Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Review: Reliving Karbala

RELIVING KARBALA: MARTYRDOM IN SOUTH ASIAN MEMORY. By Syed Akbar Hyder. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. xi+261; illustrations. Cloth, $55.00, ISBN 978-0-19-518930-8.

The martyrdom of Imam Hussein and the majority of his companions on the barren desert plain of Karbala in 680 C.E. is the seminal historical event for tens of millions of Shi‘ī Muslims worldwide. However, Syed Akbar Hyder shows that the importance of the Karbala narrative and the symbolism of Imam Hussein’s death in a struggle for justice has also profoundly influenced non-Shi‘ī intellectuals throughout South Asia from Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Iqbal to a Sufi poets and Marxists. The first half of the book combines in-depth discussions of the role of the ‘Ashura communal gatherings commemorating Karbala (majālis) with an overview of the specific segments common to these gatherings with an historical primer of how the battle has been portrayed in South Asian Islamic religious literature. The adaptation of the Karbala mourning rituals by South Asian immigrants to the United States, particularly those from the Indian city of Hyderabad. The second half of the book provides both incisive literary analysis South Asian Sufī literature, particularly lyrical poetry, and written interpretations of the Karbala events by Sunni, secular, and non-Muslim South Asian writers and intellectuals including Muhammad Iqbal and Mahatma Gandhi. The book, which makes meticulous use of Urdu primary sources, is a valuable addition to the slim collection of works in English concerning the Karbala events. Geared toward an academic audience it is well suited to being used in upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses on Islamic religious literature, South Asian literature, and Shi‘ism.

Christopher Anzalone
Indiana University, Bloomington

[Critical Review Note to be published in a future issue of Religious Studies Review]

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