Tatbir

A Disturbing Innovation
"Become an ornament for us, do not be a disgrace for us."
~ Imam al-Sadiq (a) ~
"Look at the people of the Prophet's family. Adhere to their direction. Follow their footsteps because they would never let you out of guidance, and never throw you into destruction. If they sit down, you sit down, and if they rise up you rise up. Do not go ahead of them, as you would thereby go astray and go not lag behind them as you would thereby be ruined."
~ Imam Ali (a) ~

What is Tatbir?

Tatbir (Arabic) is amongst a set of bloody rituals that are performed by some Shia Muslims in commemoration of the great tragedy of Karbala, when the family of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) was massacred by a group of Muslims. Tatbir is performed by striking the head with a sword or knife until blood gushes out. In the Persian language Tatbir is called Qama Zani.

Some Shias in the Indian subcontinent also perform an act called Zanjeer Zani (usually called Zanjeer). It involves repeatedly striking the back with a chain of blades with the intention of cutting the skin and causing blood to flow. Tatbir and Zanjeer are the two most widely practiced of the blood shedding rituals. Other rituals include injuring oneself with a stone, padlock or chain.

Although these blood shedding rituals are historically not a part of Shia Islam, for many Shia Muslims they have become a central part of their religious practice. Some Shias hold these rituals in very high regard and reckon them to be amongst the most holy acts of worship.

The zealous advocates of the blood rituals put a huge emphasis on these acts and employ a lot of resources to promote their practice. Some of them can be quite hostile to those Shia who do not hold the these practices in such high esteem or consider the rituals to be detrimental to the image of Shia Muslims.

We cannot say that Islam directly prohibits these rituals (as long as they are done without causing significant harm such as the loss of a limb, a bodily organ or a function of the body) because the rituals did not exist when the teachings of Islam were being revealed. Therefore the Quran and Sunnah do not address the permissibility of Tatbir and Zanjeer directly.

According to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence, everything is considered permissible unless there is direct evidence for its prohibition. Thus the Shia scholars have not prohibited the blood shedding rituals on their own since the Quran and Sunnah do not speak about these actions. However the vast majority of contemporary Shia scholars have ruled that the rituals are forbidden on the condition that their performance would lead to the violation of other established Islamic principles (e.g. the prohibition of defaming the Shia faith).

Unfortunately many supporters of the blood rituals flagrantly misrepresent the opinions of the leading Shia scholars by ignoring the rulings which prohibit these practices (due to them violating established Islamic principles) and they present the unmodified rulings which state their permissibility, without considering the prohibitive factors.

This website aims to highlight the rulings of the great Shia scholars on this issue and to elaborate upon the Islamic reasons for the discouragement and prohibition of these cultural practices. The primary reason for the prohibition is the bad image that is given to Islam and Shi’ism in particular, and there are also many other reasons which will also be discussed.

It was Never Practiced or Recommended by the Ahlulbayt (a)

Blood mourning rituals were never practiced by the founders and teachers of Shia Islam. There is not a single shred of evidence that the latter Imams (a) performed blood rituals. The modern day proponents of these damaging rituals shy away from mentioning this glaring fact.

If these rituals had any inherent merit in the eyes of Islam then they would have been practiced by the Holy Prophet (s) and the Twelve Holy Imams (a).

It is very disingenuous and an affront to the holy Ahlulbayt (a) to suggest that they did not practice a ritual that is supposedly highly meritorious. To say that that blood rituals are recommended is to infer that the Imams (a) refrained from a recommended act.

The Ahlulbayt (a) are divinely guided role models for Muslims and it is an obligation upon us to try and emulate them. Therefore it could be argued that the best way to mourn Imam Hussain (a) is by emulating the mourning of Ahlulbayt (a). Since they (a) did not perform these rituals, then the Shia should walk in their footsteps and refrain from performing them. A Shi’i who keeps away from blood rituals is closer in action to the Ahlulbayt (a) than one who performs them.

Considering the very controversial nature of the rituals, it wise to refrain from them and to carefully follow the practices of Ahlulbayt (a) in the manner that has been recommended by Imam Ali (a):

“Look at the people of the Prophet’s family. Adhere to their direction. Follow their footsteps because they would never let you out of guidance, and never throw you into destruction. If they sit down, you sit down, and if they rise up you rise up. Do not go ahead of them, as you would thereby go astray and go not lag behind them as you would thereby be ruined.” – Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 96.

Some of the proponents of blood shedding say that the rejection of the rituals cannot be justified on the basis that the Imams (a) did not perform them because there are many things that we do today (e.g. drive cars, fly planes, use the Internet etc.) which the Imams never did. This of course is very primitive reasoning. Blood shedding cannot be compared to these other things because: 1, It was available during their (a) time whilst these other things were not. 2, The Imams (a) put a great deal of emphasis on mourning for Imam Hussain (a) and never made use of blood shedding even though it was available to them. 3, Blood shedding rituals almost always violate certain Islamic principles and these other novelties don’t.

The Absence of Evidence is Sufficient

Some proponents of blood flagellation argue that the Imams (a) may have performed the rituals in private, and that may be the reason why we have no evidence that they (a) performed these rituals. Therefore we should not deny the fact that these rituals are Islamically recommended.

Any sincere person with a working intellect would not fail to see the flaw in that argument. If the argument were valid then it could be applied to a whole range of actions that have no Islamic backing. Any given Muslim could innovate a ritual and claim that we should not deny that it is Islamically recommended because it may have been performed by the Ahlulbayt (a) in private. For example we could innovate a new prayer with sixty four rakats and justify it by saying: “Don’t say it is not mustahab, maybe the Imams (a) did it in private!”

The lack of evidence in this case is sufficient to justify the proposition that the Imams (a) did not perform those rituals.

Having a False Image of the Sunnah

If any open-minded individual were to study the Quran and the lives of the Infallibles (a), they would obtain an image of Islam that is quite different to what is being promoted by some Muslims.

In order to understand the reasons for the discouragement of blood rituals, we must always keep in mind the lifestyles of the Prophets (a) and Imams (a), and the general theme of the Quran, and to compare all of these to the observance of the blood shedding ceremonies. If we were to do this, we would come to the conclusion that these ceremonies are far removed from the Sunnah and the general teachings of Ahlulbayt (a). The Holy Prophet (s) and his family (a) have never taken part in any ceremony that resembles the blood rituals that we see today.

We must not allow our imaginations to conjure up unjustified notions that force blood shedding rituals into the Sunnah of the Ahlulbayt (a); instead we must accept the truth of the matter and admit the fact that these acts are very alien to the lifestyles of the Prophets (a) and the Ahlulbayt (a).

The History of Blood Mourning Ceremonies

For about a millennium after the tragedy of Karbala, the Shia did not practice blood shedding when mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a) or any of the Ahlulbayt (a). Instead they mourned in a traditional and more natural manner, which included the methods used by the Imams (a) and their families. However this changed when blood rituals were introduced into the mourning gatherings of the Shia.

Historians have shown that blood rituals were foreign cultural practices that were introduced to certain elements of the Shia community relatively recently in the history of the religion.

Quoting Professor Werner Ende in “The Flagellations of Muharram
and the Shi’ite ‘Ulama’”
:

Muhammad Mahdi al-Qazwini, however, in a work finished in the month of Ramadan 1345 H (March 1927), claims that the use of iron, i.e. of chains and swords for flagellation, was initiated “about a century ago” by people not well versed in the rules of the shari `a.

Source.

Below is an excerpt from the book “A Hidden Hand” which describes how these cultural practices entered the Shia community via external sources.

There are differences of opinion as to when blood matam started.1 The most reliable opinion is that the cutting of the head was a practice performed by the Turks in Azerbaijan which was transferred to the Iranians and Arabs.2

The Iraqi author of the book The Tragedy of Karbala also believes that such practices were not common in Iraq before the nineteenth century. At the end of this century they started to gain popularity in this country. Therefore, blood matam started elsewhere and came to Iraq which means it is not rooted in Arab heritage.3 Shaykh Kazim Dajili also accepts this view and says: “Iraqis did not participate in these processions until the beginning of the twentieth century. This practice was first seen amongst the Turkish Iraqis, Sufis, and Western Iranian Kurds.”4 A report by English sources covering Ashura in Najaf in the year 1919 shows that 100 Turkish Shias performed blood matam that year.5

Memories of Sayyid Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum support this claim as well: “When I was in Najaf around 50-60 years ago there were only a fewTurkish mourning groups. They would come to Sayyid Bahr al-Ulum’s house on the days of mourning and with his permission they would recite emotional poems about Imam Hussayn (a). Some of them would slightly injure themselves while listening to the poems in order to try to feel what Imam Hussayn felt. Slowly this type of action changed and spread until it reached its peak when it was outlawed in 1935 by Yasin Hashimi, the prime minister of the time. In reality, this oppressive action had an opposite effect1 – in such a way that the number of mourning groups tripled.”2

Hajj Hamid Razi (d.1953) was a police man in Karbala and lived to be about 110 years old. He told his memories regarding the mourning of Imam Hussayn (a) – about blood matam which he says was not normally practiced in Najaf or Karbala when he was young.3 There has been no recollection by elder people of Najaf and Karbala saying that there were these processions before the middle of the nineteenth century. These processions where first performed by Turkish visitors from the Qizilbash Tribe. When they would perform a ziyarat to Imam Hussayn (a) they would strike their heads with special swords.4

The full book can be purchased here for a nominal price.

Yitzhak Nakash in his article: “An Attempt to Trace the Origin of the Rituals of ʿĀshūrāʾ”, states the following regarding the origin of these practices:

The flagellations were introduced into central and southern Iran, as well as into Iraq, only in the nineteenth century. This proposition is supported by the data provided by Shi’i biographies and Iraqi Shi`i oral history. The biographies identify Shaykh Mulla Agha `Abidal-Darbendi (d. 1868/9) as the first to introduce violent acts of self-flagellation into Tehran around the mid-nineteenth century.

Darbendi is said to include in this work uncommon rituals, not to be found in other accepted Shi’i Imami writings on the commemoration of ‘Ashura.54 The relatively late appearance of flagellation in Iraq is also evident from Shi’i accounts. The Iraqi Shi’i mujtahid Muhammad Mahdi al-Qazwini is cited by Werner Ende as claiming around 1927 that the use of iron was initiated “about a century ago” by people not well versed in the rules of the Shari’a.55 Indeed, Iraqi Shi’i oral history traces the appearance of flagellation in Najaf and Karbala to the nineteenth century. It is related that the practice was imported to these cities by Shi’i Turks, who came to Karbala and Najaf on pilgrimage from the Caucasus or Azarbayjan.56

The author goes on to state that the Qizilbash, an extreme ghulat Turkish sect, seemingly introduced blood rituals to Imami Shias. He then points out that the Qizilbash took their flagellation rituals from some Christians. Therefore the Shia blood rituals most probably have a Christian origin.

Sufi and Christian elements were fused in the rituals of the Qizilbash.62 As will be seen below, this was also evident in the flagellations, which reenacted the shedding of Husayn’s blood in a manner similar to the reenactment of the shedding of the blood of Christ among Christian Catholics.

_____________________________________________________

1 An Article in a Shia media outlet entitled: Maruri bar Tarikh Takvin Majalis va Aeenhaye Azadari dar Iran by Mohsin Hassam Mazaheri, Akhbar Adiyan Magazine, number 18, Farvardin va Ordibehesht138

2 Abdullah Mastufi, Sharh Zendiganiye Man ya Tarikh Ijtemai va Idari Douran Ghajariyeh, v.1 and 3.

3 Ibrahim Haydari, The Tragedy of Karbala (tradjedi Karbala) translated into Farsi by Ali Mamouri,p.475

4 Kazem Dajili, Ashura fi al-Najaf wa Karbala, p.287; Mahmoud Darah, Jiyyat Iraqi min wara’ al-Bawabih al-Sawda’, p.24

5 Naqash, p.269 (quoting from: Administration Report of the Shamiyya Division, Great Britain)

1 Anytime an action is forbid with force without any kind of intellectual or cultural explanation given it will have an opposite effect.

2 Goftegu ba Sayyid Bahr al-Ulum piramoun Azadari Husseini, Nour Magazine, number 74, January 1997

3 Tradjedi Karbala, a conversation with Doctor Shakir Latif, 4,12,1996

4 Talib Ali Sharqi, al-najaf al-Ashraf Adatha wa Talidha

It Gives Shia Islam a Gruesome and Hideous Image

The word barbaric is an understatement. Barbaric people may be cruel and uncivilized, however they generally do not cut and mutilate their own bodies in extremely bloody public demonstrations.

There is nothing else in the whole of existence, which gives the Shias such a bad reputation as these rituals do. Millions of dollars have been spent by the enemies of Shi’ism (and Islam as a whole) to ruin its image and to spread lies about it. However all those efforts are eclipsed by these unnatural actions that some Shias perform. It is not only non-Shias who are repulsed and disturbed by these rituals, many Shias are also extremely repulsed.

It is ironic that Shias have had to struggle for centuries to counter false propaganda and to remove misconceptions about themselves; only to find that a group from amongst themselves heavily damages their reputation. The Wahhabis may falsely claim that Shias believe in another Quran, believe that Imam Ali (a) is God or believe that the wife of the Holy Prophet (S) committed adultery, however all of those are mere claims from insincere people without any supporting evidence. In contrast, the Shias who perform acts of bodily mutilation give ammunition to those who wish to malign the religion.

Often, when people wish to mock and defame the Shias, they tend to show images of these blood shedding rituals. The mass media and the Internet are replete with these images. Type in the word ‘Ashura’ into a search engine and see the images that appear. Is this the first piece of information that a non-muslim must obtain about the struggle of Imam Hussain (a)? Did Imam Hussain (a) die only for his message to become immediately associated with this unsightly innovation?

It is not surprising that many people are distressed by these rituals since the human brain is naturally averse to self-mutilation and finds blood repulsive due to its unhygienic nature. The bad image portrayed by acts such as Tatbir and Zanjeer is the primary reason given by the Maraja for their prohibition.

Some of the promoters of blood flagellation astonishingly deny that the rituals are considered repulsive. To see the reality, they only need to read these comments made about blood flagellation by the readers of the Guardian Newspaper.

Humans are Naturally Repulsed by Self Harm and Blood

Most human beings are naturally averse to acts of bodily harm and to the shedding of blood. It is not surprising that the human mind and body are usually repulsed by the thought of cutting the skin, since they have been designed to ensure self-preservation. Most human beings are also repulsed by the blood of others since it is unhygienic and entails a health hazard. They very thought of bodily mutilation or blood can repulse people, let alone having to witness these things. There are many people who also suffer from blood phobia and the sight of blood can cause them to feel extremely uncomfortable.

Unfortunately many of the proponents of blood shedding do not seem to take into consideration this natural repulsion and unease felt by the majority of humanity. Even Shias who have been brought up in communities where blood rituals are prevalent, are repulsed by these activities.

It is about time that blood flagellators put themselves into the shoes of those who find these rituals abhorrent and tried to understand why so many people are against these activities. It is an act of recklessness to innovate and openly practice a ritual in the name of Islam that is unhygienic and repulses so many people.

Blood Rituals are a Health Hazard

The mourning ceremonies which involve the congregational spilling of human blood via methods such as Tatbir and Zanjeer, are very unhygienic and are a health hazard. The ceremonies involve men striking themselves with blades, causing blood to spill all over the surrounding environment and often onto other mourners who have open wounds.

Blood can carry some very dangerous pathogens including the following:

  • Hepatitis B (HBV).
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
  • Hepatitis C (HCV).
  • Syphilis.
  • Malaria.
  • Brucellosis.
  • Babeosis.
  • Leptospirosis.
  • Arborviral Infections.
  • Relapsing Fever.
  • Creutzfeld-Jacobs Disease (Mad Cow disease).
  • Viral Hemorrahgic Fever (Ebola virus).

Some of the above are deadly and have no known cure. Hepatitis B can survive on surfaces for up to several days, and in dried blood for up to a week. Blood mourning gatherings put people at risk to these and other dangerous diseases. It is almost impossible to impose good hygiene in these environments and individual blood mourners generally do not implement the any hygiene procedures. Blood is splattered around the environment, and the blades and other surfaces are not decontaminated. Some mourners also share blades.

Some of these acts also carry the possibility of incurring other forms of harm, such as: infections to wounds, skeletal damage, damage to nerves & veins. There have also been a few reports of deaths due to these acts.

Blood is Najis

One of the most unfortunate consequences of the blood rituals is the fact that it leaves the mourners and the surrounding environment Najis (ritually impure). Often these rituals are performed in the vicinity of mosques and the blood flagellators are then unable to pray because they are left in a state of impurity and the surrounding environment is also rendered ritually impure.

Why Must Children be Involved?

Muslims and Non-Muslims alike are shocked when they come across incidents where parents make their children participate in blood shedding actives. There are many images on the Internet of young children cutting their own heads with swords and some infamous pictures of mothers cutting the heads of their babies! How far will some people to go give us a bad name?

A few years ago a member of the Shia community in the UK was found guilty of child cruelty by a British court for forcing two children to cut themselves with blades that he had just used to cut himself! This case was covered by the mass media and it put the Shia community into disrepute.

A devout Muslim who was found guilty of child cruelty after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony is due to be sentenced today.

Syed Mustafa Zaidi, 44, was found guilty of two counts of child cruelty in a British legal first last month.

The boys, aged 13 and 15, were forced to beat themselves with a zanjeer zani, an implement containing five curved blades, during a ceremony to commemorate the death of a Shia Muslim spiritual leader.

Both boys also admitted they had flogged themselves with a smaller zanjeer zani from the age of six in Pakistan.

A 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time, said Zaidi told them both: “Start doing it, start doing it.”

He told the jury: “We said ‘we don’t want to do it’.”

The boy said he saw Zaidi flogging himself with the zanjeer zani before washing his blood from it and handing it to the 15-year-old boy.

He said Zaidi “kept pressuring him” and “make him do the knife thing”.

Source.

Unfortunately there are some Shia clerics who do not discourage Tatbir on children, rather they consider it to be recommended.

The following question was sent to the office of Ayatullah Sadiq Shirazi:

What is the ruling on doing tatbir on children in a country where it is not prohibited?

The response:

Tatbeer is mustahib but in case of minor it is mustahib to seek permission from his wali (Shariah Guardian).

The evidence.

Many great Shia scholars have disagreed with that sort of opinion.

The Obligation of Giving Islam a Good Image

Islam has made it incumbent upon its followers to give it and ourselves a good image. The religion commands us to beautify our manners and our physical appearance and to attract other towards the teachings of Allah with an appealing presentation. The Maraja have stated that we must give Islam a good image. Cultural practices that make a mockery of our religion must definitely be avoided.

Some sins are greater than others, and giving Islam a bad image is one of the most serious sins. Any person who drives people away from the religion will have to bear the responsibility of depriving them of the beautiful religion.

The following selection of ahadith indicate the importance that Islam places on maintaining a good image and presentation:

Imam Al-Sadiq (a): “You must never do anything that may embarrass us. A small boy causes embarrassment to his father because of his misdeeds. Be the beauty for those to whom you are devoted and do not be an embarrassment to them. Pray along with their tribes, visit their people in ill health, attend their funerals and do not allow anyone exceed you in good deeds. You have all the more reason to exceed others in good deeds.”

Al-Kafi.

Imam Al-Hadi (a):Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty and prettification, and He hates misery and miserable ones. Allah the Almighty likes, when He gives a blessing to His slave, to see the effects of that blessing appear on him.” He was asked, “How is that?” He said, “To clean his dress, make his smell good, order his house, and sweep the yard. Even a lamp lit before sunset takes poverty away and increases livelihood.”

“Al-Amali”, Sheikh al-Mufid.

Imam Al-Sadiq (a): “My followers, be an ornament for us, and do not be a shame on us; tell people good words; guard your tongues and keep them back from idle talk and evil words.”

“Living the Right Way”, Ayatullah Jawad Tehrai.

Prophet Muhammad (s): Everybody who chooses a dress, must keep it clean.

Prophet Muhammad (s): “The dossier of the man who abstains from spitting and blowing his nose in the masjid, will be in his right hand on the Day of judgment.”

Prophet Muhammad (s): “Islam is immaculate, so you should make efforts for cleanliness because only the clean ones would enter Paradise.”

Imam Al-Sadiq (a): “Almighty Allah likes adornment, being beautiful …”

Bihar al-Anwar, vol 79, p 300.

Prophet Muhammad (s): “One’s clothes must always be clean.”

Shafi, vol  p 208.

Prophet Muhammad (s): “A dirty person is a bad servant (to Allah).”

Shafi, vol 1, p 208.

Prophet Muhammad (s):  “If it were not hard upon my Ummah, I would enjoin them to brush (their teeth) with every prayer.”

Bihar-ul-Anwar, vol. 76, p. 126.

It Repels Potential Reverts

Many potential reverts to Shia Islam are repelled by the blood shedding rituals. The following statements have been given by a couple of reverts to Shi’ism to show how repulsive these rituals are to potential reverts:

Sister Jennah of the Revert Muslims Association:

In fact a good majority of people are repelled by the extreme act of flogging. At the Revert Muslims Association we receive emails from new Muslims looking for support and resources. Many have reported their concern when they come to us, after viewing, countless images over the Net of barbaric rituals had by some Shi’a Muslims. They are confused and turned off and immediately they worry that Shi’a Islam carries a darker, violent side to it that they had not come across before.

I do not believe the majority are encouraged to read about this practice instead many are put off by it and do not further investigate the truth that is Shi’a Islam. How often do Sunni websites point to the barbaric images, in particular of a mother cutting the head of her infant son, and then accuse us of being insane?

The negative image that flogging gives far out-ways the positives that some claim they feel after taking part in this ritual act.

Source.
An article written by the sister on this issue.


Another Shi’i revert:

I will tell you why I am against it (although I don’t disrespect people), BECAUSE IT PREVENTED ME FROM BECOMING SHIA FOR MANY MANY YEARS.

It was only until I found out that some of the greatest scholars of Shia Islam have condemed it.

Source.

Those who claim that the rituals are acts of love must understand that they do not have a monopoly over the love of Ahlulbayt (a). By insisting upon performing these acts and insisting that they are a part of Shia Islam they driving people away from the school of the Ahlulbayt (a).

The Fallacious Curiosity Argument

Some supporters of these acts claim that their shock value actually encourages people to investigate the religion. They argue that when non-Muslims and non-Shias view these acts, it raises curiosity within them which then leads them to studying Shia Islam. This line of argumentation cannot be used because it was not in the practice of Ahlulbayt (a) to use such shock tactics to draw people towards the religion.

After viewing blood shedding, only a very small minority of people will actually be prompted to read about Shia Islam with a positive frame of mind rather than being repulsed. Repulsive techniques were never used by the Prophets (s) and Imams (a) to invite people to the religion of God. Instead of using such futile and damaging means, we must put effort into inviting people towards the religion using the most appealing and effective means. In a materialistic and increasingly secular world, few people set out to study a religion and we cannot expect them to do so after viewing scenes that repulse them. The misdeeds and bad behaviour of some religious people has been a major factor in repelling people away from religion altogether, and we should not be under the illusion that another repulsive act will draw them towards it.

A great number of reverts to Shi’ism disapprove of these rituals and state that they give our religion a bad image. The only sorts of people who may be drawn towards Shia Islam because of these rituals would be a minority of people who are attracted to strange and odd practices. Amongst the general human population there are some odd people who may be attracted to blood shedding rituals.

Don’t Other Acts of Worship Also Give Islam a Bad Image?

Another argument that is often used by promoters of blood flagellation is the contention that other established acts of worship also give Islam a bad image, therefore there is no need to refrain from publicly performing acts such as Tatbir (which also portray a negative image). Established Islamic actions such as Salaat, Tawaf, and the various forms of Hudood (e.g. flogging the fornicator) are often given as examples of actions that are the disliked by non-Muslims.

This argument is flawed and is considered a false analogy for the following reasons:

1, The established Islamic acts that have been mentioned are all from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. If it is indeed true that they give Islam a bad image, then it does not fully justify their non-performance because they are actual religious obligations that cannot be neglected. On the contrary, blood rituals are not from the Quran or the Sunnah.

2, The argument ignores all the ahadith which tell us to give the religion and ourselves a good image.

3, Blood flagellation cannot be compared to these other actions in terms of how much it disturbs people; it is a lot more disturbing.

4, Islam is the religion of the Fitra (innate human nature) therefore the human heart is inclined towards the Islamic practices. So for example the human heart finds peace in the performance of prayers and tawaf. If there are Islamic actions that are disliked by some people then it is normally due to a lack of proper understanding of what they entail and what their benefits are. If people saw these Islamic actions with the correct perspective then they would understand that the laws are actually very good and they are not detrimental. For example if a sincere person were to know the reasons for the hudood laws then they would come to accept their benefits and would no longer oppose them.

5, When Islam was revealed to the Arabs, it was revealed in stages. Certain things were not revealed initially (for example the prohibition of alcohol) thus showing that Islam does take into consideration the fact that a wise and pragmatic approach is needed when introducing a religion to a people. Therefore we must also deal with others in a wise manner and not disturb them with public displays of blood shedding.

Imam Al-Sadiq (a) speaks about having a wise and diplomatic approach when dealing with others; from Shaykh Sadooq’s book on Aqeedah:

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq was told: 0 son of the Messenger of Allah, verily we see in the mosque one who openly abuses your enemies, calling out their names. And he said: May Allah curse him! Why does he refer to us? He, Who is Exalted above all, says: “Revile not those who invoke (deities) other than Allah, lest wrongfully they revile Allah through ignorance” [6, 108] And Imam Ja’far in explaining this verse has said: So do not revile them, lest they revile your ‘Ali. And he also said: He who reviles the friend (wali) of Allah (i.e. All) has reviled Allah. And the Prophet said: He who reviles thee, 0 ‘Ali, has verily reviled me; and he, who reviles me, has verily reviled Allah.

Imam Ja’far said: Verily, I hear a man abusing me in the mosque; and I hide myself behind a pillar so that he may not see me. And he (Imam Ja’far) said: Mix with the people (enemies) outwardly, but oppose them inwardly, so long as the Amirate (imratun) is a matter of opinion. And he also said: Verily diplomacy (arri’a’) with a true believer is a form of shirk (polytheism); but with a hypocrite (munafiq) in his own house, it is worship. And he also said: He who prays with them (hypocrites) standing in the first row, it is as though he prayed with the Prophet in the first row. And he also said: Visit their sick and attend their funerals and pray in their mosques. And he also said: (You should) become an ornament for us, and not a disgrace. And he said: May Allah have mercy on a person who inculcates friendship towards us among men, and does not provoke ill-will among them.

6, The argument is a bit dishonest because many of these Islamic actions are actually not disliked by the many good people. There is nothing unattractive with acts such as salaat, tawaf and the recitation of the Qur’an.

Double Standards

Some people find it quite difficult to admit the fact that blood flagellation is a source of mockery and revulsion. One of the best ways to make a promoter of blood shedding admit this very fact, is by pointing out their double standards with respect to other non-Islamic actions that carry a bad image. You will often find supporters of blood flagellation mocking and ridiculing the actions of other religious people. Criticizing them for giving religion a bad name whilst being blind to the negative image inflicted by blood rituals.

Take the example of the Sufi ritual being demonstrated in the video below. You will find that advocates of blood shedding will be quick to mock these people whilst not accepting the clear fact that the blood shedding rituals are a lot more repulsive and disturbing than what these Sufis are doing.

A Refutation of the Supposed Evidence

Promoters of blood flagellation bring forward certain narrations from Islamic sources to prove that their practices do indeed have an Islamic basis. Three narratives are usually used by them:

1, The story of Uwais al-Qarni (r) breaking all his teeth.
2, The claim that Lady Zainab (a) made her head bleed.
3, The words of Imam Mahdi (a) in Ziarat Nahiyah: “I will weep blood in place of tears”.

In the next three sections, each of these three narratives will be analyzed and it will be shown that they are either not authentic or that they cannot be used as proofs to justify blood shedding rituals.

Owais Al-Qarni (r) Breaking His Teeth

Owais Al-Qarni (r) was a Muslim who lived during the life of Prophet Muhammad (s) and died fighting alongside Imam Ali (a) in the battle of Siffin. It is believed that that he accepted the religion of Islam during the life of the Prophet (s), despite never having the opportunity to meet him (s), due to the fact that he lived in Yemen, far away from Madinah. He is highly respected for this and for being a loyal companion of Imam Ali (a) during the last few years of his life.

Many promoters of extreme self-flagellation narrate that when Uwais (r) heard the news that the Prophet (s) had lost some teeth in the battle of Uhud; he picked up a rock and broke all his teeth out of love for the Prophet (s). He was in Yemen when this occurred whilst Uhud is near the city of Madinah. An example from blood shedding promotional material.

They narrate this incident from two books written by Sunni authors. The first is ‘Seerat al-Halabiyya’ by Imam al-Halabi. The book was written about a thousand years after the event is supposed to have occurred. The second is ‘Tadhkirat al-Awliya’ by the Sufi poet Farid al-Deen Attar (d.616-627H). We do not know of any Shia books at all that report this event. It is interesting to note that promoters of blood shedding cite the two Sunni sources in an attempt to convince Shias of their claim.

In regards to this incident we contend that: 1, It is almost certainly not authentic. 2, The two sources that it has been quoted from have been misrepresented. 3, Even if we imagined the event to be authentic, it cannot be used as a justification for extreme self-flagellation. The following is a list of reasons to justify these assertions:

1, The Prophet (s) probably never broke any teeth.

Some Shia sources narrate that the Prophet’s (s) teeth never broke. The following is a narration from Imam al-Baqir (a) with a reliable chain of narrators:

So we said to him (Imam al-Baqir (a)), it has been narrated to us that he (the Prophet (s)) broke his upper interior teeth? So he (Imam al Baqir (a)) said: “No, by Allah, Allah always protected him, rather it was a wound on his face.”

Shaykh al-Sadooq, Ma`ani al-Akhbar, Baab Nawaadir al-Ma`ani, page. 406, hadith no. 80

The following has been narrated by the renowned Shaykh Fadhl ibn Hassan al-Tabarsi:

Aban ibn `Uthman said: “This was told to me on his authority by as-Sabbah ibn Suyyabah. I asked him, “Were his upper interior teeth broken, as these people claim?’ He replied: `No, by Allah, Allah always protected him from all disfigurement. It was rather that he was wounded in the face.’ I asked: `What about the cave on Mount Uhud to which they claim that the Apostle of Allah fled?’ He answered: `By Allah, he did not move from his spot.’”

Source.

What has been said in those narrations seems quite probable since the history books have generally not attributed the Prophet (s) with missing teeth. The people of his time also did not identify him (s) in that way. The narration says that Allah protected him (s) from all disfigurement and this seems quite reasonable because it would help him with his duty of propagating the message of Islam. Missing teeth would likely affect the recitation of the Qur’an and this was one of his primary roles.

2, The opinion of Shia scholars on the authenticity of this incident.

The following question was sent to the offices of some of the well known Shia scholars:

In our community a lot of people quote the incident of Owais al-Qarni breaking his teeth after he heard that the prophet had broken one tooth.

Is this event authentic?

The response of the office of Ayatullah Sadiq Shirazi:

As per history the incident is not authentic.

The evidence.

In that email (click on the link) the representative of Ayatullah Sadiq Shirazi (who is one of a small minority of contemporary maraja who actively support blood flagellation) hints that the story of Rabab (r) the wife of Imam Hussain (s) is evidence for some of these blood rituals. We must point out that there are differing accounts of what she (r) did. Some accounts say that she (r) stayed in Karbala at the grave of Imam Hussain (a) and did not return to Madinah (contradicting what he has written). We also do not think that the account given by the official can be described as an act of empathy or sympathy (for the Imam (a)) without any other supporting evidence. It would most likely have been an act of grief and mourning rather than an act of empathy. Nevertheless the act that he attributes to her is not comparable to the blood flagellation rituals.

The response of the office of Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi to the above mentioned question:

It has been said that, when he heard that the Prophet (PBUH) had broken a tooth, his tooth began to hurt, or his tooth broke by itself, not voluntarily.

The evidence.

3, The lack of Shia sources and the scarcity of the narration.

Not only is this event not quoted from Shia sources, it is also not found in the earlier and more famous historical works of the Sunnis. It is not found in the Seerah of Ibn Ishaq, the History of al-Tabari or the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa’d and other books.

4, The narrative in Tadhkirat al-Awliyah contradicts many established beliefs.

Farid al-Deen Attar reports the incident by stating that the Prophet (s) said to Imam Ali (a) and Umar ibn Khattab that they will someday meet Uwais (r) and they must convey his (s) greetings. During the rule of Umar, Imam Ali (a) went with Umar to a remote part of Iraq and found Uwais (r) living there. It is in this meeting that Uwais (r) told them that he had broken all of his teeth. An English translation of this narrative can be found here.

Some of the peculiarities of this narrative:

a, It contradicts other more reliable narrations (e.g. in Kitab al-Irshad) which state that Imam Ali (a) first met Uwais (r) on his way to the battle of Jamal. Whilst the narrative by Attar says that Imam Ali (a) first met him (r) during the reign of Umar ibn al-Khattab.

b, Imam Ali (a) travels with Umar and treats him with a surprising amount of reverence.

c, Uwais (r) asks Umar to describe the appearance of Prophet (s) and Umar fails to do so. Imam Ali (a) does not intervene in the conversation and does no attempt to describe the Prophet (s).

d, Uwais (r) challenges Umar with the words: “if you were firm in the friendship then why you have not broken your teeth when the prophet’s teeth were broken in the battle of mount of Ohud in Madina and this is the rule of friendship”. It is unlikely that a pious person like Uwais (r) would challenge him in that way considering that Imam Ali (a) also did not break his teeth and Uwais (r) is considered to be a follower of the Imam (a).

5, The narrative in Seerat al-Halabiyyah differs from what has been quoted.

Some promoters of blood shedding say that in volume II, page 295 of the book, the incident of Uwais (r) breaking his teeth has been narrated with the Prophet (s) responding with the following words: “Indeed Owais is our devoted friend”.

We have not been able to find this narrative (of him voluntarily breaking his teeth) in the book. Instead we found it reporting that Uwais (r) was physically present at the battle of Uhud and the following words have been quoted from him: “I swear by God that at Uhud the Holy Prophet’s (s) teeth will not be broken until my teeth are broken, the Holy Prophet’s (s) face will not receive an injury until my face receives an injury, …..”, (Volume IV, page 227).

This account contradicts what has normally been quoted by the propagandists since they assert that Uwais (r) was in Yemen when the battle was taking place. Although we also think that he was in Yemen, we must point out that Seerah al-Halabiyyah contradicts with the account that they present.

6, Other narrations do not identify Uwais (r) as being toothless.

Many historical accounts of Uwais al-Qarni (r) do not state that he was toothless. If he indeed was toothless then he would have become famous for it and it would have been mentioned by people who had encountered him.

7, The act of breaking ones teeth in this manner is haraam according to all renowned Muslim scholars.

It is unlikely that Prophet Muhammad (s) commended Uwais (r) for breaking his teeth since it is an accepted fact that such severe acts of self-harm are prohibited in Islam.

8, The fact that none of the other companions of the Prophet (s) nor the Ahlulbayt (a) performed this act after knowing that the Prophet (s) had broken his teeth. If it was a correct action to perform then many of them would also have done it.

9, The act seems unreal.

The act of breaking every single tooth in one’s mouth seems very unrealistic. The amount of pain that Uwais (r) would have had to endure means that he is very unlikely to have been able to complete the breaking of every individual tooth.

10, Uwais (r) was isolated and thus was not in a position to be corrected.

Even if we image that the event is true then we must remember that Uwais (r) was isolated and had never met the Prophet (s), and thus it is likely that he did not know the correct way to respond in this case and he should not be criticized. This would have likely been the reason why he was not criticized by the Prophet (s).

If blood flagellators think that breaking of the teeth was the correct action to perform, then we must ask them why don’t they do it now out of sympathy for the Prophet (s)?

Lady Zainab (a) Hitting Her Head

It is reported in Bihar al-Anwaar that in the aftermath of Karbala when the women were taken captive and taken to Kufa, the head of Imam Hussain (a) was paraded in public. Lady Zainab (a) was travelling in a carriage and upon seeing the head of her brother she hit her head on a pole of the carriage, which caused it to bleed.

This event is given as a justification for Tatbir because a great personality like Lady Zainab (a) hit her head and caused it to bleed thus proving the merit of doing Tatbir. The main problem with this narration is that it is mursal (having an incomplete chain of narrators) and it is not considered authentic; this has been attested by numerous Shia scholars.

A statement on Ayatullah Lankarani’s website on this narration:

We did not discover an authentic narration regarding the mentioned incident. In fact, Muhaddeth al-Qummi (Sheikh Abbass al-Qummi, compiler of Mafatih Al-Jinan) refuted/rejected it in the book ‘Muntaha al-Amaal’ whereby he said: “This narration, although Allamah Majlisi transmitted it in Bihar al-Anwaar, however, the source of his transmission is the two books of Muntakhab al-Turayhi and Nur al-ayn. The status of these two books is clear to the people of hadith (i.e. those knowledgeable in the science of hadiths).” Based on the aforementioned, there is no sanad (chain of transmission) for this narration that can be relied on.

Source.

It must be noted that Ayatullah Lankarani was one of the highest ranking scholars of the modern age and Shaykh Abbas al-Qummi is regarded as one of the greatest Shia scholars in history. He is also an expert on the history of Ashura and its aftermath.

The following question was sent to the office of Grand Ayatullah Makarem Shirazi:

There is a narration which says that Lady Zainab (a) hit her head on a pole and it began to bleed. This is used to justify Tatbir. Is it authentic?

The reply:

The authenticity of this narration is not proved for us; even if we accept that, it cannot be a religious argument for Tatbir and those intentional actions which vilify Islam.

The evidence.

Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Muhri a representative of Ayatullah Seestani and the head of the Shia Scholars Congregation in Kuwait, said the following about this narration:

“.. the narration of Sayeda Zainab (a) hitting her head is not authentic, and it is very far (not even realistic) for her to bleed her head.”

Given below are a few more reasons to doubt the authenticity of this narration, and to show that it cannot justify blood flagellation even if we assumed its authenticity:

1, Its scarcity in the books of history.
2, The fact that there is no record of the act being performed by her (a) again. If it was a meritorious act then why was it not performed again?
3, It seems to contradict a famous hadith where Imam Hussain (a) tells Lady Zainab (a) not to scratch her face, tear her clothes and so on, after he is martyred.
4, The act was not performed by any of the Imams (a) or any of the other members (male or female) of the household, either when this incident is supposed to have taken place or after it.
5, It is not normally possible to make one’s head bleed by hitting it on a pole, unless severe force is applied or sharp edges are used. Even today’s blood flagellators use blades to make their heads bleed. Thus the narration is describing something that cannot really happen.
6, According to some knowledgeable people the act of hitting her (a) head may not have been intentional but may have been an accident.

The main source for this narrative is the book Bihar al-Anwaar. However some promoters of Tatbir also quote this narration from many other non-primary sources which take it from Bihar al-Anwaar. It is dishonest to quote a non-primary source alongside the initial source in order to make it look like the narration was reported by many primary sources. Blood shedding propagandists sometimes cite Bihar al-Anwaar as a reference for this narration and then also present a list of other books which take the narration from Bihar al-Anwaar, so that it looks like the narration has many primary sources!

Imam Mahdi (a) Saying that He Will Weep Blood

The following are the words of Imam al-Mahdi (a) in Ziarat Nahiyah with regards to Imam Hussain (a):

“I will, therefore, lament you morning and evening, and will weep blood in place of tears, out of my anguish for you and my sorrow for all that befell you ..”

These words cannot be taken as a justification for blood shedding rituals for the following reasons:

1, In the Arabic language the idiom ‘weep blood’ means to weep heavily. It is an exaggerated metaphor to denote extreme sorrow. It is similar to the English idiom “sweating blood” which means to sweat very much when working hard.

Some people object to this very obvious interpretation by claiming that such idiomatic and metaphorical language is below the status of an Imam (a). This claim has to be rejected because even Allah in the Qur’an has been known to use idiomatic and metaphorical language and so have the Imams (a) in other authentic narrations.

2, If the words were to be taken literally then they would have to describe a miracle since it is not ordinarily possible to cry blood. If we wanted to emulate this act then we would have to emulate a miracle. It is not possible for ordinary people to perform miracles and cutting ourselves is not analogous to performing miracles.

3, If the Imam (a) does indeed literally cry blood then he does not do it in public.

The Cupping Argument

Wet Cupping (Hijama) is the ancient medical practice of making shallow incisions over an area of skin and then placing a heated cup on the that area; as the cup cools, the reduced pressure causes some blood to flow out of the incisions and into the cup. This is usually done on the skin of the human back.

According to most Muslims scholars this act is considered to be a Sunnah (practice) of the Prophet (s). Although contemporary science has not been able to find any real medical benefit to cupping, there is evidence that it can remove some bodily pain and make people feel more relaxed.

Some supporters of blood flagellation say that these rituals are similar to cupping and thus also recommended. They say that blood flagellation releases blood and so does cupping and that is where the similarity lies.

The Ahlulbayt (a) prohibit the use of Qiyas (unjustifiable analogy) and they criticize those who use it to derive Islamic rulings. Cupping is not Tatbir, and nor is it Zanjeer. We must avoid making this false analogy. Cupping is a clinical procedure that is performed by professionals in a private environment with health and safety measures in place. There is no risk of catching blood borne diseases and it does not create a revolting scene in public that is used to revile the religion. The incisions made in cupping are very small and shallow in comparison to the cuts made by these blood rituals.

Comparing blood flagellation to cupping is like comparing it to any other medical operation that requires the cutting of the skin.

Also, cupping draws out blood from the body in a completely different manner to that of blood flagellation. Therefore those who have experienced cupping, say that it produces effects that are very different to ordinary forms of bloodletting.

Furthermore, contrary to the false allegations of some blood flagellation propagandists, there is no scientific evidence at all that the blood shedding rituals are medially beneficial.

The Argument Against Losing the Symbols of Hussain (a)

This is perhaps one of the most common arguments that is used by promoters of blood flagellation. It is argued that since these rituals have become associated (amongst some people) with the commemoration of Ashura, they now represent the commemoration itself. So you will find that some people call these practices ‘Hussaini rituals’ or the ‘Symbols of Hussain’ (in Arabic ‘Sha’air al-Hussain’). These people may use slogans such as: ‘We must uphold the Sha’air of Hussain’, in opposition to those who are not in favor of the rituals. They consider any calls for a review of these traditions, as an affront to the whole commemoration of Ashura. They also tend to argue that if blood flagellation is stopped then it will be the first step leading to the abolition of other established commemoratory practices, and thus eventually there will be a complete loss of all commemoration.

These arguments are very weak and we only address them because they are made so often. It is incorrect to frame these rituals a ‘Hussaini symbols’ just because some Shias practice them on Ashura. If something has not officially been prescribed by Islam as a Hussaini tradition then it is not proper to enforce the notion upon people that it is indeed a Hussaini tradition. It is akin to labeling the dress code of Muslims in Asia or the Middle East as the ‘Islamic dress code’. Islam is not restricted to any particular culture and to do so would result in the alienation of many Muslims from other cultures. Cultures and traditions change over time and thus what may be considered a mourning practice today may not be seen in the same light in the future.

If these rituals repel people from the message of Imam Hussain (a), then it is an insult to the Imam (a) to give them the label of Sha’air al-Hussain. We should not use that phrase for actions that break the laws of Islam and drive people away from our religion.

The argument that the abolishment of blood rituals will lead to the abolishment of the commemoration of Ashura is indeed a very weak argument. It is like arguing that the abolishment of Taraweeh will eventually lead to the abolishment of Salaat, or that the removal of ‘Asalaatu khair al-min al-nawm’ in the Adhan will eventually lead to the loss of the whole adhan.

Shias who are opposed to blood flagellation are very much in favor of the general commemoration of Ashura as can be seen in the teachings of Ayatullah Khomeini. To suggest otherwise is to involve oneself in spurious propaganda. To be precise, the opposition to blood flagellation is done with the intention of supporting the message of Imam Hussain (a) so that more people will be attracted to it.

Is Tatbir Azadari?

In the same manner that these rituals have been incorrectly labeled as ‘Hussaini rituals’, they have also inappropriately been put under the category of ‘Azadari’. The word Azadari in some Asian languages means mourning; the Arabic equivalent is the word ‘Aza’.

However many of us contend that blood shedding is not a natural means to mourn, also it is not in the Sunnah (as a form of mourning), it wasn’t practiced by pious Shias for centuries and it has many seriously damaging effects. Therefore blood shedding should not be categorized as a true form of Azadari.

Human beings do not strike their heads with swords when they wish to mourn; it is simply not a natural way to mourn. Similarly people do not need to resort to cutting their heads in order to mourn Imam Hussain (a). Since the dawn of Islam until the relatively recent advent of these rituals, pious Shias quite naturally performed Azadari without having to damage their own bodies. The retelling of the tragedy of Karbala drives peoples to tears and inspires them to perform good deeds. This is how it has been for centuries. A grieving person does not naturally resort to cutting their own head and reason does not lead them to doing that either. Those who claim that these acts are their own personal methods of mourning and showing love, should realize that these sentiments of theirs are not natural, and at most they have been acquired.

Unfortunately those who are not in favor of blood shedding are often falsely branded as being against Azadari. This is nothing but propaganda. The word Azadari has been hijacked and the people need to be reminded of this reality.

Misrepresenting and Falsifying the Opinions of the Scholars

Amongst those who promote blood rituals, there are some who have waged a mass propaganda campaign (in support of the rituals) involving means such as the creation of websites, the production of promotional videos, the sending of bulk emails, and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of booklets (often posted directly to the homes of Shias).

These various forms of propaganda intend to demonstrate the desirability of performing the rituals, using evidence from the verdicts of scholars and to a lesser extent from the Quran & Ahlulbayt; and they even claim to use medical science to state the alleged benefits of blood flagellation.

Unfortunately these propagandists often use dishonest means to promote their beliefs. They quite readily misrepresent the opinions of great scholars and sometimes use completely fabricated information. We advise people to verify all sources used by any of the apologists.

The video below shows an explicit case of fabricated information being presented (perhaps unintentionally). The cleric claims that Grand Ayatullah Behjat reports of a fatwa given by Grand Ayatullah Esfahani in support of Tatbir (in reality he was strongly opposed to it). A rather audacious claim is also made that Ayatullah Behjat kept in his possession some clothes drenched with the blood of other people, and he desired to be buried with them! A great and pious man like him would not want to be buried with najis (ritually impure) items.

a

The next video proves that this story, that has been propagated by some blood flagellators, is a fabrication. Ayatullah Behjat himself refutes the whole story.

b

The above example is only one of many. The most common deceptive method used by the propagandists is to misrepresent the actual rulings of the scholars. Often they will present rulings which primarily state the permissibly of these rituals (due to them not being mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah) but they will omit the rulings from the same scholars which prohibit the rituals based on other strong Islamic principles. We encourage people to look at the fatawa page of this site and compare the rulings to those that have been presented in the propaganda material.

The following are just a few of the other methods used by them to mislead people:

1, To quote scholars encouraging Azadari and then using the same quotes to encourage blood shedding. Prime examples are the sayings of Ayatullah Khomeini in support of Azadari. Although he did greatly encourage Azadari, he was against the blood rituals.

2, To quote some historical sources without mentioning that they are not considered authentic. Sometimes the sources are misquoted.

3, To refrain from quoting Islamic narrations that discourage such practices.

4, To claim that blood shedding does not give the religion a bad image but instead draws people towards the religion.

5, To quote minority opinions that do not represent the majority.

Asabiyyah and Political Motives

According to Ayatullah Khomeini Asabiyyah is: “an inner psychic quality which is manifested in patronizing and defending one’s kindred and those with whom one has some kind of affinity or relation, whether it be religious creed or ideology, or whether it be soil or home. The affinity may also be similarity of profession or the relationship of teacher and pupil, or something else. It is a moral vice and an abominable trait which itself begets many more moral and behavioural deviations and vices as well. In itself a condemnable quality, it may take the form of defence of truth or religion, but in reality it is not aimed to defend a just and truthful cause but for extending one’s own influence or that of one’s co-religionists and allies.” Source.

Islam considers asabiyyah to be one the greatest of sins. It was this contemptible attribute that lead the pagans of Makkah to reject the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (a) with the following words: “No! we shall follow the ways of our fathers.” (Quran 2:170). It is this sort of close-mindedness and asabiyyah that has lead to some people’s vehement adherence to blood shedding. Thus we find that some people promote blood shedding only because it is a culture that they have become familiar with, and because of familial and community ties.

People who suffer from asabiyyah and close-mindedness can also be found among those who are considered to be people of religion and knowledge. History shows us that many knowledgeable Muslims have been people with undesirable characteristics.

Ayatullah Khomeini writes about the asabiyyah as seen in some scholars: “One of the types of `asabiyyahs is stubbornness in intellectual matters and the habit of supporting the statements and ideas of one’s own or that of one’s teacher or spiritual master not for the sake of defending truth and refuting falsehood. It is obvious that such a kind of `asabiyyah is worse and more improper in some ways than other types of `asabiyyah. This, because a scholar and an intellectual ought to be an instructor of mankind, scholarship being a branch of the tree of prophethood and wilayah itself.” Source.

Indeed according to Ahlulbayt (a) scholars can be amongst the best and the worst of people:

Imam Ali (a) was asked, “Who are the best of God’s creatures after the Imams?” He replied, “The scholars, when they are righteous.” He was asked, “And who are the worst of God’s creatures, after the Devil and the Pharoah?” He replied, “The scholars, when they are corrupt.”

A hadith of Imam al-Askari, Bihar al-Anwar, volume 89.

Blood flagellation has also been strongly promoted by some because of political motives. It has been used as a means to oppose and vilify the leadership of the Islamic Republic or Iran.

We must never reject the truth because it goes against beliefs that we have become accustomed to, nor should we reject it because it is against the views of our near ones, and we should not reject it due to any hatred that we may hold within ourselves. As Imam Ali (a) says: “… you should prefer truth (even) when it harms you rather than falsehood (even) when it benefits you …”.

Defamation and Vilification

People who have even questioned the suitability of the rituals have often been vilified and denigrated by ardent adherents of blood shedding.

When Grand Ayatullah Muhsin al-Amin wrote in opposition to the rituals (whilst stressing the importance of Azadari) many protagonists vilified him and even resorted to cursing (la’na) him. They started to call his supporters ‘Umayyids’ (Umawiyoon) and they called themselves ‘Alids’ (alawiyoon) i.e. the supporters of Imam Ali (a). In the holy city of Najaf the men selling water to the mourners would call out the phrase: “La’na Allah al-Amin” (May God curse al-Amin). In Nabatieh, South Lebanon some people marched in the streets chanting: “May Allah curse the people who forbid the lamentation of Hussain”. The fierce propaganda campaign was successful in gaining supporters from the uneducated masses in opposition to the Ayatullah.

Grand Ayatullah Muhsin al-Amin wrote the following about this propaganda campaign that started after his writing a book in opposition to blood flagellation:

“Some people rose up against this book and caused disruption. They made ignorant people emotional. They told the ignorant masses that so and so forbids the mourning of Imam Husayn (a). In addition to this they accused me of leaving the religion. – A’yan al-Shia, v.10, p.363

Even today those who discourage these innovated rituals are denigrated and called names such as ‘Nawasib’ (haters of Ahlulbayt), ‘Muqassir’ (one who belittles Ahlulbayt), ‘Wahabi’ and ‘Batri’. They are often accused of being against the mourning of Imam Hussain (a) even though they wish to mourn him (a) in the way that the Imams (a) did.

It is amazing how some people will go to such lengths to vilify their shia brethren just for questioning the permissibility of innovated and damaging rituals. We must speak out against this name calling propaganda. An example of the denigration can be seen in this video where it is said that those who stand in the way of acts such as Tatbir will “have no place but hellfire”.

Ayatullah Sadiq Shirazi has said about Tatbir: “Those who forbid it are from the like of Yazid and are imams of kufr”. This has been verified by his office, and his representative said:

As for those who argue against tatbir, they are mistaken and are ill-informed. However, those who proactively prevent or forbid tatbir, then this is deemed a major sin.

The statement you quoted of Ayatollah Sadiq Shirazi is correct and it can be relied upon.

The evidence.

We cannot agree with that position because many great Shia scholars have prohibited Tatbir and we cannot compare them to the likes of Yazid.

It is this public vilification that has sometimes discouraged many of the great scholars from coming out even more strongly against the rituals.

Those of us who are not in favor of the rituals, must never stoop to this level whereby we vilify, defame, insult, name call  and initiate disunity. Such activities cause the corruption of the soul.

Unjustified Extreme Emphasis

Of all the problems that are associated with the blood shedding rituals, one of the most serious is the unjustified extreme emphasis that is put upon the rituals by some of its proponents.

This extreme emphasis has resulted in some people obtaining a distorted image of the religion. They believe that blood shedding is an integral part of the religion and is unconditionally one the greatest acts of worship. Some Shias end up believing that the rituals are specified acts of worship that have been prescribed by Islam. The extreme emphasis has lead to the neglection of real acts of worship by some Shias. Thus for example some people will shed their blood but will refrain from performing their daily prayers. They will also show animosity to those who question the suitability of these cultural traditions to the extent that they will curse and revile them. This state of affairs has led to splits within the community for the sake of traditions that were not even performed by the Holy Imams (a).

The over emphasis on the rituals can also lead to disillusionment among the sincere believers. The sincere believers are attracted to the teachings of the Quran and Ahlulbayt (a) and when they see that their community is over emphasizing these cultural rituals, it makes them feel disillusioned with the community and its beliefs. The communities could instead put greater emphasis on things such as the importance of Tawheed (Monotheism), the daily prayers, the recitation and study of the Quran and put actual emphasis on commemorating the tragedy of Karbala without the innovated blood rituals.

The Importance of Hijab

Some of the rituals are performed by shirtless men in public and are witnessed by members of the opposite gender. This is frowned upon in Islam and has been prohibited by some scholars:

Ayatullah Khoei: “2830. There is no harm in beating one’s breast in the streets and bazaars (i.e. as a sign of mourning) though the women may be passing from there. However, on the basis of precaution, the mourners should be wearing shirts. Furthermore, there is no harm if standard (‘Alam) etc. are carried before the mourning party, but instruments of amusement should not be used.”Source.

The scenes of these shirtless men is also very unsightly.

The Empathy Argument

Of all the arguments that have been but forward in support of blood shedding, the empathy argument is perhaps the only one that has some merit. However it cannot be used as a justification for blood shedding because it is outweighed by other opposing factors.

The empathy argument contends that acts of self-harm allow us to empathize with those who were the victims of physical harm on Ashura. Some also believe that these acts serve as symbolic demonstrations for their personal willingness to undergo the same suffering as the victims of Karbala, had they been in the same situation.

However considering the other negative factors involved with these acts, and the fact that the Ahlulabyt (a) never performed them, it is no doubt better to refrain from them.

The Ahlulbayt (a) never performed such acts as a show of empathy and thus it is better for us not to.

The rituals often fail to bring about empathy and are not always accurate forms of what the martyrs had to suffer. The pain that a person feels when they hear about what happened to Imam Hussain (a) easily outweighs any empathy that may be achieved from acts of blood shedding. If a person wishes to empathize with Imam Hussain (a) then it is better for them to emulate the characteristics and life struggles of the Imam (a) instead of performing temporary acts of blood shedding. They could better their acts of worship, their good deeds towards humanity and their struggle against injustice. Those are more noble forms of emulation and empathy. Surely a person who truly loves the Imams (a) will want to emulate their characteristics?

The Harm Outweighs Any Contended Benefit

In the Qur’an when Allah discusses Alcohol and Gambling He says: “They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: ‘In both there is great evil as well as some benefit for man; but the evil which they cause is greater than the benefit which they bring.’” (2:219).

Thus the harm brought about by intoxicants and gambling is greater than any benefit they may provide. Similarly if there were any contended benefits to the blood shedding rituals then the harm brought about by them is much more severe.

Below is a list of some of the detriments and benefits of the rituals.

Detriments:

  • Not following the Sunnah of Ahlulbayt (a) when mourning.
  • The extreme emphasis on the rituals gives people wrong ideas about the religion.
  • Weak and perhaps fabricated narrations are quoted to justify the rituals.
  • They severely damage the image of Shia Islam and cause revulsion.
  • Disillusionment amongst the Shia with regards to the practices of their own communities.
  • The possible spread of diseases and the cause of physical harm.
  • Causing disunity in the community along with vilification and defamation.
  • Close-mindedness and asabiyyah created by the unjustified promotion and adherence to the rituals.
  • Bad hijab amongst mourners.
  • Making the surroundings najis.

Benefits:

  • A sense of empathy with the martyrs.

The Safest Course

Considering all the arguments that are presented in favour of and against blood flagellation, the safest course of action to take would be to refrain from the rituals. Consider the following four scenarios*:

1, If a person performs blood shedding and if the act is detrimental for all the reasons that have been given, then that person would be committing some serious sins.

2, If a person performs blood shedding and if the detriments are not real then the merit of performing the acts is very minimal since Ahlulbayt (a) would not refrain from a significantly meritorious act.

3, If a person refrains from the performance of blood shedding and if the act is detrimental for all the reasons that have been given, then that person would receive rewards for refraining from a harmful act that was not practiced by Ahlulbayt (a).

4, If a person refrains from the performance of blood shedding and if the detriments are not real then the merits lost due to non-performance is very minimal since Ahlulbayt (a) would not refrain from a significantly meritorious act.

The argument can be summarized using the following decision matrix:

The rituals are detrimental The rituals are not detrimental
Perform blood shedding Commit serious sins Minimal rewards
Refrain from blood shedding Rewards available Avoid minimal rewards



*The scenario given above assumes that the individual has sufficient knowledge of this subject area.


~ And Allah knows Best ~