In this article I wish to share an academic perspective on this subject, mainly the words of scholars, and also to share some insight into the narrations that some scholars have used to establish Ziyarat al-Arbaeen.
That being said even if this specific ziyara has no basis in scripture does not mean that it is necessarily a bad thing to participate in things like the arbaeen walk etc.
What is Ziyarat al-Arbaeen?
The visitation of Imam Hussain عليه السلام on the 20th of Saffar. Some scholars have argued that this is recommended on this day specifically, this recommendation is outside of the established general recommendation of ziyara.
The mutaqaddamin (classical scholars) such as Shaykh Kulaini or Shaykh Ja’far b. Qawluweh al Qommi (author of Kamil al Ziaraat) never mentioned any hadith about Ziyarat al-Arbaeen.
The latter only mentioned ziyarahs on days of Ashura, Arafa, mid Sha’ban etc. The earliest hadith about the recommendation of Ziyarat al-Arbaeen comes from Ibn al Qawluweh’s student, Shaykh Mufeed (in ‘Al Mazaar’) in mursal form (without chain), followed in turn by his student Shaykh Tusi who narrated 3 ahadith about it in his works (Tahdhib and Misbah). So overall, the 3 ahadith about arbaeen, come from the latter Baghdadi scholars in mursal fashion.
While the ziyarah of Imam Hussain عليه السلام is highly recommended, on any day (including arbaeen), there is no specific hadith from earlier sources at all about doing it on arbaeen (unlike how we have ahadith for doing it on Ashura, Arafa etc).
There is a total of 3 narrations that have been used to establish its recommendation and we will list them here:
روي عن أبي محمّد العسكري (ع)، أنّه قال: علامات المؤمن خمس: صلاة الخمسين، وزيارة الأربعين، والتختّم في اليمين، وتعفير الجبين، والجهر ببسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
It has been narrated from Imam Hassan al-Askari عليه السلام who said: “The signs of the believer are five: prayer of fifty (rakats), visitation of Arba’een, wearing a ring on the right, and soiling of the forehead in prostration, and pronouncing Bismillah loudly”Tahdhib al Ahkam, vol 6, pg 52
- The chain of narrators is considered to be mursal i.e. it is missing a chain of narrators hence it isn’t known who narrated this from Imam Hassan al-Askari عليه السلام. The hadith starts of with روي – i.e. ‘it has been narrated’ without specifying from who it has been narrated as is the case regarding the other narrations in the same chapter.
- Shaykh Tusi who was a scholar in the 5th century (passing away 460AH) whilst Imam Hassan al-Askari عليه السلام lived in the 3rd century (Passing away in 260AH).
- The meaning of the term Ziyarat al-Arbaeen is not explained in this hadith
The lack of chain of narrators and the gap of 200 years between the Imam and al-Tusi results in this hadeeth being graded as mursal (disconnected) and thus, unreliable.
Grading by scholars:
Allamah Baqir al-Majlisi:
الحديث السابع و الثلاثون: مرسل.
Mursal (Disconnected)Miladh al-Akhyar fi Fahm Tahdhib al-Akhbar, Volume 9, pg 125
Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah:
فلا تكون الرواية معتبرةً سنداً، ولم يقل أحدٌ من العلماء المحقّقين في الرجال والحديث بصحّة مراسيل الشيخ الطوسي.
So the narration is not reliable based on its chain, and there is nobody of the muhaqiqeen scholars in the field of rijal and hadith who authenticate the disconnected narrations of Shaykh al-TusiShaykh Hobbollahs Website
In his commentary Allamah Baqir al-Majlisi showcases how we don’t exactly know what is meant as he lists out narratives:
قوله عليه السلام: و زيارة الأربعين فسر في كلام الأصحاب و بعض الأخبار بالعشرين من صفر، فهو مبني على كون الشهر في تلك السنة ناقصا. أو لم يحسب فيه يوم الشهادة.
و سبب تلك الزيارة على المشهور اتصال الرؤوس المقدسة بالأبدان الشريفة، و لم أجد ذلك في رواياتنا، مع أن ذهابهم و مجيئهم إلى دمشق و منه في مثل ذلك الزمان القليل في غاية البعد.
إلا أن يقال: وقع ذلك بالإعجاز، و هو مخالف لما هو المشهور.
و يمكن أن يكون السبب أن أول من زاره عليه السلام ظاهرا جابر بن عبد الله، و في مثل هذا اليوم وصل إلى كربلاء، أو سبب آخر لا نعرفه، و الله يعلم حقيقة الأمر و حججه عليهم السلام.
About the saying of the Imam عليه السلام: “Ziyarat al-Arbaeen”, it has been interpreted in the words of our companions and some reports as the 20th of Saffar, it is based on the fact that the month of that year was incomplete. Or the day of the martyrdom was not counted.Miladh al-Akhyar fi Fahm Tahdhib al-Akhbar, Volume 9, pg 125
The reason for this ziyara is famously known as the contact of the Holy Heads with their honorable bodies, and I did not find this in our narrations, also their going and arrival to Damascus and leaving from it in such a little time is very far fetched.
However, it is said that this happened as miracle, which is contrary to what is mashoor (popular).
And perhaps the reason may be that the first to visit him – apparently – is Jabir bin Abdullah, and on this day he arrived in Karbala, or another reason we do not know, and God knows the truth of the matter and his proofs عليهم السلام.
خبر صفوان الجمّال، عن الإمام الصادق (ع)، قال: قال لي مولاي الصادق ـ عليه السلام ـ : في زيارة الأربعين تزور ارتفاع النهار، وتقول: السلام على وليّ الله وحبيبه.
The report of Safwan narrating: “My mawla Imam al-Sadiq عليه السلام said: “During the Ziyarat al-Arbaeen visit in the rising of the day, and say: Peace be upon you O’ friend of Allah and his loved one…””Tahdhib al Ahkam, vol 6, pg 113
- There are 3 majhool (unknown) narrators in its chain
This hadith is graded as majhool as 3 of the narrators are unknown in terms of their reliability, and thus the hadith becomes unreliable.
Grading by scholars:
Allamah Baqir al-Majlisi:
الحديث السابع عشر: مجهول.
Majhool (unknown)Miladh al-Akhyar fi Fahm Tahdhib al-Akhbar, Volume 9, pg 303
Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah:
…الرواية الثانية ضعيفة السند أيضاً؛ لأنّ فيها محمد بن علي بن معمّر
The second narration is also weak by its chain; because Muhammad bin Ali bin Muamar is present…Shaykh Haidar Hobbollahs Webiste
في يوم العشرين من صفر كان رجوع حرم الحسين عليه السلام من الشام إلى مدينة الرسول، وهو اليوم الذي ورد فيه جابر بن عبدالله الأنصاري إلى زيارة الحسين ـ عليه السلام ـ وهو أوّل من زاره من الناس
On the twentieth of Saffar was the return of the camp of al-Hussain عليه السلام from Syria to the city of the Prophet (Medina), and it is the day that Jabir bin Abdullah Al-Ansari reached to the ziyara of al-Hussain عليه السلام – and he was the first of the people to visit him [the Imam]Misbah al Mutahajid, pg 787
- Just like narration #1 this narration has no chain either, thus it is mursal (disconnected)
- Even if accepted; the content of this narration is far from a proof for establishing Ziyarat al-Arbaeen
Thus just like the first narration we can say that this narration is not reliable because it is graded as mursal and thus we have no idea if this narration reached Shaykh al-Tusi or Shaykh al-Mufeed through a reliable path
Grading by scholars:
Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah:
وهذه الرواية مرسلة
And this narration is disconnectedShaykh Haidar Hobbollahs Webiste
As has been made clear; based on the narrations the Ziyara of Arbaeen cannot be established. The only possibility remaining to still force the recommendation of this practice is for the scholars to make use of al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan (Principle of Leniency in Deducing Proofs for Recommended Acts) and this principle is not established according to Grand Ayatollah Sayed al-Khoei (ra) and Grand Ayatollah Shaykh Asif al-Muhsini (ra)
Return from Damascus on the 20th of Saffar?
A common belief, regarding origin of arbaeen, is that the Ahlulbayt عليهم السلام returned from Syria (after being held prisoners by Yazid (la)) to Karbala (on way to Medina) on the 20th of Safar, where they met Jaber b. Abdullah al Ansari who had also come for ziyarah.
This incident is not historically correct or according to some even impossible.
Only Sayyid bin Tawus has written in Luhuf, contrary to the historical and geographical evidence, that on return from Damascus the Ahlul Bayt proceeded to Iraq when they reached the parting of the ways to Iraq and the Hijaz (a place which is not identified even by the geographers) and on the 40th day of the Ashura they reached Karbala. Sayyid bin Tawus was, no doubt, a great person. Allama Hilli has acknowledged that he performed unusual feats and there is no denying the fact that he enjoyed high status.A Probe into the History of Ashura’, Chapter 25: Journey of Ahlul Bayt to Kufa and Damascus – Link
However, it is not possible to attach any value to this statement of his from the historical viewpoint and it is not known whether he himself believed in this narration which is not based on any authority. In any case this matter needs investigation and research.
As a matter of principle it is opposed to common sense that everything should be accepted without any investigation, study and comment. Even if Sayyid bin Tawus had been our contemporary we would not have approached that great scholar in this particular matter, and his remark in a book, which according to the researchers was written in his youth, would not have carried any historical value for us. It is a vulgar and foolish way of thinking that whatever is said by anyone or is written in any book should be accepted as correct and free from errors.
The path of research and criticism is always open to the intelligent persons and research scholars of history. According to the Muslims of the world in general there is only one person whose remarks cannot be erroneous in the least and he is the Holy Prophet. According to the Shi’ah school, however, this distinction is enjoyed by the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم as well as by Lady Fatima Zahra عليها السلام and the twelve Imams عليهم السلام whose infallibility is proved by reason as well as by narrations.
Here we will showcase that it was nearly impossible for the family of Imam Hussain عليه السلام to reach back to Karbala by the 20th of Safar (Arbaeen), which Allamah Majlisi also alluded to
Here we will show an outline of how much time it would take for the journey:
Assumptions – the travel was at 4 km/h which is the average for a camel train which would travel at around the speed of a walking man.
Karbala -> Kufa
- Around 75-85 km depending on the route
- Which would be around 20 hours (2 days if we factor in a break)
- According to al-Kamil fi tarikh, Tabaqaat al Kubra and other books Ibn Ziyad sent a letter to Yazid and waited for a reply.
- If we assume that the letter bearer would be on a fast horse and would take half the time the camels would take then around 20 days ( 10 days going, 10 days coming)
Kufa -> Damascus
- 904 km (in a straight line)
- However it doesn’t seem like it was a straight journey, with some historians mentioning that they passed by other cities including passing by modern day Lebanon, which would mean it would have taken more than 20 days
- The family were in the prison of Yazid (la) in Damascus. The exact amount isn’t known. Shaykh Mufeed says a few days, whilst others say a month. We’ll just assume they’ll be there for a few days (say 3 days)
Damascus -> Karbala
- 904 km (in a straight line)
- Approx 20 days
Total days travelled is approximately 65 days (not factoring in the other stops and assuming they travelled in a straight line, which most likely they didn’t)
Grand Ayatollah Sayed Muhammad Hussain Fadhlallah (ra)
An excerpt from one of his videos:
As for holding of a gathering on the first arbaeen and then us repeating that year after year as seen in past years, so this does not have any Islamic basis whatsoever.
I am not saying that it is haram, no it is not so, but it is not from the followings of Islam. […] Perhaps some Muslims believe that this occasion is suitable for the gathering of people; especially as it entails preaching, righteous guidance and meeting of people for positive causes.
Aim of this post
The aim of the scholars who have spoken about the lack of reliable evidence to establish these acts as having divine origin is NOT to weaken the Shi’i cause but rather it is from an objective academic perspective.
And all these scholars have not called for stopping these practices whatsoever, rather to acknowledge them for what they really are, and they have called for reform in these traditions to actually suit the aims of the Ahlulbayt عليهم السلام.
I would like to end this post with the final statement from Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah:
وكلمتي الأخيرة أقولها: لا داعي للإصرار على إبطال بعض الأمور الحسنة في حدّ نفسها وكأنّه يراد تهديم الشعائر والأعراف، وأرى استبدال ذلك بتوضيح حيثياتها الشرعيّة للناس، ليعرفوا أنّ القصد يكون للعنوان العام لا للخاص، إلى جانب كفّ الطرف الآخر عن اتهام من يريد أن يناقش في هذه الأمور بطريقة علميّة والتشكيك في تديّنه وعقيدته، وبدل ذلك كلّه حبذا لو نفكّر جميعاً في كيفية وضع برامج نهضويّة واعية توعوية وتبليغية، لتحويل زيارات الإمام الحسين عليه السلام ـ وغيرها ـ إلى مؤتمر إسلامي شعبي واسع لكلّ المؤمنين الحاجّين إليه من أرجاء المعمورة، فتزدان الطرقات المكتظة بالزوار بمحافل الأدب والشعر والنثر الحسيني والثوري، وبالبرامج الدينية والاجتماعيّة، وبحلقات التوعية الثقافية، وبجلسات العبادة والروحانية، وبلقاء المرجعيات والشخصيات الكبيرة مع الناس والجماهير، تستمع همومها وقضاياها وتتواصل معها وتعظها وتوجّهها، كما كانت عادة أئمّة أهل البيت في كلّ عام في الحجّ والعمرة و.. إنّ هذا الأمر بات ضرورةً اليوم للمزيد من الاستفادة من هذه المناسبات الدينية، وعدم تركها تمرّ دون أخذ أقصى أشكال التزوّد منها للجميع. إنّنا بحاجة إلى المزيد من ترشيد مناسباتنا الدينية وتأمين أفضل توظيف نافع لها لقضايانا الاجتماعية والسياسية والأخلاقيّة اليوم، والحيلولة دون تحوّلها إلى مجرّد عادات لا تحوي مضمونها أو طقوس وبروتوكولات نمرّ عليها مرور الكرام، فيصير حالنا ـ والعياذ بالله ـ كحال الصائم الذي وصفه الحديث النبويّ الشريف بقوله: (ربّ صائم ليس له من صومه إلا الجوع والعطش).
My last words are: There is no need to insist on invalidating some good things in their own right as if we want to destroy rituals and customs, and I suggest replacing this by clarifying the legitimate reasons to the people, to know that the intention is for the public address, not for the private, as well as to stop the opposing party from accusing those who want to discuss these matters in a scientific way by questioning his religiosity and beliefs, and instead of all of this it would be better if we all think together about how to develop reviving, awakening and informative programs, to convert the visit of Imam Hussein عليه السلام – and others – to a large popular Islamic conference for all believers who need it from all over the globe, to decorate the crowded roads with gatherings of literature, poetry, Hussaini prose and revolutionary prose, and religious and social programs. And with cultural awareness sessions, worship and spiritual majalis, and the meeting of religious references and big personalities with the people and the masses, to listen to their concerns and issues and communicate with them and preach to them and guide them, as was the habit of the Imams of the Ahlulbayt عليهم السلام every year during Hajj and Umrah…Shaykh Haidar Hobbollahs Webiste
This is of absolute importance today to make more use of these religious occasions, and not to let them pass without taking the most out of them.
We need to further rationalise our religious events and ensure the best use of them for our social, political and moral issues today, and to prevent them from turning into mere habits that do not contain meaning or rituals and protocols that we are passing by, because our situation will become – God forbid – like the fasting person described by the hadith of the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: “The one who is fasting but has no fast except hunger and thirst”