Published in Iran Analysis Quarterly Vol. 2 No. 4, July-September 2005, pp. 22-42.
Abstract: In the year 680 A.D., on the tenth of the month Muharram, a brutal massacre claimed the lives of Imam Husayn and some 50 loyal followers and family members. What became known as the Battle of Karbala has served as the pivotal moment in history for the Shi’a of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, who commemorate the tragedy each year through passionate rituals full of fervent, heartfelt emotion. For the Shi’a, keeping alive the memory of Husayn means more than simply recalling the events of his life and death. It entails active sharing in the Imam’s suffering, augmented by a pervasive identification with Husayn’s status as the ultimate righteous victim. Since the Shi’a doctrine is as political as it is religious, the imprint left upon the collective Shi’a identity by Husayn’s death carries deep political implications that remain relevant today.