Karen RuffleOct 10, 2012
Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi'ism
University of North Carolina Press 2011
What does a wedding in Karbala in the year 680 have to do with South Asian Muslims today? As it turns out, this event informs contemporary ideas of personal piety and social understanding of gender roles. The battlefield wedding of Qasem and Fatimah Kubra on 7 Muharram is commemorated annually by Hyderabadi Shi'a Muslims. In Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi'ism (University of North Carolina Press, 2011), Karen Ruffle, Assistant Professor of History of Religions and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, explores the relationship between devotional literature and ritual practice in the formulation of social consciousness and embodied ethics. She accomplishes this task through great ethnographic detail and deep investigation into a rich literary tradition of devotional hagiographical texts. Ruffle argues that hagiography when enacted through contemporary ritual performances establishes typologies of Shi'i sainthood. Altogether, these localized models of ethics and gendered normativity reflect the realities of the religiously plural geographies Hyderabadi Shi'a Muslims inhabit. In our conversation, we discuss annual mourning assemblies, Husaini ethics, imitable sainthood, gender roles, martyrdom and kinship, the relationship between texts and performance, The Garden of the Martyrs, vernacular and cosmopolitan Islams, sectarian affiliation and religious identity, and the homogenization of Shi'ism.