Making Spaces Sacred: The Sayyeda Zaynab and Bibi Pak Daman Shrines and the Construction of Modern Shia Identity

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Islamic World and Near East History
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This dissertation is a study of the Bibi Pak Daman shrine in Lahore, Pakistan and the Sayyeda Zaynab shrine in Damascus, Syria and of how these shrines were made sacred in the 20th century. Said to house the graves of Ruqayyah and Zaynab, two daughters of 'Ali ibn Abu Talib, the first Shi'a Imam, the two shrines would grow from local sites of devotion to critical pilgrimage sites in the 20th century. The dissertation will first trace hagiographies related to Zaynab and Ruqayyah and how these narratives capitalized on transnational collective memories of Karbala to reinterpret their significance to local contexts. These saints and their shrines were also increasingly interwoven into Syrian and Pakistani narratives of national exceptionalism. Secondly, these shrines emerged as important national spaces and sites onto which competing claims of authentic authority and ideology were played out. For shrine authorities, religious scholars and students, pilgrims, merchants, and activists, the Sayyeda Zaynab and Bibi Pak Daman shrines provide a window into the distinct ways that sectarianism was produced and the range of practices that constituted 'being Shi'a.' By the end of the 1970s, the Sayyeda Zaynab and Bibi Pak Daman shrines had become increasingly prominent as sites of meaning-making, especially within a changing geopolitical landscape and as narratives of Karbala were being reinterpreted around the world in the service of newly assertive Shiite identity and visual culture. The third part of this dissertation will address how these shrines were lived spaces, creating both specific shrine cultures and visually linking pilgrims to a transnational Shi'a sacred geography. Thus, this dissertation explores how these shrines were sacralized in the 20th century through narratives, politics, and finances. It will address the unique role that pilgrimage to the shrines of female saints has played in both postcolonial transnational and national politics and in the construction of a Shi'a identity in the modern world. Through this dual focus, the project will reveal the way that politics, ritual, gender, and faith function in tumultuous, multi-denominational societies where the balance between religious legitimacy and national ideologies necessitates a constantly-evolving policy towards pilgrimage and shrines.

Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet
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