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Rituals of Ashura – Lawful and Unlawful

This is a translated article, original source: Shaykh Abbas al-Musa

There is no doubt that Imam al-Hussain (as) is the Imam whose obedience is obligatory. He was the revolutionary martyr. The remembrance of his life and martyrdom will live forever. His remembrance is a ritual which represents the message of change in Islamic circles. His remembrance possesses that revolution which has high and noble goals to serve humanity and illuminate the path for all those who belongs to any effective government. However, the question is…

How to keep these rituals in accordance with sanctity of the Imam and his noble goals?

How can these rituals manifest educational, moral and intellectual impacts?

There are many rituals of Ashura – some are from the times of Prophet (saw) and Ahl al-Bayt (as), while others are innovated or invented by public or some scholars. Therefore, we have attempted to illustrate some of those rituals to identify what is permissible and what is not permissible based on the narrations of Ahl al-bayt (as). Before moving forward, let us understand what is meant by “Tawqeefiyatul sha’air” (Tawqeefi Rituals)?

Tawqeefiyatul Sha’air – توقيفية الشعائر

The meaning of Tawqeefiyah is that a ritual is based on a legitimate text from the Prophet (saw) or Imams of Ahl al-bayt (as), or an action performed by them as evidence of it, or affirmation by Imams to an act performed in front of them. And therefore, if we believe in this methodology, the hukm (ruling) of permissibility of any ritual is not possible unless there is a legitimate text revealed indicating that it is a sha’ira (permissible ritual).

And if we reject this methodology then people are free to perform rituals as they deem appropriate, in a way adequate with their taste and frame of mind without any boundary and restrictions of shariah – I do not think anyone will accept this (methodology).

And therefore, we say that it is necessary to abide by what is stated in the narrations of Ahl al-Bayt (as). However, the abidance should not be just on its firmness but rather the way of it, for example lamentation for which there are many narrations. Here we will list some of the rituals and discuss about its lawfulness or unlawfulness:

1. Establishment of Lamentation on Imam al-Hussain (as)

There are many narrations about it. Allama Amini has mentioned in his book (Seerah wa Sunnah Rasul Allah) ten situations where Prophet (saw) announced the death of Imam al-Hussain (as) since the birth of Imam Hussain (as). This is a big evidence that establishment of lamentation on Imam al-Hussain (as) is a sha’ira (permissible ritual). We will mention one of the narrations:

Al-Hafiz al-Kabeer Abul Qasim al-Tabarani (al-Mujam al-Kabeer) mentioned tarjama of Imam al-Hussain (as) and said: Abdullah b. Ahmad b. Hanbal narrated to us from Ebad b. Ziyad al-Asadi from Amr b. Sabit from al-A’mash from Abi Wail Shaqiq b. Salma from Umm Salama. She said: Al-Hasan and al-Hussain (may Allah be pleased with them) were playing in the hands of Prophet (saw) in my house. Jibrael came and said: O Muhammad your Ummah will kill this son of yours after you. And he pointed towards al-Hussain (as). Prophet (saw) wept and took Imam al-Hussain in his arms. Then Prophet (saw) said: I leave with you this soil. Then Prophet (saw) smelled the soil and said: it smells the scent of suffering and calamity.

She said: Rasool Allah (saw)said: O Umm Salama, when this soil turns into blood, know that my son has been killed. Then Umm Salama put it in a bottle. Then she used to see it every day and say: The day this sand turns into blood will be a severe day.

Al-Hafiz Abul Qasim b. Asakir al-Dimishqi (in Tarikh al-Shaam) said: Abu Ali al-Haddad and others informed us -ijaza (with authority)- they said: Abu Bakr b. Rayza narrated from Sulayman b. Ahmad (al-Hafiz al-Tabarani) from Abdullah b. Ahmad b. Hanbal with the same sanad and wordings except that it has (ويح كرب وبلا) instead of (ريح كرب وبلا.) i.e. scent of suffering and calamity.

Tarikh al-Shaam

He said: Al Hafiz Yusuf b. Khalil b. Abdullah Al-Dimishqi reported to us from Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Abi Zayd Al-Karani from Fatima Bint Abdullah bin Ahmad Al-Jawzdaniyah from Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Abdullah b. Zayda from Abul Qasim Sulaiman b. Ahmad b. Tabarani from Abdullah b. Ahmad b. Hanbal with the same chain and wordings of Ibn Asakir.

Al-Hafiz al-Kanji – al-Kifaya pg. 279

2. Crying over Imam Al-Hussain (as)

There is no doubt in permissibility of crying over Imam Al-Hussain (as) as there are many narrations about the Prophet (saw) crying over Imam Hussain (as) and on others such as Hamza (ra) as indicated in the narration mentioned earlier and in other narrations. And if we do a quick scan of the book “Seerah wa Sunnah” (by Allama al-Amini) we find how the Prophet of Allah (pbuh) cried when he recounts what will happen to Imam Al-Hussain (as). Also, if we explore books of Sunnah we find many narrations about it. Not to mention, what is revealed in Quran about crying of Yaqoob (as) on Yusuf (as) till his eyes became white from grief.

3. Chest Beating

Chest beating is one of the rituals that are performed in mourning ceremonies of Ashura. If we support tawqifiyah of rituals – then we say that there is no text (narration) from Imams of Ahlulbayt (as) stating that chest beating is desirable (mustahab), and they (as) did not perform it themselves and they did not see anyone doing it and affirmed this act.

On the other hand if we don’t support methodology of “tawqeefiyah” for rituals and consider that everyone is free to come up with whatever way they like to express as ritual, then chest beating is deemed as sha’ira (permissible ritual).

4. Tatbir

I have mentioned about this act in many papers such as “Tatbir a religious ritual or biddah” (التطبير بدعة أم شعيرة) and “Simplicity of thinking in the ruling on tatbir” (بساطة التفكير في حكم التطبير) and concluded that these acts shall not be regarded as sha’ira (permissible ritual). There is no religious (shar’i) evidence nor rational evidence that encourages this act such that we consider it as part of ritual.

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