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Week 5: Expressing theology through drama – The Iranian taziyeh

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This week, we discussed how stories of the Prophet and his companions are depicted in the theatric arts of different cultures – mainly the taziyeh, the traditional performance of the martyrdom of Hussain and his family by Yazid in Karbala, Iran. We were exploring the differences between Shia and Sunni traditions and how the taziyeh marks one of the main distinctions. Taziyah is as much as part of the Iran culture as it symbolizes the persecution that Shias went through in a Sunni dominated environment. I chose to delve into Sir Lewis Pelley’s, The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husein. In this scene of the taziyeh, Husain is about to be slain by his enemies when he sees his grandfather, the Prophet. The Prophet comforts him using a prominent Shia concept of the pious people always having to suffer in this life. He assures him that his suffering in the world will be rewarded with something better in the afterlife. Importantly, this depiction of Hussain’s murder illustrates his humanity and of his family and the pure tragedy that they endured simply due to very different interpretations of who deserved to be in power over the Muslim ummah. Even though It is human nature to feel betrayed by the people that want to kill him, his piety and transcendence above basic human feelings is revealed, as he eagerly meet his family in the afterlife instead of dwelling on the betrayal. This narration is played out every year to commemorate Husain and his family’s death. Another unique characteristic of taziyeh is that there is active participation from the audience members. Through the taziyeh, we get to explore Iranian tradition of feeling this eternal sorrow of their leader’s death and displays their “own faith and devotion within the context of a religious happening” (Chelkowski, pg. 21).

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