi’ism inIranandIraq: Religion and State in Awadh, 7722-7859.Berkeley, 1988. Contains the best discussion of the socioreligious aspects of the imambarah (pp. 92-107).

Kheirabadi, Masoud. Iranian Cities: Formation and Development.Austin, 1991. Contains a very useful two-page discussion of the husayniyah and is, overall, an excellent book on urbanIran.

Peterson, Samuel R. “The Ta’ziyeh and Related Arts.” In Ta’ziyeh: Ritual and Drama inIran, edited by Peter Chelkowski, pp. 64-87.New York, 1979. Perhaps the best succinct overview of the taqiyah/ husayniyah. Includes a brief discussion of the taqiyah as it relates to Sufism inIran.

Shararah, Waddah. Transformations dune manifestation religieuse dans un village du Liban-Sud (Ashura).Beirut, 1968. One of the few studies on Shi’i religious practices inLebanon, published by the Universite Libanaise, Institut des Sciences Sociales, Centre de Recherches.

Sleiman, N. “Le celebration de la Ashura A Nabbatiye (Liban).” These,Aix-en-Provence, 1974. Doctoral dissertation on Muharram ritual practices inLebanon.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/husayniyah/

  • writerPosted On: April 4, 2014
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