Shahsevan - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs, Religious Practitioners, and Ceremonies. Shahsevan are Shia Muslims, who believe in Allah, respect Mohammed his Prophet, and regard Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law Ali as God's deputy. They are strongly attached to ʿAli's family, especially his son Hoseyn, who was martyred at the battle of Karbala in A . D . 680. This martyrdom is commemorated in the first ten days of the Islamic month of Moharram, the most important event of the Shahsevan religious calendar. Ceremonies in Moharram and during the fasting month of Ramazan are a community affair, directed by the elder, but with everybody contributing to the expenses of feasting and the hire of a mullah, who is brought from a nearby village or town to officiate. Every family observes the feast of Sacrifice, coinciding with annual pilgrimages to Mecca. Great respect is paid to those who have made pilgrimages to Mecca and to the Shiite shrines at Karbala and An Najaf in Iraq and at Mashhad in northeastern Iran. The departure and return of Mecca pilgrims are occasions for large gatherings of friends and relatives.

Circumcision for boys is seen as a religious duty, but religion plays little part in the ceremonies, which resemble weddings. Guests at major life-cycle ceremonies—weddings, circumcisions, pilgrimage departures, funeral feasts—are from the sponsor's circle of kheyrüshärr (lit., "good-and-bad"), those whose feasts he (or she) attends and who attend his (or hers); such guests contribute money toward the expenses of the feasting and often bring food or lend equipment.

Medicine. Shahsevan women and some men believe in the malicious power of spirits of various kinds to harm the weak, especially childbearing women, children, and animals. Beliefs in the evil eye are also common, but vague. Such beliefs are invoked only on the occasion of some malignant or unexpected illness or sudden death. In both summer and winter quarters, nomads are within a day's travel from towns and cities with modern medical facilities. These facilities are basic, however. They can be costly, and they are resorted to only in severe emergencies. Each community has at least one man and one woman with a knowledge of charms and countermeasures against evil forces and of traditional herbal and magico-religious remedies for common ailments. More powerful experts are found in the towns and villages.

Arts. In addition to the artistic textiles that are produced by the women, there is a lively tradition among both men and women of storytelling and of performing tribal songs and dances; most music at festivities today, however, is rendered by hired musicians from the villages and cities. Favorites are the minstrels who travel throughout the region to perform at wedding and circumcision feasts.

Death and Afterlife. After a death, the body is washed and buried in a nearby village graveyard, under the supervision of a mullah. Commemorative feasts follow on the third, seventh, and fortieth days, and on the anniversary of the death. As with other Shiites, there are few elaborations of standard conceptions, based on Quranic and Islamic traditions, concerning the nature of paradise and hell.

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