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Tabarra (Arabic: تبرأ) is a Shia Muslim doctrine that refers to the obligation of disassociation with those who oppose God and those who caused harm to and were the enemies of the Islamic prophet Muhammad or his family.
Every Shia Muslim believes it to be their duty to dissociate themselves from the enemies of God and his Messengers. Muslims differ on whom to consider to be the enemies of God, Muhammad and the Ahl al-Bayt. For brevity, only Ahl al-Bayt will be mentioned in this article.
The doctrine of Tabarra itself does not dictate whom to dissociate from or whom to associate with. It dictates the dissociation of those identified as enemies of Ahl al-bayt. The identification is up to every individual.
For example, some people may regard Mua'wiyah as the enemy of Ahl al-Bayt. In that case, it becomes obligatory to dissociate oneself from Mua'wiyah.
A Quranic verse can be found that carries the same message as this doctrine.
A (declaration) of immunity from Allah and His Messenger, to those of the Pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliances:-
Baraatun is derived from the same consonantal root as Tabarra.
Shia and Sunni differences
In some cases Sunni and Shia have the same view, for example regarding Abū Lahab, Amr ibn Hishām and Umayyah ibn Khalaf. But controversies arise concerning the Sahabah since Sunnis believe in the uprightness of all Sahaba while Shia do not.
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Due to the Shia view of early Muslim history, one Shia scholar[who?] stated:
Regarding the doctrine of' Tabarri we believe that we should seek disassociation from four idols namely, Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and Mu'awiyah; from four women namely, Ayesha, Hafsa, Hind and Ummul Hakam, along with all their associates and followers. 'These are the worst creation of Allah. It is not possible to believe in Allah, His Messenger and the Imams without disassociating oneself from their enemies.—Haqqul Yaqeen: 2:519
Note that the scholar says "from their enemies" and not "from Umar & co". Every Muslim believes that it is important to disassociate themselves from the enemies of Muhammad, however Muslims differ upon who those are.
Shia also believe that this view was held by the descendants of Muhammad. Shia hold for authentic a narration attributed to Muhammad al-Baqir. He was reported to have replied to his disciple who had sought the Imam's opinion regarding Abu Bakr and Umar:
"What are you asking me about them (Abu Bakr and Umar)? Whoever among us (Ahl al-Bayt) or the progeny of Muhammad departed from this world, departed in a state of extreme displeasure with them. The elders among us admonished the younger ones to perpetuate it (extreme displeasure with them), Verily, the two of them have unjustly usurped our right. By Allah! These two were the first to settle on our (Ahl al-Bayt) necks . Therefore, may the la'nat (curse) of Allah, the Malaikah (angels) and of mankind be on the two of them.—Kitabur Raudhah Page 115
In the same book, on the same page appears the following:
"Verily. these two elders (Abu Bakr and Umar) departed from this world without having made taubah for what they had perpetrated against Ameerul Mumineen Alayhis Salaam. In fact, they did not even think of us (of their wrongs against Hadhrat Ali). Therefore, the la'nat of Allah, the Malaikah and of mankind be on them."—Kitabur Raudhah Page 115
Since Shia hold for authentic narrations where the descendants of Muhammad cursed the Sunni Caliphs, Shia also curse them (which does not literally mean using inappropriate terms for them, but rather asking God to withdraw His mercy from them) when doing tabarra.
This added to the persecution of the Shias by the Sunnis. To protect themselves in times where their life were in jeopardy, Shias used the doctrine of Taqiyya and were prevented from using tabarra in public.
Tabarra is not a part of the Sunni aqidah. There may be times where a Sunni person has cursed someone or something erroneously, however, it is not reflective of, or associated with, the Sunni nature. An example of one of these errors is when talking about Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, a person held as responsible for the killing of Hussein ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala:
May Allah curse the son of Ibn Sumiyya (Ibn Ziyad, la’natullahi ‘alayh)!