The course will introduce students to Shi’ism as an alternative interpretation of Islam shaped around the figure of Ali and the family of Muhammad. Due to its minority status, Shi'ism has been marginalized in the teaching and the writing of Islamic history. We remain the captives of a master narrative that portrayed the rise of Islam through the eyes of the Abbasid Caliphs, patrons of Sunnism who dominated the medieval Islamic world. Followers of Ali, however, have produced different narratives of early Islam and we will explore these conflicting memories to rethink Islamic history and to see the ways in which Shi’ism was constructed as the Other by mainstream Muslims (Sunnis).
We will look at storytelling and drama as ritual performances commemorating an Alid past – as experiences of suffering that tied together a community of devotees of Ali, sustaining the livelihood of Shi'ism. We will end with the modern period, as we focus on how ritual and memory were transformed into sites of resistance that politicize Shi’is in Iran and Iraq.