Pilgrimage and the flow of artifacts between Shia shrines and local communities: Transmitting and circulating saintly blessing

Ingvild Flaskerud


In Twelver Shiism1, the Imams have intercessory qualities and believers pray to them for protection and help. The most beneficial way to present a request for mediation is to perform a pilgrimage or a visitation, ziyarat, to the saint’s burial place. The visitation to a saint’s tomb is regarded as recommendable and as an addition to the main pilgrimage, the Hajj to Mecca. As early as in the 9th century, Shia pilgrims to shrines in the Middle East could consult pilgrimage guides or manuals on how to behave in front of a saint’s tomb to benefit from the merit, fada’il, of the place.2 In the presence of the saint’s mediating power, the devotee should repent his or her sins and could put forward supplications to God. The cross-cultural study of pilgrimage has expanded its field of interest to include, in addition to the investigation of the pilgrimage site, the journey performed by pilgrims.3 Evers-Rosander discusses, moreover, how corporeal travel is sometimes exchanged for the physical movement of objects.4 Women belonging to the Senegalese based Sufi order Mouridiyyeh, residing in Spain, may be represented at Sufi shrines in Senegal through money they donate to the shrines. At local Shia shrines in Iran, Betteridge has observed another use of object connected to pilgrimage.5 Pilgrims may call upon the saint’s attention by binding themselves with a lock or a piece of fabric to the grating around the sarcophagus. The symbolic action is called dakhil bastan, ‘binding the request for help’ and is performed to enhance the calling for the saint’s mediation. The theoretical contribution to the discussion of pilgrimage in the present paper is the use of artifacts in transmitting and circulating saintly blessing. The analysis follows the flow of artifacts to and from pan Shia shrines, visited by Shia from all over the world, but with particular attention to the use of the artifacts in the devotees’ home location.

The often long and costly journey to pan-Shia shrines in Iraq, Syria, and Iran are beyond the financial means of many men and women around the Shia world. Instead, artifacts are brought to shines to serve as vehicles for invoking the saint’s attention in what is considered a beneficial and sacred environment. Moreover, artifacts are transported from shrines to the devotees’ home locations in order to transmit and distribute the grace, barakat, conveyed at the shrine, and thus to facilitate saints’ intercession and God’s benediction at home.

The use of artifacts to enhance and facilitate the call for saints’ mediation and protection, I suggest, combines two lines of thought. First, shrine sites are most favourable places for presenting supplications. They are permeated with the Divine grace bestowed on the saints, and with the saints’ compassionate mediating commitment. Second, fabrics and other types of artifacts may transmit devotees’ intentions, as well as divine and saintly blessing, barakat, and protection. Attention to the devotees’ home location demonstrates, however, that despite the benefit attributed to a visitation to a shrine, one may perform a visitation to a pan Shia pilgrimage site from a distance by visiting a proxy tomb. The practice draws on the Twelver Shia idea of performing a pilgrimage from a distance, the power of votive gifts to work as sites for presenting invocations, and the capacity of visual and material culture to represent people and events from the past, as well as geographically distant places.

The cases discussed draw from well-established Shia communities in Shiraz, more or less exclusively inhabited by Iranians. The field research was conducted between 1999 and 2003. In addition, cases draw from a multinational migratory setting in Oslo (Norway), which has been developing since the late 1970s. The community consists of Shiites originating from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, European converts, and a new generation of Shias raised in Norway. The field research was conducted between 2008 and 2011. The methodology combines interviews with pilgrims regarding their handling of artifacts when on pilgrimages at the shrine site and participant observation of the devotees’ use of artifacts brought from the shrine sites to their home locations.

Seeking the Saints’ Mediation

According to the Twelver Shia theology about the imamate, a succession of twelve Imams have been divinely empowered to interpret the word of God, as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and to guide human activities. The first Imam is the historical character Ali ibn Abi Taleb (d. 661 A.D.). The successive eleven Imams descend from him and his wife Fatemeh, the daughter of Muhammad. The Imams are believed to be bestowed with the power to act as mediators, shafi’, when a devotee seeks God’s assistance. The vow is presented ultimately to God, but through holy personages who are considered to act as mediators between God and human beings. A supplication is often supported by the making of a vow (nazara, Arabic/ nazr kardan, Persian). A votum process is characterised by a reciprocal relationship between the votary and the personage to whom the vow is made. If the votary believes to have received the requested assistance, he or she must meet the obligation made at the time of the vow and present an offering. The votive offering, or the return-gift, is called a nazr (Arabic) or a nazri (Persian). While the devotee seeks the saint’s intervention in prayer, a visitation, ziyarat, to his or her tomb is perceived to be particularly favourable in supporting the invocation. Among the most popular sites to visit are the shrines of Imam Ali in Najaf and Imam Husayn in Karbala, both in Iraq. In addition to the Imams, the Shia honour their descendants, to whom they also turn for intercession. Among the most popular sites to visit are the shrines of Imam Ali’s son and Imam Husayn’s’ half brother, Abu al-Fazl al-Abbas (in Karbala, Iraq), in addition to Ali’s daughter, Zaynab, and Husayn’s daughter, Ruqayyeh (both located in Damascus, Syria).

To the devotee it is, however, not convenient always to make a long journey to a shrine to ask for a saint’s intercession. In principle, a supplication might be presented anywhere, but local public ritual assembly halls known as husayniyyeh, fatemiyyeh, and zaynabiyyeh, given the name of the holy personage to which they are dedicated, are regarded as particularly favourable. Such ritual spaces are often decorated with wall hangings purchased at the pan Shia shrine sites, and artifacts that are directly connected with the shrine are often distributed or shared in such ritual spaces.


Pilgrimage and Devotional Commodities

One of the earliest records of Muslim theologians discussing the proper etiquette, adab, when visiting Muslim tombs dates from the 8th century, and the earliest known pilgrimage guide (Arabic: kutub al-ziyarat, Persian: kamil al- ziyarat) of Shia origin was written by a Kufan jurist in 838-9.6 The suggested rites are often attributed to the Imams, in particular the 6th Imam, al Jafar al-Sadiq, The Shia guides stress the importance of ritual behaviour, manasik, to a greater degree than Sunni guides, and it is held that the believer can hope to benefit from the ziyarat by following the recommended rites. The pilgrim is advised to perform ziyarat prayers specific to each of the important shrines, and are given instructions on corporal behaviour.7 The production of pilgrimages guides has led to the formalisation of the ziyarat, although local cult practices have developed simultaneously.

The use of artifacts and the trade in devotional commodities is today embedded in popular Shia pilgrimage behaviour. Popular items to purchase are copies of the Quran, prayer manuals, shawls, pieces of fabrics, wall-hangings and mohr-e namaz.8 In Karbala, such items can be purchased from shops located all over town but there is an accumulation of pilgrimage shops and booths around the shrines. Some items are traded and purchased as souvenirs, tokens of memory; others are clearly devotional commodities, to be used in relation religious rites. Common characteristics are that the items are affordable to most people and that they can easily be transported.

Fabrics are often brought to the shrine and left there. Vendors around the shrines in Karbala tell you that if you want to be blessed, you should buy some fabric and bring to the shrines.9 Other items are transported across long distances and distributed among or shared by many people. A popular object to bring home is a wall hanging, parcham, which show scenes referring to the battle at Karbala, representations of the shrines in Karbala and Najaf, imaginary portraits of Ali, Husayn, and al-Abbas, or calligraphic emblems. The visual vocabulary caters to the taste of an increasing number of pilgrims permitted to visit the Iraqi shrine sites from Iran, where production and trading of such wall hangings is widespread.10 In Iran, small workshops producing similar wall hangings are located in the bazaars, and wall hangings can be purchased from vendors selling outfit for Muharram commemorative rituals. In Iraq, the wall hangings are available at the many shops around the shrines, but pilgrims also report to be approached by vendors visiting the pilgrims’ hotels and embarking on the busses they arrive in. To Iranians, the trade in Iraq is a good bargain since wall hangings in Iraq are less expensive than in Iran. Indian Shia pilgrims to the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad (Iran) purchase wall hangings of similar combinations of iconographic and calligraphic designs to bring home.11 To Shia migrants in the West, the trade in Iraq offers a rare possibility to purchase devotional commodities, since the production of this particular material culture is not common in the West.

The flow of artifacts between pan-Shia shrines and local communities

Bringing artifacts to the shrine to enhance the invocation

In pre-revolutionary Iran, artifacts, such as a letter, a piece of string, a safety pin, or a padlock, was often presented to or attached to the tomb of a local shrine to enhance the votary’s calling.12 In the present, similar devotional practices are reported from pilgrims visiting the pan Shia shrines in Najaf, Karbala, and Damascus.13 Many pilgrims put small pieces of green or black fabric through small openings in the lattice bars of the sarcophagus while presenting prayers, to support the invocation. Not all pilgrims approve of the practice or participate in it. It is however acknowledged by the keepers of the shrines. Votive gifts are managed by the shrines’ official representatives. They keep the fabrics for a week and then donate them to the poor. The idea behind this is that the poor will benefit from the blessing which these pieces transmit, after having been kept in close vicinity of a saint’s tomb.

Transmitting saintly blessing from shrines to local communities

Fig. 01

Saintly blessing and protection are also transmitted into local communities through artifacts circulated by the pilgrims. Many pilgrims bring home artifacts purchased at shrine sites. Some objects are kept for personal memory and spiritual benefit; others are distributed among family and friends. In 2002, members of a hay’at in Shiraz brought a large piece of green fabric to al-Abbas’ shrine in Karbala.14 They wiped the fabric on the saint’s sarcophagus to transfer God’s grace, barakat, from the shrine to the cloth. Upon returning home, the fabric was kept in the possession of the hay’at and gradually torn into small ribbons which were later handed out to people, Muslims and non-Muslims, to secure them the protection of al-Abbas. The ribbon would typically be tightened around the wrist to protect and benefit its owner [Figure 1].

The practice of bringing artifacts from the shrines into local communities is popular among the general public, but is also practiced by the religious elite. In 2010, a Shia religious association in Oslo, with members of mixed Iranian, Afghani and Norwegian origin, held a gender-mixed celebration on the birthday of Fatemeh, combined with the Iranian/Islamic version of Mother’s Day.15

Fig. 02

An Iranian mullah visited Oslo on the occasion. During a pilgrimage to Karbala he had purchased shawls decorated with flower patterns and labeled “Karbala” from local vendors. At the shrine, he had rubbed the shawls on Husain’s sarcophagus. [Figure 2] For the celebration in Oslo, the mullah prepared a quiz for the women and the prizes handed out were the shawls from Karbala, which by then had been carefully wrapped in paper. The size of the shawls, 85x85 cm, suggests that they are not very practical. They are too small to cover a woman’s neck and hair, and therefore do not meet widespread notions of a proper female dress code among Shias. Nor do they meet the official dress standards set by Iranian authorities and cannot be worn in the Iranian public. Instead, keeping the shawl, but not necessarily wearing it, motivates in the owner a sensation of being near the saint at Karbala and of sharing in the blessed spirit generated at the saint’s burial place, due to his closeness to God.

The most potent artifact to be purchased in Karbala is the flag, alam, which waves from the domes of Husain’s and al-Abbas’ shrines. [Internet link]http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/caliphate/karbala.html The colour of the flags is red, except during the two months of commemoration, Muharram and Safar, when they are replaced by black flags to express condolence. The red flag is changed every third month and distributed among individuals and institutions. Members of the women association a mosque in Oslo, run by

Fig. 03

people of Iraqi origin, were able to purchase a red flag from the shrine of al-Abbas through their close connections with keepers at the shrine. [Figure 3] The flag carries the inscription “O, Moon of Hashem’s clan”, a famous al-Abbas epithet.

The women association does not have a permanent meeting place but hosts ritual activities in temporary rented localities, such as cafeterias. Wherever they hold ceremonies, imageries, wall hangings and flags become important markers of ritual time and space (see Ishaq, this volume). They represent cultural continuity and frame identity in a highly dynamic ritual space. Black is the preferred colour used for commemoration ceremonies, and symbolises condolence. Despite its red colour, the flag from the shrine of al-Abbas is used exclusively for the annual commemoration during Muharram. The reason given is that the flag is closely associated with al-Abbas as well as Husain, whose shrines are situated next to each other. In addition to denoting liturgical time and space, the flag is used to create a certain mood or atmosphere, hal, which is intended to assist ritual participants in focusing their attention on spiritual matters and motivating the expressions of mourning and condolence to create an opportunity to receive grace, fayz mibare. Such use of wall hangings to decorate permanent and temporary ritual locations during religious festivals is common in Shia communities in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and India.16

The flag is held to bring blessing, barakat, and ritual participants are invited to share in the flag’s mediating power during a rite performed on the 13th of Muharram. Towards the end of the commemorative ritual, women take the alam of al-Abbas off the wall and carry it around the room, among the ritual participants, to allow the women to touch it. The touch is an embodied expression of alliance and commitment, and serves as the occasion for presenting a supplication. It also offers protection as the believer may share in the beneficial power conveyed through the flag. Some women bind a knot on the flag, hoping that when it is undone, God will answer their prayers.17 In this rite, the women thus act upon the alam in ways similar to the way they behave during a physical visit to Al-Abbas’ shrine. 

Fig. 04

In Iran, wall hangings, parcham, are popular components of decorative programmes in ritual locations. Similar to the case discussed above, they are used to denote liturgical time and to create a favourable atmosphere, hal, for ritual performance. [Figure 4] Wall hangings are purchased from local workshops and vendors, but they are also popular gifts to bring home from pilgrimage to pan Shia shrine sites in Iraq.18 The pilgrimage ephemera can be identified because they are referred to as gifts, hadyeh, from Karbala and Najaf. When displayed in ritual locations, they enhance the spiritual connection between Shia saints and devotees, and between shrine sites and local communities, as well as turn local ritual location into favourable sites for repenting sins and presenting supplications. Many wall hangings are personalised with captions stating they are endowments, vaqf, and offerings, taqdimi and are donated as ex-voto, thanks giving, to public ritual locations. As votive gifts, the wall hangings are proofs of the saints’ successful mediation and God’s intervention.19 They are held to convey the saint’s mediating and protective power, similar to the flag from al-Abbas’ shrine and the sarcophagus described above. Before and after the formal liturgy, devotees may therefore approach wall hangings and touch them in order to participate in their beneficiary power.

Fig. 05

The wall hangings’ iconography and calligraphy are important vehicles for devotees to contemplate religious truths and connect spiritually with saints and God.20 The iconography in the wall hanging in Figure 5 [Figure 5] presents imaginary portraits of Imam Ali holding his sword Zu al-Feqar and standing behind a lion; Imam Husayn represented on a horse and holding his son Ali Asghar; and al-Abbas presented on a horse, dressed in amour, and apparently located in a river. In the upper corners are representations of Husayn and al-Abbas’ shrines. From the top of the domes flutters a red flag, imitating the flag commonly used at the shrines. The calligraphic embroidery invokes the name of God, Muhammad, Fatemeh Ali, Husayn, al-Abbas, and the remaining Imams, and praise Ali as the “Lion of God, the Victorious”, and al-Abbas, as “O Water Carrier of the Thirsty at Karbala”, and presents Quran quotations (Surat 33:33, 6:91). Through the visual encounter the mind of the viewer is oriented towards recollecting the holy figure to which one wishes to express alliance, support, sympathy, and seek help from. The decorations thus prepare the viewers mentally and emotionally for participating in commemorative rites that are believed to produce personal merit, savab, and are hence a source of salvation.

Although purchased in Iraq, the iconography can be traced back to a vibrant religious visual culture developing in Iran during the Qajar era (1794-1925), and are today commonly known in Iran through the mass production of colour posters [Figure 6, 7 and 8].21 Such posters are also available in Shia areas in Iraq, although the trade is not as wide spread as in Iran. In Iran, the posters are available in the bazaars and poster boots, and could at the beginning of the 21th century be observed on display in ritual locations, peoples’ homes, in office spaces and in shops. Iranian viewers will thus have no problem identifying the characters represented on the wall hangings purchased from Iraq, and in understanding the symbolic and narrative significations of the visual representations of these famous Shia mediators.

Fig. 06

Fig. 07

Fig. 08

Many people are not able to make a ziyarat to pan Shia shrines. The reasons may range from poor health to lack of funding, or other difficulties faced back home. But one could also add the fact that several years of political instability in Iraq contributed to a restriction of access. This way, bringing fabrics, shawls, flags, and wall hangings from pan Shia shrines is a way to distribute and share in the beneficial power conveyed at the shrine in local communities abroad. Yet another method is to perform a visitation to a proxy shrine.

Performing visitation to a proxy shrine and tomb

Fig. 09

In Shiraz, women may perform a ziyarat by visiting proxy tombs made of objects donated to the saints. Ruqayyeh is popular Shia saint and her shrine in Damascus is visited by Shia pilgrims from all over the world. Her tomb is mentioned in the first Damascene pilgrimage guide, written by Ibn al-Hawrani (d.1592).22 In 2002, a temporary constructed proxy of the shrine was presented at women-only ceremonies commemorating Ruqayyeh’s death in the Islamic month Safar (following Muharram) [Figure 9]. The design did not share any resemblance with the original in Damascus but was motivated by a dream experience by the husband of the woman hosting the ceremonies.23 The proxy’s base was a wooden plate (50 x 30 cm) wrapped in green material. Above was raised a canopy made of lengths of cloths in different colours donated as votive gifts to Ruqayyeh. The canopy was overlaid with colourful light bulbs. When completed, the proxy shrine was made available to ritual participants who modified its appearance by presenting more gifts to Ruqayyeh, such as cakes, sweets, shoes and dolls. The gifts were placed inside the canopy. The choice of gifts reflects the women’s opinion on how one could have comforted Ruqayyeh when she, it is said, was made an orphan at the battle at Karbala at the age of four, and forced to walk barefoot to the Caliph’s palace in Damascus. Some gifts were presented as invocations to call upon the saint’s attention, while others were part of thanksgiving. In both cases, the gifts testified to the saint’s mediating powers and the rewarding results of visiting the proxy shrine. Ruqayyeh is believed to protect, in particular, children and to help infertile women. The power of the proxy shrine to attract the saint’s attention was held to be conveyed by the votive gifts out of which it has been made. The gifts were later distributed to the poor to support them practically and to let them participate in the sharing of the blessings conveyed by the offerings.

Fig. 10

Fig. 11

The women’s visit to the proxy shine was not part of the formal liturgy. Instead, the shrine was visited by female ritual performers before and after the ceremony. Women approached the proxy shrine to kiss it, to wipe their face with the fabrics which it was made with, bend next to it to pray, touch the many gifts inside the canopy presented to Ruqayyeh, and bring cakes and sweets home after the ceremony. [Figure 10 and 11]. The behaviour imitates the way pilgrims behave when visiting an official shrine. For the women visiting the proxy shrine on order to present supplications, votive gifts, or sharing votive gifts, the visit was as valuable as a pilgrimage to the official shrine in Damascus. An important factor justifying the idea is their underlying intention. The belief is that God will see in their heart the sincere intentions of honouring the saint and God and believing in their powers and mercy. Nevertheless, the power of the official burial site is not completely ignored. The host declared her intention on behalf of the women to bring the offerings presented at the proxy shrine to the shrine in Damascus. In that case, the proxy would serve as a mediating step for women in a local community to forward their offerings to the pan-Shia shrine and benefit from the saintly power emerging from the saint’s tomb.

Fig. 13


Fig. 12

For the commemoration of the death of Imam Zayn al-Abedin, a representation of his grave was made for a women-only ceremony in a ritual hall on the 25th of Muharram, 2002 [Figure 12]. Zayn al-Abedin survived the battle at Karbala but is said to have been poisoned by Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik later. He is therefore also considered a martyr. Zayn al-Abedin was buried at al-Baqi’ cemetery in Medina. In 1925, the mausoleums in the cemetery were demolished by King Abdul Aziz al-Saud, a decision inspired by Wahhabi ideology, which abhors the veneration of saints and graves. 24

The site of the old cemetery is today a walled ground scattered by small heaps of sand each marked by a simple stone, indicating the anonymous graves of important men and women in Islamic history [Figure 13]. The al-Baqi’ cemetery is a popular site to visit for Shiites participating in the minor (umrah) and major (hajj) pilgrimage, but the current lay-out and strict Saudi monitoring of the pilgrims’ behaviour make it difficult to conduct a commemoration cult on the site. Moreover, women are not allowed to enter the site due to Wahhabi notions of appropriate gender behaviour.

The representation of Zayn al-Abedin’s demolished shrine imitated the barren and deserted site of the cemetery in Medina. A simple prayer mat was placed on the carpeted floor in the ceremonial hall and covered by sand formed in an oval shape, to represent the sand-covered site in Medina. In the centre was placed a vase with a bouquet of flowers made of plastic, and along the edge were positioned small white candles. In one corner of the praying rug was a jar with rose water. At one end of the proxy tomb was positioned a book-stand, rehal, holding a Quran, on top of which was a black turban. The turban symbolically referred to Zayn al-Abedin, while the combined sign of the Quran and turban underlined his genealogical connection to the Prophet and his role as interpreter of the message of the sacred book. The representation of the saint’s burial place functioned as a gathering place for mourners who used it as a site where they could pay their respect and ask supplications while lighting candles and presenting fresh flowers.

"Shrine scapes” and “barakat scapes”

Benefactor In Twelver Shiism, the physical visitation to a saint’s shrine allows the pilgrim to benefit from the divine and saintly benediction conveyed at the saint’s burial site. The fifth Imam, al-Baqir, has however, given instructions on how to perform a symbolic visit to the shrines at Karbala. Whoever recites the supplication called ziyarat ashura is said to be rewarded similarly to those who physically travel to Karbala.25 The Shias have expanded on the idea by using material objects and visualizations as vehicles for distributing the power conveyed at pilgrimage sites into geographically distant communities, although the power of the original site is not ignored. Pieces of fabrics are brought into physical contact with shrines and distributed among believers, who wear ribbons for protection and touch flags and fabrics which serve as vehicles for the saint’s intersession and God’s grace. Wall hangings purchased at the shrine sites are also considered important links between sacred places and ritual spaces. When displayed in ritual locations at home, ritual participants relate to the objects kinaesthetically in order to present invocations. The visual encounter is, moreover, expected to create a favourable atmosphere, hal, for presenting supplications. Another alternative to the physical journey to a pilgrimage site is the visitation to a proxy shrine or tomb. The authenticity of the proxy is produced by the power of the votive gifts out of which it is made, and its ability to channel prayers and blessing. Albeit, it is important to note that while the proxy can function as a stand-in, it cannot replace the original. It functions as a stand-in because there is an original to which it refers. Popular belief in the ability of images and fabrics to convey divine and saintly power is reflected in the devotees’ interaction with and handling of the objects, which resembles devotional practices performed at the shrines.

Fig. 19

 The belief in the power of artifacts to convey God’s grace is not exclusively Shia Islamic or sectarian, and may not be understood as simply “popular” as opposed to “official” practice. The large black cloth, kiswah, covering the Kaaba in Mecca is exchanged every year and the old cloth is divided into small pieces and presented as gifts to certain individuals.26 [Figure 19]. Because the cloth has been placed on the Kaaba, it is held to convey God’s blessing. In this respect, the use of the alam from Karbala can be compared with the kiswah from Mecca.

 The juxtaposition of Shia devotional behaviour in Iraq, Iran, and Norway demonstrates that the popular visual and material culture and devotional behavior at the shrines are reproduced at home, creating a familiar devotional behavior that link places, communities, and cultures. Whereas the movement of people is essential to pilgrimage,27 this study show that also material objects travel, and with them ideas, iconography, and, from the perspective of the devotees, the divine benediction conveyed at the shrines. The flow of images and artifacts create real, symbolic, spiritual and social connections between Shia environments transnationally to create a shared topography expressed through aesthetic expressions. In the sacred geography of Islam, the Kaaba in Mecca is given a sanctified status as the shrine site where the devotee may stand before God, wuquf, and devotees are recommended to perform a pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime. The present study of pilgrimage to Shia shrines suggests the sacred topography to be more complex. Saintly grace may move beyond the shrine site. The ability of artifacts to transmit grace and protection in locations distant to the shrines, suggest that the mapping out of pilgrimage routes and sites extends the notion of “shrine scapes” to include the notion of “barakat scapes”.


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- Call on Me I answer you. Supplications, Prayers and Ziarats. Qum: Ansariyan publications, no year given.

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- Pinault, David. The Horse of Karbala. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

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- Schubel, Vernon James. “Karbala as Sacred Space among North-American Shias:”
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1. Sect in Islam which follows twelve imams.

2. Meri 2002.

3. Coleman and Eade 2004.

4. Evers-Rosander 2004: 91-104.

5. Betteridge 1985: 222-224.  

6. The kutub al-ziyarat was written by the Kufan jusist al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn Faddal al-Taymi al-Kufi. Meri, 2002:524, 526. A pilgrimage cult is, however, reported to have developed at Karbala around 684-5 A.D. when a tomb was erected where Husain’s body was buried (see Honigmann, 1978) and by the ninth century, the Imams attempted to institutionalise the pilgrimage cult for ashura (see Nakash,1993). 

7. Nakash 1993; Nakash 1995; Sindawi 2006.

8. Mohr-e namaz is the little piece of clay from Karbala that Shia Muslims place their forehead on when prostrating themselves in prayer.

9. Interview with pilgrim of Iraqi origin, Oslo 2011.

10. A comparison of items produced in Iran over the last fifty years suggests that material, techniques, programs, and designs have changed over time and appear today in different formats. For a discussion of the parcham in Iran in the early 21th century, see Flaskerud 2010: 89-108.

11. Pinault 2001; Hyder 2006.  

12. See Betteridge, 1985: 220.

13. Interview with pilgrims in Oslo, 2010 and 2011.

14. A hay´at is an association organized on the basis of neighbourhood or occupation for the purpose of religious instruction and ritual celebration.

15. Since the Revolution in Iran in 1978-79, Fatemeh’s birthday has been officially proclaimed “Mother’s Day” (ruz-e madar) and is also celebrated as “Women’s day (ruz-e zan) with the aim of providing an Islamic alternative to “International Woman’s Day. Torab: 2007: 93.

16. See, for example, Flaskerud 2010; Hyder 2006; Pinault 2001; Schubel 1996.  

17. I have observed women do the same to fabrics used to decorate Qasem’s nuptial chamber, hajleh, in Shiraz between 2000 and 2002.

18. It is difficult to trace the history of wall hangings, as they are not labelled with the year and place of production, designer or workshop.

19. By comparison, Pakistani (Punjab and Sind) Shia devotional pictures of saints are understood to have an immediate communicative effect. The portraits’ inherent barakat is transferred to the devotee, and the devotee can enter into direct face-to-face contact with his or her saint. This belief is probably influenced by the Hindu concept of darshan. See Frembgen 1998: 189.

20. Interview, Shiraz 2003.

21. Chelkowski 1986, 1989; Peterson 1979, 1981; Vernoit 1997; Flaskerud 2010. 

22. Meri 2002: 528.

23. Flaskerud 2005: 65-91.

24. Wensinck 1960: 957-958.  

25. Call on Me I answer You 207; Ayoub 188-189.

26. Interview in Iran, 2001 and Norway, 2010.

27. Coleman and Eade, 2004.