Flagellation and Fundamentalism: (Trans)forming Meaning, Identity, and Gender through Pakistani Women’s Rituals of Mourning

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American Anthropological Association


In July 1991 I was able to return to my Fulbright position in Peshawar after a six-month evacuation necessitated by the Gulf War. My euphoria was blemished by my discomfort at being an American and thus inevitably connected with American foreign policy. Knowing how distressed my friends in Peshawar had felt about the possibility of an American war against their fellow Muslims in Iraq, I apprehensively wondered how I would be received. It was the month of Muharram, Americans reminded me during my Islamabad stopover. During this Arabic lunar month, Shi'a Muslims commemorate the A.D. 680 martyrdom of Imam Husein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.1 I should stay in the capital for the next several days, these Americans suggested; business would be closed down in Peshawar, and violence might erupt. As I had concentrated on Muharram rituals and politics in earlier research in Iran, however, I was delighted with this inadvertent timing and at once made plans for a flight to Peshawar.