Scenario by Slavs and Tatars
posted by: Jaroslaw Lubiak
The scenario by Slavs and Tatars is the third scenario curated by Jarosław Lubiak and Joanna Sokołowska within the framework of the Scenarios about Europe project.
Reverse Joy looks at Muharram, the perpetual protest at the heart of the Shi’a faith, for its radical reconsideration of history, progress, if not time itself. Equal parts research and original work, Reverse Joy serves as the first installment in Slavs and Tatars’s new cycle of work The Faculty of Substitution: the agility, coordination and balance to tell one tale through another, to adopt the inner-most thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and sensations of others as one’s own, in an effort to challenge the very notion of distance, as the shortest length between two points.
In the case of Reverse Joy, how does this circumlocution or triangulation – looking at a something else as a prism on the chosen subject of study, taking a detour via somewhere else before heading to one’s destination – challenge the very notion of self-awareness and pedagogy? Inserting oneself, flesh and faith, into events that transpired thirteen centuries ago; the collapse of traditional understandings of time; the reversal of roles of men and women; and joy through mourning all demand an equally elastic and muscular understanding of the sacred and the profane that is the down payment towards any meaningful social change.
So we turn to the Shi’a ritual of Muharram not necessarily to better understand Islam or the Middle East per se; but rather to investigate our own understandings of modernity and time. Reverse Joy looks at the complex constellation of Muharram – the vernacular architecture, crafts, rituals, and narrative – which over the course of thirteen centuries has taken on a near cosmic significance, beyond regional rivalries, and possibly beyond faith itself to impact notions of identity, mysticism, protest, and resistance in the world at large.
A note on Muharram
The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, second in importance only to Ramadan, is at the origin of the schism between Sunnis and Shi’as.* On the tenth day of that month in the 7th century CE, Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed at the hands of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I’s army. Every year, Shi’as around the globe – from Lebanon to Iraq, Iran to Pakistan and all the way to Aceh, the northern tip of Sumatra – commemorate the martyrdom of the archetypal son Hussein during the month of Muharram in what Elias Canetti has called “an orchestra of grief”. Marches, drum beats, drama, dirges, and, perhaps most importantly, weeping, build to a climax on Ashura (literally tenth in Arabic to denote the day of the month of Hussein’s death). Yet, despite – or perhaps because of – this intensive public display of mourning, a palpable sense of exhilaration or even joy seeps through the rituals. Often circumscribed in countries such as Iran, public space comes alive with the air of a street party.
*Following a contentious succession issue, Hussein and his followers refused to recognise the legitimacy of the caliph Yazid I and marched to Kufa to meet the inhabitants of the city in present day Iraq – and brief capital of the Caliphate – who had professed allegiance to the former and requested guidance from the Ahl al-Bayt, the Prophet’s family. The caliph’s 100,000-strong army intercepted Hussein and his handful of companions and relatives in the parched desert of Karbala, roughly 100 southwest kilometres from Baghdad. After several days without access to water, the caliph’s army, led by Shimr Ibn Zil Jawshan, killed all the men, some of whose bodies were mutilated (Hussein was decapitated), and took the women and children captive.
Slavs and Tatars
Reverse Joy, 2009
posted by Jaroslaw Lubiak