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Ḥusaynīyah

By:
Gustav Thaiss
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ḥusaynīyah

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

Ḥusaynīyahs are found in all Shīʿī communities throughout the world and are known as such in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. In Iran the terms ḥusaynīyah and takīyah are used interchangeably, with local custom determining the relative usage. Among the Shīʿī of Bahrain and Oman, such sites are called maʿtam, while among the Shīʿī of India the terms imāmbārah (lit., “enclosure of the imam”), ʿāshūrkhānah, and ʿazā-khānah are used. Indian Shīʿī who were brought as indentured laborers to Trinidad also use the term imāmbārah.

The apparent precedent for the ḥusaynīyah comes from tenth-century Baghdad, when a ruler of the Shīʿī Būyid dynasty (932–1055) ordered that tents be set up in public areas on the tenth of Muḥarram (ʿĀshūrāʿ), to allow mourners to commemorate the martyrdom of the third imam, Ḥusayn (d. 680). It was not until the Ṣafavid dynasty (1501–1722) established Shiism as the state religion of Iran in 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 ḥusaynīyahs were also set up in caravansaries, the courtyards of private houses, and mosques. By the eighteenth century, permanent imāmbārah structures were built in India, and only later in that same century do we find evidence for permanent ḥusaynīyah or takīyah buildings in Iran.

In Shīʿī Muslim cities, town and village ḥusaynīyahs are as common as mosques in popular religious practice, with the number of ḥusaynīyahs in each community often quite large. Lucknow is said to have had about two thousand imāmbārahs in the early 1800s; Tehran in the late 1960s is reported to have had around 630 ḥusaynīyahs or takīyahs. Usually each neighborhood has its own ḥusaynīyah and there is at least one ḥusaynīyah in each quarter of the city. Most often they have been built by wealthy individuals—village landlords, merchants, or, especially during the nineteenth-century Qājār dynasty in Iran, members of the nobility—who constructed them for reasons of personal piety and the desire for savāb (religious blessings) as well as social prestige. Many ḥusaynīyahs 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 ḥusaynīyahs 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 ḥusaynīyahs, such as the Ḥusaynīyah-i ʿAṭṭārhā (Grocers’ Ḥusaynīyah) or the Ḥusaynīyah-i Bazzāz-hā (Cloth-sellers’ Ḥusaynīyah) in Sabzavar, Iran.

Guild members and others in the community tend to be involved in a network of associations and confraternities (hayʿat-i maḥallah; hayʿat-i ṣinfī; anjuman) that sponsor religious gatherings at various ḥusaynīyahs in the community, especially during the month of Muḥarram. These individuals take responsibility for decorating the ḥusaynīyahs with black drapery and flags often embroidered with the name of the sponsoring group and words of lamentation for the martyred imām. On the day of ʿĀshūrāʿ women prepare food for distribution to those in attendance and the poor of the community. The word takīyah (also tekke, tekkiye), in fact, originally referred to a place where food and care was given to the poor and has associations with Ṣūfī brotherhoods and their lodging.

The central event of these intensely emotional gatherings is recitations (rawẓah-khvānī) of the tragic circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn along with the reading and chanting of marāthī (elegiac poetry) and, quite commonly, ecstatically induced rhythmic chest-beating. Often as well, especially in smaller towns and villages, the courtyard of the ḥusaynīyah is used for the performance of taʿzīyah (passion plays). The ḥusaynīyah is also used as a starting and culminating point for ʿĀshūrāʿ dasteh (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 Ḥusayn has always had important political implications, signifying a struggle against oppression and injustice, of good against evil.

Although new ḥusaynīyahs are continually being built, a particular ḥusaynīyah was established in Tehran in 1965 that had profound implications for the future of the country and Islam in general. Ḥusaynīyah-i Irshād 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 of Iran. The building was air-conditioned and offered modern audiovisual techniques, such as closed-circuit television, film, and slide shows, and for the very first time choirs were introduced into a Muslim place of worship (girls’ choirs sang separately at the women 's programs). Educated lay people (men and women) and young, enthusiastic members of the ʿulamāʿ (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 ʿAlī Sharīʿatī 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 Fāṭimah, the wife of Imam ʿAlī, and Zaynab, Imam Ḥ usayn's sister, who became a major voice of opposition to the Sunnī caliph Yazīd, her brother 's mortal enemy. Through the enormously popular teachings at the Ḥusaynīyah-i Irshād, 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 Ḥusaynīyah-i Irshād in 1973. It was too little, too late, for the seeds of the revolution had already been scattered widely by the Ḥusaynīyah-i Irshād through its publications and tape recordings of Sharīʿatī 's lectures. The Ḥusaynīyah-i Irshād was reopened in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution but as a more conservative, subdued, and compliant institution.

See also ʿĀSHūRāʿ; ḤUSAYN IBN ʿALī; IMāMZāDAH; KHāNQāH; MUḥARRAM; RAWẓAH KHVāNī; TAʿZīYAH; and ZāWIYAH.

Bibliography

  • Akhavi, Shahrough. Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran. Albany, N.Y., 1980. Perhaps the first scholar to note the significance of Ḥusaynīyah-i Irshād and its role in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
  • Cole, Juan Ricardo. Roots of North Indian Shiism in Iran and Iraq: Religion and State in Awadh, 1722–1859. Berkeley, Calif., 1988. Contains the best discussion of the socio-religious aspects of the imāmbārah(pp. 92–107).
  • Kheirabadi, Masoud. Iranian Cities: Formation and Development. Austin, Tex., 1991. Contains a very useful two-page discussion of the ḥusaynīyah and is, overall, an excellent book on urban Iran.
  • Peterson, Samuel R.“The Taʿziyeh and Related Arts.” In Taʿziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran, edited by Peter Chelkowski, pp. 64–87. New York, 1979. Perhaps the best succinct overview of the takīyah/ḥusaynīyah. Includes a brief discussion of the takīyah as it relates to Sufism in Iran.
  • Pinault, David. “Shia Lamentation Rituals of the Doctrine of Intercession: Two Cases from Modern India.”History of Religions38 (1999): 285–305.
  • Tavassulī, Maḥmūd. “Ḥusaynīyah-hā, takāyā, muṣallá-hā.” In Miʿmārī-i l ’rān: Dawrah-i Islāmī [Iranian Architecture of the Islamic Period], edited by Muḥammad Yūsuf Kiyānī. Tehran, 1987. This is the only reasonably extensive article devoted solely to the ḥusaynīyah, published in Persian. However, it is of somewhat limited use, since it deals exclusively with the architectural features of the ḥusaynīyah, rather than the socio-religious dimension. Scattered references to the ḥusaynīyah may be found in books and articles about other subjects.
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