University of Cambridge > > Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars > Memories of Ashura: A photographic essay from Zanzibar before and after the Revolution

Memories of Ashura: A photographic essay from Zanzibar before and after the Revolution

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Each year on Ashura (the 10th day of the month of Moharrum in the Islamic calendar), Muslims commemorate the death of the Prophet’s grandson, Husain, at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. For Shia Muslims, this commemoration takes the form of intense mourning for martyrs. For certain sects, like the Ithna-asheri, feeling the pain of the martyrs involves feeling pain themselves. Most dramatically such pain is often induced by self-flagellation with chain-whips during a religious procession. This paper focuses on the commemoration of Ashura by the Ithna-asheri of Zanzibar, and is based around a sequence of photographs of an Ashura procession taken there in 1957 by Dr Edward Margetts, a Canadian psychiatrist and photographer who was based in Kenya in the late 1950s. Since the revolution of 1964 many of Zanzibar’s Ithna-asheri fled the island, but these original photographs, matched with more recent images from the same processional route, offer a vivid portrait of an Ashura procession and document a time and a place in the history of this community now looked back on with much nostalgia.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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