A Bride of One Night, A Widow Forever: Gender and Vernacularization in the Construction of South Asian Shiʿi Hagiography Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Ruffle, Karen G.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • "A Bride of One Night, a Widow Forever" is a multidisciplinary ethnographic study of Shi'i hagiographical texts and performances in the South Indian city of Hyderabad where on 7 Muharram, the Shi'a commemorate the marriage between eleven year-old Fatimah Kubra and thirteen year-old Qasem at the battle of Karbala, Iraq in 680 CE. Taking the wedding of Fatimah Kubra and Qasem as a paradigmatic example, this dissertation examines the pivotal function of hagiography or sacred biography as it mediates local social values and defines gendered action through public performance in the majlis mourning assembly. Employing a theoretical framework of complementary pairing that is influenced by structuralism, this project demonstrates that sainthood in Shi'i Islam exists in two complementary pairs, which creates a space for both local culture and gendered practices to be articulated through the example of the members of the third Shi'i Imam Husain's family. "A Bride of One Night" engages both the archive to trace the transformation of the Qasem-Kubra wedding into a Deccani-Indian idiom, and ethnographic fieldwork focused on the mourning assemblies, thus drawing into relief a form of sainthood based upon the veneration of Imam Husain's family or husainiyyat. Through the literature and performance of the majlis, the gendered dimension of this sainthood is expressed through the prominence of Imam Husain's female relatives who are venerated by the Shi'a as saints. Judith Butler's theory of gendered embodiment-through clothing, mannerisms and speech-integrated with a theory of complementary pairing, articulates a dynamically embodied form of Shi'i sainthood. In the context of the Hyderabadi majlis mourning assembly, Fatimah Kubra is re-presented in the form a structural dyad, that of the fortunebearing bride and the inauspicious widow. Fatimah Kubra embodies the idealized bride- obedient and beautiful in her wedding finery, and she is the model widow-unadorned and detached from the world. In this model of hagiography, Kubra simultaneously embodies a dually gendered, idealized, Hyderabadi Indian Shi'i Muslim woman.
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  • Ernst, Carl
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