The Emerging Shia Crescent Symposium - Understanding the Shia

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1 Sahil Badruddin = ""WHAT SETS THE actions of the Penitents at Karbala apart in the history of religions is that they offer a glimpse into the ways in which ritual, rather than myth, can fashion a faith. This is a crucial point to bear in mind when discussing the development of Shi‘ism. As Heinz Halm has noted, the Shi‘ah are a community born not “by the profession of belief in dogma” but rather “through the process of performing the rituals” that sprang up around the Karbala myth. Only after these rituals had become formalized hundreds of years later did Shi‘ite theologians reexamine and reinterpret them in order to lay the theological foundation for what was already a new religious movement. Karbala became Shi‘ism’s Garden of Eden, with humanity’s original sin being not disobedience to God, but unfaithfulness to God’s moral principles. Just as the early Christians coped with Jesus’ demoralizing death by reinterpreting the Crucifixion as a conscious and eternal decision of self-sacrifice, so also did the Shi‘ah claim Husayn’s martyrdom to have been both a conscious and an eternal decision. The Shi‘ah claim that long before Husayn was born, the events of Karbala had been miraculously revealed to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Ali, and Fatima. The Shi‘ah noted that Husayn knew he could not defeat the Caliph, yet he deliberately chose to continue to Kufa in order to sacrifice himself for his principles and for all generations to come. Realizing that mere force of arms could not restore Muhammad’s vision, Husayn had planned “a complete revolution in the consciousness of the Muslim community,” to quote Husain Jafri. In fact, as Shah Abdul Aziz has argued, Husayn’s self-sacrifice was in reality the logical end to the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his firstborn son, Ismail—the sacrifice was not revoked but postponed until Karbala, when Husayn willingly fulfilled it. The Shi‘ah thus regard Husayn’s martyrdom as having completed the religion that Abraham initiated and Muhammad revealed to the Arabs."-No god but God, Reza Aslan "