Gender and the Karbala Paradigm

On studying contemporary Shiʿi women

Authored by: Edith Szanto

The Routledge Handbook of Islam and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815367772
eBook ISBN: 9781351256568
Adobe ISBN:


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What’s special about the study of Shiʿi women? First, scholars of Shiʿism tend to draw on a specific paradigm, namely the Karbala Paradigm. According to this paradigm, Muharram practices and discourses can be interpreted in one of two modes, they can either reify or seek to change the status quo. The study of Shiʿi women, predictably, tends to look at how women appropriate Muharram practices and discourses. Interestingly, this approach exemplifies the approach that Saba Mahmood calls for in her foundational work, the Politics of Piety. Mahmood called upon scholars of Muslim women to look at the ways they inhabit, rather than subvert norms. This view, as this chapter shows, limits scholarly attention to the ways in which norms change. In short, this chapter demonstrates that a binary view of the Karbala Paradigm does not accurately depict the ways in which feminine ideals, as made legible through Muharram practices and discourses, have changed. It does so by examining the diachronic changes in the depiction of Zaynab among Twelver Shiʿa in Sayyida Zaynab, Syria.

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