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Prayer, Mosque, and Pilgrimage: Mapping Shī'ī Sectarian Identity in 2nd/8th Century Kūfa

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I propose a narrative for the emergence of sectarian consciousness rooted in distinctive ritual practice and geographical space. This differs from recent studies of early Imāmī Shī'ism which tend to focus on historical struggles for political power or theological disputes about religious authority (i.e., the imāmate). I conclude that an observable proto-Imāmī identity began to crystallize in early 2nd/8th century Kūfa. In an urban environment characterized by a growing correlation between communal identity and ritual practice, the Imāmīs carved out distinctive sacred spaces in Kūfa, frequenting a set of revered mosques and avoiding others associated with hostile elements. Over time, Imāmīs increasingly emphasized smaller pilgrimages (ziyārāt) to shrines and other locations of historical and religious significance (e.g., 'Alī's shrine and al-Husayn's grave in Karbalā'). By the early 5th/11th century, participation in large processions to holy sites constituted a clear public declaration of communal loyalty.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, PO Box 3003, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA 17604-3003


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