inherent responsibility of Shi‘i Muslims to oppose despotic regimes. In the rhetoric of Shariati, such malevolencies as tyranny and corruption were personified by the Pahlavi regime, and as such Shariati provided religious justification for resisting the Shah. Ali Shariati’s discourse invoked powerful Shi’a Islamic imagery as a means for inspiring and mobilizing Iranians to collective action. This imagery focused around an event that is of unprecedented magnitude in Shi‘ism, an event that taps into the deepest emotions of the Iranian people, the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Shariati utilized the power of the sacrifice of Imam Hussein at Karbala to legitimize confrontation with the Pahlavi regime, and went so far as to refer to the Shah as Yazid, the caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty that was responsible for the murder of Hussein and his followers. Although Shariati was not the first to invoke Shi‘a Islamic imagery as a means for mobilizing the masses, he was the first to invoke such imagery in a strictly Iranian sense. Shariati succeeded in transforming the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala into a contemporary Iranian struggle against the Shah, and more broadly against any colonial intervention in Iranian affairs. The invocation of the Karbala paradigm is central to the Islamic ideological significance of the Iranian Revolution, and the imagery of the martyrdom of Hussein at the hands of Yazid was given a rejuvenated, strictly Iranian connotation. Ali Shariati believed that the actions of Imam Hussein and the precedent set by his martyrdom in Karbala serve as a “… prototype for all societies and all cultures” (Akhavi 140). Shariati contended that everyday is Ashura, a day in which Shi‘a Muslims self-flagellate themselves in repentance and commemoration of the events at Karbala. By invoking this
31 notion of the martyrdom of Hussein, Shariati gave religious legitimization to resisting the Shah, as he was seen as the modern day Yazid. By comparing the Shah to Yazid, Shariati, as well as Khomeini, tapped into the emotional subconscious of the Iranian people. According to Shi‘i custom, the lesson learned by the martyrdom of Hussein is that the Shi‘i population has a religious and social responsibility to oppose any despotic, corrupt ruler, much like Hussein did to Yazid. Politically charged slogans invoking the martyrdom of Hussein became ubiquitous in pre-revolutionary Iran, particularly during the 1970’s. Michael Fischer, a prominent scholar on Iran, captures the essence of Hussein as a symbolic figure when he writes, “… his martyrdom is the model for others to emulate… The symbolism of martyrdom was thus omnipresent. Wall graffiti proclaimed that those who died did the work of Husayn… and those who did not fight did the work of Yazid” (Fischer 214).