this ritual i wish you could see
‫ـــــجـــــــــــــــــوبــة‬ ‫طـــقـــــــــوس‬ ‫الصـحــــــراء‬ ‫ــــاكـــــــــــاة‬
Over a year ago, we encountered Facebook events set up by Shi'i municipal councils in Beirut and South Lebanon inviting community members to “experience” Ashura through virtual reality. Shia Islam’s commemoration of Ashura, on the tenth day of Muharram, involves recalling the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, killed by the Caliph of Damascus’ troops during the battle of Karbala in ٦۸۰ CE. VR Karbala simulates the final hours of the Imam Hussain; the virtual reality apparatus was imported by local Shi’i political figures, touring Lebanese towns and villages throughout the month of Muharram. Originally developed in the Netherlands, VR Karbala sought to respond to concerns regarding the supposed lack of safety inherent in the performance of procession rituals and its illegality in certain contexts, sublimating these rituals into virtual reality. Contemporary ritualistic performances involve believers imposing physical forms of pain on themselves, causing scars and wounds during procession marches. That the VR narrative was produced by diasporic actors is not insignificant, knowing that Ashura ritual performances could not be performed in their native intensity in the heavily regulated, hypersecular context of the Netherlands, affording the opportunity to heighten the sensorial realm through which the ritual is performed all the while eliminating the corporeal pain that accompanies the afore-mentioned ritual performances. Could it be that the performance of ritual processions around the martyrdom of Imam Hussain had come full circle in the age of digital reproduction?
impassioned civilians who must take on military duty