The relationship between attitudes to death and the social order is examined through a recent case study from Pakistan. In February 1983, 38 Shiah Muslims entered the Arabian Sea at Hawkes Bay in response to revelations received by one of their numbers. 18 of them died. Various social factors, which may help explain the incident are discussed, including tensions arising from changing contemporary values, local attitudes to leadership and the kinship connexions of the participants. The case also raises important issues about concepts of death, sacrifice and martyrdom among Shiah and Sunni Muslims, and shows how ideas about the status of the individual in the after-world may affect social behaviour in this one. In this article, I examine the relationship between attitudes to death and the social order. The anthropological literature on this subject is not extensive and information on Muslim societies is particularly scarce. I will raise some of the related issues through a recent case study from Pakistan-the Hawkes Bay case. In late February 1983, 38 people-all Shiah-entered the Arabian sea at Hawkes Bay in Karachi. The women and children in the group, about half the number, had been placed in six large trunks. The leader of the group, Sayyad Willayat Hussain Shah, pointing his religious banner at the waves, led the procession. Willayat Shah believed that a path would open in the sea, which would lead him to Basra, from where the party would proceed to Karbala, the holy city in Iraq. A few hours later, almost half the party had lost their lives and the survivors emerged in varying stages of exhaustion and consciousness. Pakistan was astonished and agog at the incident. Religious leaders, intellectuals and newspapers discussed the event thread-bare. The discussions revealed almost as much about those participating in them as they did about the incident. Some intellectuals saw the episode as evidence of “insanity” and the leaders of the group were described as “mentally unbalanced individuals with twisted and deviant personalities, the source of death and destruction.” Sunnis dismissed the matter as yet another Shiah aberration from orthodox Islam. The Shiahs, on the other hand, pointed to the event as a confirmation of their faith. Only the Shiahs, they argued, were capable of such extreme devotion, of such a sacrifice. It was, undoubtedly, a case rooted in Shiah mythology, which preconditioned the community to respond to, and enact, the drama. (The Shiah lived in Chakwal Tehsil, in the Province of Punjab.) Willayat Shah believed that a path would open in the sea, which would lead him to Basra, from where the party would proceed to Karbala, the holy city in Iraq. Chakwal Tehsil: Willayat Shah’s family lived in a small village, Rehna Sayyadan, about ten miles from Chakwal Tehsil in Jhelum District. Jhelum, on the main Grand Trunk Road, is about seventy miles from Chakwal Tehsil. A population of about 250,000 live in the Tehsil. Chakwal and Jhelum are areas of rainfed agriculture, unlike the canal colonies, in the Punjab, of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) and Sahiwal, with their rich irrigated lands. The population of the village itself is about 2,000, mainly consisting of Sayyads, the upper social group, and Arain, the lower. The latter is challenging the authority of the former through new channels of employment, hard work and frugality. The village is somewhat isolated from the rest of Pakistan. Electricity has only recently arrived and the road to Chakwal is not yet metalled. This is one of the hottest areas in the country. Winters are short and the rainfall (about 2011) is unreliable. Poor harvests have pushed people off the land to look for employment outside the Tehsil. Many have joined the armed services (Jhelum District is a rich recruiting ground for the Pakistan Army) and from the 1960s, the Arab states offered employment opportunities. Willayat Shah, after he served as a junior officer in the Pakistan Air Force, left to work in Saudi Arabia. He returned to Pakistan in 1981 after a stay of four years. Rehna Sayyadan is self-consciously religious. Its very name announces a holy lineage, that of the Sayyads, the descendants of the Holy Prophet, and means “the abode of the Sayyads.” Many of the Shiah actors in the drama bear names derived from members of the Holy Prophet’s family: Abbass and Hussain for men, and Fatima for women. But there is tension in the area between Shiahs and Sunnis, a tension made more acute by the fact that their numbers are equally balanced. The economic subordination of the Sunni by the Shiah reinforces the tension. The conflict between Shiahs and Sunnis easily converts into a conflict between landlord and tenant. This opposition also runs through the local administration. The local government councillor, for example, is Sunni, but the village lambardar (head man) is Shiah. Even families are divided along Shiah-Sunni lines and where individuals have changed affiliation, relationships have been severely strained. (There are at least four known cases of Sunni affiliation closely related to the main actor in the drama, Naseem Fatima). The tension is exacerbated by the current emphasis on Sunni forms of religion by the Government of Pakistan. The Shiahs, about 20 per cent of Pakistan’s 90 million people, resent this emphasis. The Jamaat-e-Islami, the major orthodox Sunni political party of Pakistan, is active in the area. In the background is the larger ideological tension between the Shiahs and Sunnis in Pakistan. From 1980 onwards, this tension became severe and led to clashes between the two, especially in Karachi. Beyond the south-western borders of Pakistan, vigorous Shiah revivalism in Iran has unsettled neighbouring Sunni states allied to Pakistan, such as Saudi Arabia. Willayat Shah was living in Saudi Arabia when Imam Khomeini returned to Iran at the head of his revolution in 1979. Being a devout Shiah, he would have been inspired by the message and success of the Imam, but Saudi Arabia was no place to express his rekindled Shiah enthusiasm. He would, however, have been dreaming dreams around the themes of the revolution: sacrifice, death, change and martyrdom. His first act on returning home was to begin the construction of a mosque. The Hawkes Bay Case: On the 18th of February, 1981, Willayat Shah had been engrossed in supervising the construction of the mosque. Late that evening, Naseem Fatima, his eldest child, entered his bedroom and announced she had been visited by a revelation (basharat). She had heard the voice of a lady speaking to her through the walls of the house. The apprehensive father suggested she identify the voice. For the first few days, the voice was identified as that of Bibi Ruqayya, the step-sister of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet, buried in Karbala. Some handprints next appeared on the wall of Willayat Shah’s bedroom. They were made with henna mixed with clay. A handprint has highly emotive significance among the Shiah. It is symbolic of the five holiest people in Islam: the Holy Prophet (PBUH), his daughter, Hazrat Fatima, his son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, and his grandsons, Hazrat Hassan and Hazrat Imam Hussain. The news of the handprints spread like wildfire in the area. The impact on the village was electric. One informant described it as follows: for the next 15 days or so, the usual business of life came to a halt. People gave up their work, women stopped even cooking meals. Everyone gathered in the house of Willayat Hussain to see the print, to touch it, to pray and to participate in the mourning (azadari), which was constantly going on. The azadari, a recitation of devotional hymns and poems in honour of, in particular, Hazrat Hussain, was a direct consequence of the handprints. It created a highly-charged and contagious atmosphere among the participants. Sunnis, however, were cynical about the whole affair. They would remain adamant opponents of Naseem’s miracles (maujza). Opinion was divided among the Shiah. Established families, such as the Sayyads, scoffed at Naseem and her miracles and, at first, both Willayat Shah and his daughter had their doubts. As if to dispel these doubts, Imam Mahdi, or Imam-e-Ghaib, the twelfth Imam, himself appeared in the dreams of Naseem. Earlier, Bibi Roqayya had announced that the Imam rather than she would communicate with Naseem. The Imam wore white clothes and was of a pleasing appearance. All doubts in her mind were now dispelled and he addressed her as Bibi Pak (pure lady). The Imam, with whom she now communicated directly, began to deliver explicit orders (amar). One commanded the expulsion of the carpenter, working for Willayat in his house and who had overcharged him by a thousand rupees, in connivance with the contractor. He was ordered never to work at a Sayyad’s house again, or both would be losers in the transaction. To compensate Willayat, the Imam placed five hundred rupees in a copy of the Holy Quran and ordered the carpenter to pay the remaining five hundred. The orders increased in frequency. They soon included matters of property and marriage. The family, at least, no longer doubted the miracles. They obeyed the divine orders without question. During the revelations, Naseem would demand complete privacy in her room. Her condition would change. She would quiver and tremble. Noises would sound in her head beforehand and the trauma of the revelations often caused her to faint after wards. The orders would come to her on the days the Imams died or were made martyrs. “The Imam,” according to her father, “had captured her mind and heart.” (To Be Continued) The writer is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies (School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC) and a Wilson Center Global Fellow.