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Maqtal is a genre of historical monographs narrating the martyrdom of notable Muslim individuals and particularly Shi’a infallible Imams. Most of such works, known as Maqtal al-Hussain, have been devoted to the tragedy of Karbala and martyrdom of Hussain ibn Ali. Thus, the term became mostly used for the events related to martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions.

Origin and Characteristics[edit | edit source]

While Hussaini Alids remained quiet politically, a tradition of pilgrimage to the tombs of Hussain and the other Karbala martyrs quickly developed. Although they were to be repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, from ʿAbbasid times onwards, the tomb and mausoleum (mashhad) also benefited from generous gifts and endowments from rulers of various dynasties, including the Buyids, Seljuqs, Il-Khanids, Safavids, and Qajars, which helped it to survive and flourish. The shrine suffered more recently when it was sacked by the Wahhabis in 1215/1801. Many pilgrimage (ziara) texts dedicated to Hussain and the martyrs of Karbala therefore came to be written, which could be recited in actual (or mental) pilgrimages. In association with this pilgrimage, a genre of religious literature also evolved, called maqtal or maqatel after the Maqtal al-Hussain attributed to the traditionist Abu Mikhnaf.[1] These texts contain many more stories that are more miraculous and supernatural than historical sources such as Tabari’s Tarikh, and they include accounts of Mokhtar’s vengeance. Although originally in Arabic, the maqatel inspired the Turkish and Persian maqtal-namas, which were recited by storytellers (maddah) who also produced other religious epics, such as Abu Moslem-nama, Mokhtar-nama, and Jang-e Mohammad-e Hanafiya. Rather than grief and lamentation, these epics emphasize the theme of vengeance by the so-called “73 avengers of Hussain’s blood,” most of whom are non-historical, such as Mohammad b. al-Hanafiya.

Further Development[edit | edit source]

In addition to these religious epics, elegiac poetry [2] in Arabic and Persian about the Ahl-e Bayt (q.v.), particularly Hussain and the Karbala martyrs, was increasingly composed by authors of both Shiʿite and Sunnite persuasion. Under the Seljuqs (1038-1194), this devotional literature spread widely through storytellers. During this time, elegies (marathi) and eulogies(manaqeb) continued to be composed, in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, by learned theologians, poets, and popular storytellers. A major synthesis of maqatel and manaqeb literature was provided by Hussain-Waʿez Kashefi (d. 910/1504-05) in his Rawzat al-Shuhada. During the imposition of Twelver Shiʿism by the Safavids (1501-1722), Kashefi’s work became the textbook of preachers, thus called rawza-khans, who also continued to use material from epic, elegiac, theological, and historical literature.

Famous Maqatel[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. d. 157/774; on Arabic maqtals, see e.g., al-Mowaffaq al-Kharazmi, Maqtal al-Hussain li’l-Kharazmi, Najaf, 1367/1947; ʿAbd-al-Razzaq Musawi, Maqtal al-Ḥosayn aw Hadith Karbala, Najaf, 1383/1963. On Turco-Persian Maqtal literature, see Calmard, 1975, pp. 220 ff.
  2. marthiya; on Persian marṯiya literature dedicated to the martyrs of Karbala and other Shiʿite sacred figures, see Calmard, 1975, pp. 193 ff., 510 ff.; Clarke, pp. 13-28; Hanaway; and Haywood

3. J. Calmard, “Le Culte de l’Imam Hussain. Etude sur la commémoration du drame de Karbala dans l’Iran pré-safavide,” unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Sorbonne, Paris, 1975.

Source[edit | edit source]