“The Thirst, and the Sun, and the Bleeding”: Ḥusayn as a Passible Liminal Figure in pro-ʿAlid Hagiography
Perkins, Tasi Bradford
Werpehowski, William J
This dissertation aims to contribute a bridge in theological dialogue between Islam and Christianity. It specifically addresses the ontology of God, focusing on one fundamental concept therein. Divine passibility, God’s ability to change, has long been contested. Dating back millennia, and largely codified in Aristotelian thought, the notion that God is impervious to change (impassible) was in ascendancy for centuries. Yet the horrors of the twentieth century have called into question the notion of an utterly and solely transcendent deity—where is God in a suffering world? This dissertation focuses on two figures born thirteen centuries apart. Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926) posed a powerful challenge to divine impassibility in his 1972 The Crucified God. Most strains of Islam historically have insisted on divine impassibility, but the narrative of Muḥammad’s grandson Ḥusayn (626-680) suggests otherwise. His martyrdom on the plains of Karbalāʾ, as chronicled by his later devotees, is an occasion for grief that echoes throughout the cosmos and affects even God. Using the heuristic concepts referred to here as, “theology from below,” a “fuser of horizons,” a “liminal hero,” and “narrative theology,” this dissertation shows that there is in Islam a near correlate to Moltmann’s assertion that God is intimately involved in human experience. After establishing these theological concepts and providing an overview of Moltmann’s thesis, it turns to a close reading of three texts from the late Abbasid era (roughly 750-1258) from the genre known as maqtal al-Ḥusayn (Arabic: “slaying of Ḥusayn;” plural: maqātil al-Ḥusayn) approached through the hermeneutical lens of divine passibility. It concludes with an assessment of the compatibility between these two understandings of God’s relationship to passion. God, it would seem in the final reading, is affected, and this has great sociological implications—this is the God of the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the wounded.
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