Destiny in hindsight: Impotentiality and intentional action in contemporary Yemen

Luca Nevola


Zaydis are a Shiite sect, widespread in Highland Yemen, that upholds a doctrine of free will and human accountability. However, in everyday discursive practices, they indulge in a widespread usage of a destiny-related language. Building on this apparent contradiction, this article investigates how social actors give meaning to critical durations of their life through the distinction between qadar and nasib, thus investigating the interplay of intentionality and temporality. Moving away from the English gloss destiny, the article argues that the distinction between qadar (the power to act within limits fixed by God’s decree) and nasib (the actualization of this potential) describes a critical duration characterized by uncertain futures and multiaspectual moralities. Narratives organized by references to nasib can thus be interpreted as ex post facto ethical reflections through which social actors “step back” and rationalize their past lived experience.


Yemen, potential, marriage, Shiite, free will, fate

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/698224