Noor Zaidi

  • Fellowship year:2013-2014
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Middle East
  • Dissertation Title: The Prophet's Other Messengers: Sayyida Zaynab, Bibi Pak Daman and the Construction on Shiite Sacred Geography.
  • This dissertation is a comparative study of the Bibi Pak Daman shrine in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in Damascus, Syria. These sites house the graves of Ruqayyah and Zaynab, two daughters of AIi, the founder of Shiite Islam, who are credited with spreading of the message of Islam in their travels. By focusing on these two sisters and their shrines, this dissertation will address the process of imagining, activating, and contesting a gendered sacred geography and how these sites have become interwoven into national narratives after Syrian and Pakistani independence in 1946 and 1947. These shrines function on three levels - the transnational, the national, and the transactional. They are not settled spaces, but rather "lieux de memoire" as Pierre Nora describes, operating between history, tradition, and collective memory, actively shaped by narratives, theological debates, political ideologies, and conflict over authority of space and ritual. In debates over hagiographies, patronage, and ritual, they reveal deep fissures and anxieties over gender and public practice, religious devotionalism, and the challenges modern nation-building projects. The dissertation highlights how Ruqayyah and Zaynab's stories and shrines affect religious practice and politics in the countries to which they came and the ways in which governments attempt to mediate the line between promotion and control of pilgrimage in two multi-denominational societies.