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.