Shi’a-Sunni Joint Seminar 2015: The Martyrdom of Imam Hussain

The following panel was delivered on Sunday, November 1st, 2015 at The Muslim Education Center (The Muslim Community Center Full Time School) in Morton Grove IL.

Featured panelists include Sayyid Sulaiman Hassan Abidi from the Ahl-al-Bayt Islamic Seminary Program and Bait-ul-‘Ilm Mosque in Streamwood, IL, and Loyola University Muslim Chaplain Professor Omer Mozaffar.

Panel topics included: the topic of Imam Husayn ibn ‘Ali’s Martyrdom in each sect’s traditions, the differences and similarities in methodologies between the traditions, and the way in which each tradition regards certain personalities.

I have posted the audio below in a SoundCloud playlist, but in separate files so that others who were not present may benefit from what was discussed in the panel without being forced to listen to the entire thing in one sitting. There may be some minor speaker interference due to microphone issues at the panel.

Modern Perceptions of Historic Islamic Sectarianism

The contemporary Western perception of the world Muslim population is plagued by a frame of intense polarization, whether of Sunni or Shi’i, progressive or secular, modern or traditional. This drastic view, in which sects exist only in opposition to each other, governs our negotiations with the historical realities of sectarian divide. Although imaginings of Islam’s sectarian past are less concerned with “what actually happened,”and more with mythical ideas, such as that of inherency (in both vice and virtue), it is still important to assess the stark contrast between our simplistic and uncomplicated narrative around sectarianism and early historical self-positioning by scholars. Doing so can provide us with a far more rich, complex, and meaningful picture of Islam’s sectarian past, where lines were once not-so-clearly defined.

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Identity as Reduction

I was in third grade when the topic of identity first sprung up in my classroom. It became part of my vocabulary, a frame of reference in professional introductions (as professional as a grade-schooler ever needed to be), and something to think about whenever the teacher made me check “Asian” on my standardized test forms. Ever since then, I had to re-imagine myself as something other than “Muslim,” which, not at all strangely, had been the only identifier I’d ever felt the need to express. I became a “Bangl-Indi-Musli-Merican,” and I couldn’t have been prouder.

But part of creating such a title for myself meant that I could not continue into college at a liberal university like DePaul without expanding it further, finally making my identity longer than my own name (and that is not an easy task.) Generally, if an ingredient or a concept is longer than my own name–which presents a bit of an identity itself, roughly translating to “The Elevated Master of Time,”–I tend to cast suspicion on it.

Am I really a combination of the markers that either are A) Chosen by me, B) Ascribed to me, or C) Attributed to me as the result of broader societal forces? Those three make up the views of the Functionalist, Interpretive, and Critical approaches of intercultural communication, respectively. If I am not  at least one of those, then perhaps this train of thought isn’t leading anywhere. But if I am none of those, then I feel it may be appropriate to question the utility of this modern construction we call ‘identity.’

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