Karbala in London: Genealogy and Continuity of Contested Expressions of Muharrum Rituals among British South Asian Twelver Shia Muslims by Dr Sufyan Dogra
Disputes regarding the true Shia way of commemorating Ashura and the acceptability of self-flagellation has led to a messy legal battle for the members of one South Asian Shia mosque in South London. Dr Sufyan Dogra’s ethnographic research on the lived experience of Shia Muslims residing in London, which he presented on 18th October, found that the main source of conflict amongst the participants pertains to the acceptability of blood-letting practices, known as Zanjeer. The group upholding the practice, who have been barred from entering the mosque under court order, insist that they are fighting the battle of Karbala in London, inspiring the title of the paper.
After conducting an analysis of the history of Shia Islam in South Asia, Dr Dogra concludes that contestation amongst rival groups and reformation of religious rituals has been a historic trait. He sees the conflict at present as a continuation of that trend. Furthermore, scholars from the Middle East have always exerted great influence over the South Asian community who resort to them for validation of their religious practices. Similarly, with the dispute regarding blood-letting in the South London mosque, both groups selectively referred to the offices of the maraji‘ who they believed would approve of their position. As such, those who practice Zanjeer refused to resort to Iranian Maraji‘ instead choosing to refer to the representative of the Iraq based scholar, Ayatollah Sistani.
Dr Sufyan Abid Dogra is a Senior Research Fellow, ‘Born in Bradford’ project, at the NHS, Bradford. His work explores the role of Islamic Religious Settings in preventing childhood obesity among South Asian children in the UK. He attained his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Sussex and did postdoctoral research at the University of Chester exploring transnational religious and political networks of minority Muslims in Britain.