Ta`ziyeh in Exile: Transformations in a Persian Tradition


Milla C. Riggio


Even among relatively well-informed Americans and Europeans, the notion lingers that there is no Muslim drama.1 To the contrary, in an array of contemporary Muslim plays three different forms of drama indigenous to Iran stand out: ruhozzi or farcical plays; khaymah-shab-bazzi, or puppet plays; and, most originally, ta`ziyeh khani, also known as shabih khani.2 Each of these dramatic forms has a rich and complex history, but the plays which most fully reflect the uniqueness of the non-Arabic Persian cultural identity within the largely Arabic Muslim world are the ta`ziyeh khani ("mourning songs"), traditional festival plays which commemorate the slaughter of Imam Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad, on the plain of Karbala. The assassination of Husayn, supposed to have taken place on Ashura, the tenth of Muharram, 61 A.H./680 C.E., forms the centerpiece of the annual Persian celebrations of Muharram, the most sacred religious event for Shi`i culture. Like the ministry and crucifixion of Christ, which engendered the separation of Christianity from Judaism, Husayn 's claim to the Muslim caliphate- (legitimated by his relationship to his father Ali and his grandfather Muhammad) and his subsequent assassination are crucial to the division between Shi`ite and Sunnite Islam.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.