The Islamic College, London, UK
This paper explores how Shi‘i sacred history and hagiography communicate social norms about race. It problematizes the characterization of Jawn ibn Huwayy in the Karbala narrative as the African slave at the Battle of Karbala and traces the evolution of a racialized portrayal of him in Shi‘i texts. It also raises the question of whether Jawn ibn Huwayy actually existed, or whether he was a racialized construction built upon the stereotype of an African slave who entered communal memory later. It contrasts the ‘othering’ of Jawn through his Africanness against the common perception of an Arabo-Iranian norm, reinforced through drawings of the twelve Imams with Arab or Iranian features. This norm is then challenged through presenting the Imams in an ethnic image which reflects their racial backgrounds (as reported in Shi‘i narrations) to create cognitive dissonance and explore subconscious assumptions about race and divine authority in contemporary Shi‘ism.