In the Name of Hosayn’s Blood: The Memory of Karbala as Ideological Stimulus to the Safavid Revolution

In: Journal of Persianate Studies
Riza Yildirim TOBB University of Economics and Technology Ankara

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Over the past century, one of the most heavily debated topics within Safavid historiography has been the ideological sources of the Qezelbash zeal that carried the Safavid dynasty to the throne of Persia. By now, a near-consensus has been formed about Shah Esmaʿil’s personality as an incarnation of the Godhead armed with a messianic mission of salvation. This article partly challenges this long-entrenched conceptualization by calling attention to a heretofore overlooked mission that the shaykhs of the revolutionary period set for themselves. This was their desire to avenge the spilling of Hosayn’s blood, a mission which was nothing but a reincarnation of the topos of sāheb al-khorūj or the “master of the uprising,” a heroic typology cultivated via a particular corpus of Karbala-oriented epic literature. Based on the idea that the religiosity of the Turkish-speaking milieu that constituted the Safavid movement’s grassroots was primarily shaped by this Karbala-oriented epic literature, this essay argues that Shaykh Jonayd, Shaykh Haydar, and especially Shah Esmāʿil successfully reformulated the Safavid Sufi program to address the codes of popular piety, which already existed, nurtured by Sufism and some Shiʿite elements, a particular mode of Islamic piety that I call “Shiʿite-inflected popular Sufism.”

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