Experiencing al-Ḥusayn’s Suffering: Qamahzanī in the Shīʿī Mourning Tradition

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Kaynamazoğlu Z. S.

ILAHIYAT STUDIES: A JOURNAL ON ISLAMIC AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES, vol.14, no.2, pp.289-317, 2023 (ESCI) identifier identifier identifier


Qamahzanī (or qamazanī, qama-zanī, i.e., mortifying oneself with a sharp object) is one of the most controversial components of the Shīʿī mourning culture. This ceremony aims to share and experience al-Imām al-Ḥusayn’s pain, and it has been performed by various Shīʿī communities for the last centuries. Historical data show that qamahzanī has been practiced in Iran since the Safavid period and spread to other countries with large Shīʿī populations, such as Syria and Iraq, during the Qajar period. Travel books that describe mourning in Iran during the Safavid period provide essential data about the first examples of qamahzanī, its transformation, and its place in popular religiosity. In addition, since the Safavid era, Shīʿī scholars have adopted different attitudes toward qamahzanī, and this ritual has been the subject of politics as well as piety. This article aims to understand the historical course of qamahzanī as well as its relationship with religion and politics and, indirectly, to question the power of high religious discourse to shape popular religiosity.