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Mourning of Muharram

Tatbir (Arabic: تطبير‎), also known as Talwar zani and Qama Zani in South Asia,[1] is an act of mourning by some of Shi'i Muslims for the younger grandson of Muhammad, Imam Husayn ibn Ali, who was martyred along with his children, companions and near relatives at the Battle of Karbala by the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I.

This action is forbidden by some Shi'a clerics because it is considered as self-damage and haram in Islam.[2]

Performance of Tatbir[edit]

Tatbir is performed every year on 10 Muharram of the Islamic calendar, known as "the Day of Ashura", "Arba'een" and Chehelom by Twelvers around the world. Some Shia also perform tatbir on other occasions like 21 Ramadan (the day when the first Imam, Ali, was martyred in Kufa), 28 Safar (in commemoration of Muhammad's death and martyrdom of the second Imam, Hasan ibn Ali) and any time between 10 Muharram and 8 Rabi' al-awwal.[citation needed]

The practice of Tatbir includes striking oneself with a form of a talwar "sword" on the head, causing blood to flow in remembrance of the innocent blood of Imam Husayn. Some Twelvers also hit their back and/or chest with blades attached to chains.

Views of Grand Ayatollahs regarding Tatbir[edit]

Tatbir has been forbidden by majority of Shia clerics in their verdicts, provided the act does not lead to loss of life or any similar kind of danger to the individual performing it.

Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Ha'eri Yazdi[edit]

Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Ha'eri Yazdi, the founder of the current Hawza in the holy city of Qom, regards tatbir permissible in his verdict in the following manner:

The hitting of swords on the heads (causing bleeding) is alright (allowed) provided there is no harm to the person doing this. Furthermore no one has the right to prohibit this (hitting the head with sword). In fact all kinds of TA’ZIAH – mourning – for SEYYED AL-SHUHADA’ – Imam Hussain – may our souls be sacrificed for him, are MUSTAHAB – desirable deeds.”[3]

The above Fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Karim Ha'eri Yazdi was endorsed and signed by the following eminent maraji:[4][5]

  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Sheikh Mohammad Ali Araki.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Mohammad-Reza Golpaygani.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Shahab-el-Deen al-Mar’ashi al-Najafi.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Hassan al-Tabataba’e al-Qummi.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Muhammad al-Waheedi.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Mirza Jawad Tabrizi.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Muhammad Saadiq al-Rouhani.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma Muhammad Mahdi al-Lankaroudi.

Grand Ayatollah al-Sheikh Muhammad Hussain al-Naa’ini[edit]

Grand Ayatollah al-Sheikh Muhammad Hussain al-Naa’ini, the teacher of the Maraji of the holy city of Najaf.[6]

“There is no doubt as to the permissibility of the beating of the chest and the face with the hands to the point of redness or blackness (of the chest or the face). This is also extended to the lashing of the shoulders and the back with chains to the extent mentioned (above), and even if this led to bleeding. As for causing the bleeding of the head by sword beating, this is also allowed provided it does not lead to endangering harm, such as unstoppable bleeding or harm to the skull, etc. as it is known amongst the experts in doing this (hitting on the head).”[7]

The above Fatwa by grand Ayatollah al-Sheikh Muhammad Hussain al-Naa’ini was endorsed and signed by the following eminent Maraji:[8]

  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Mohsen al-Hakim.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Muhammad Kaadhem al-Shari’atMadari.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Abd-el-A’la al-Sabzewary.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Muhammad Ridha al-Gulpaygani.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Ali al-Hussaini al-Seestani.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Seyyid Muhammad Saadiq al-Rouhani.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Mirza Jawaad al-Tabrizi.
  • Grand Ayatollah al-Udhma al-Sheikh Hussain al-Waheed al-Khurasani.

Grand Ayatollah al-Seyyid al-Shirazi[edit]

Question: Some individuals say that I do not see shedding my tears as enough to express my grief for Imam Hussain (AS), his household and his followers on the day of Ashura. So is hitting myself with sword and injuring myself is allowed?

Answer: The Hussaini Sha’a’er, including TATBIR, are some of the RAAJIH issues. TATBIR is a MUSTAHAB deed, unless it leads to death, loss of limb, or loss of faculties. (RAAJIH means MUSTAHAB that could become WAJIB depending on the circumstances - translator.).

Question: What is your opinion regarding hitting the head with sword – TATBIR – on the day of Ashura whether or not it harms the individual?

Answer: The most common and widely known opinion of the Fuqaha (scholars) is that the desirability (of TATBIR) is in it not being extremely harmful.

Question: If one engages in the program of TA’ZIAH for Imam Hussain (AS), and goes on to serve the program of TA’ZIAH but does not do TATBIR, is he regarded as a sinner, who deserves to be humiliated?

Answer: TATBIR is a desirable act, and a MUKALLAF – i.e. one who has reached the adolescence age and is duty bound – may forsake a desirable act. It is not allowed to humiliate a Mu’min, and also one who does not do TATBIR may not humiliate or insult others, or accuse them (of false things).

Question: What is your opinion regarding the reports that Lady Zaynab (AS), when she saw the head of her brother Imam Hussain peace be upon him, being paraded in public hit her forehead on the bar of the carriage she was travelling in, causing bleeding to flow from beneath her veil, which was visible to onlookers who witnessed the event?

Answer: Yes that is proven. Some of the famous references, which confirm the above report, are as follows:

  • Bihaar al-Anwaar; volume 45, page 114,
  • Jalaa’ al-‘Oyun; volume 2, page 238,
  • Zaynab al-Kubra; page 112,
  • Asraar al-Shahadah; page 474,
  • Al-Muntakhab; volume 2, page 478,
  • Nusrat-ul-Madhlum; page 18.

Also Allamah al-Majlisi (compiler of Bihaar al-Anwaar) – and Sheikh al-Shari’ah al-Isfahani have confirmed the authenticity of the report.

Ayatollah Sayed Sadiq Rohani[edit]

He said, I love the youths that do tatbeer/GhameZani and I ask Allah (swt) to resurrect me with them.[citation needed]

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei[edit]

Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran has stated that Tatbir is haram (forbidden). He says:

It is an incorrect action which some people perform – taking a blade in one’s hand and hitting themselves on the head with it spilling their blood. What do they do this for? How is this action considered mourning? Of course, hitting one’s head with their hands is a form of mourning. You have seen over and over again, a person who has had something bad happen to them, hit themselves on their head and chest. This is a normal sign of mourning. But, have you ever seen a person who has had something bad happen to their most loved (ones) hit themselves on the head with a sword until blood flows down? How is this action considered mourning?[9]

Historical evidences regarding Tatbir[edit]

The following are the few of various narrations recorded, where the Ahl al-Bayt shed their blood during mourning for Imam Hussain:

The people who practice Tatbir take lead, amongst the teachings of other infallible personalities, from Lady Zaynab, heroine of Karbala and sister of Imam Hussain. It is narrated that when Lady Zaynab saw the head of Her brother Imam Hussain being paraded in public, she hit her forehead on the bar of the carriage She was traveling in, causing blood to flow from beneath Her veil, which was visible to onlookers who witnessed the event.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Some people question this narration above and say that "Lady Zaynab was emotional at the time and didn't know what she was doing." However, the fourth Imam, Imam Zain al-Abideen, had said many times to Lady Zaynab “You are, praise be to Allah, a scholar without (the need for) a teacher, and learned without (the need for) a guide” - “Anti al-Hamdu-Lillah ‘Alimatun Ghayra Mu'allimah wa Fahhimatun Ghayra Mufahhimah” [18]

There is also a narration which states that when the tragedies of Imam Hussain were being recited in a mourning ceremony, Imam Zain al-Abideen stood up and hit his head on the wall and blood flowed from His head, and His head and His face became covered in blood.[19]

Also, Imam al-Mahdi states in his Ziyarat Al Nahiya, addressing Imam Hussain:

There is also a narration Regarding Imam Zainul Abideen (As),it has been narrated: years after Karbala, a discussion had come up which led onto talking about the blood-filled tragedy and his great father, and his father’s respected head, and when he (4th Imam) heard these memories:

قام على طوله و نطح جدار البيت بوجهه، فكسر انفه، و شج رأسه، و سال دمه على صدره، و خر مغشياً عليه من شدة الحزن والبكاء.

so he stood erect (like a soldier) and he smashed his head to the wall of the house, and the effect of such a hit caused his nose and head to break and blood gushed down his head and face, and poured onto his chest, and from the intensity of his crying and wails and grief, he fell unconscious.”[21]

Historical evidences for other forms of mourning[edit]

There are also reports that Imam Jafar al Sadiq arranged for 'Shabeeh' or enactment about Ali the Junior (Ali al-Asghar ibn Husayn the son of Imam Husain ibn Ali to recreate the scene of Karbala for the people, and the Imam does not hold this enactment solely for the (Ali al-Asghar ibn Husayn but for all the martyrs of Karbala.[22]

On another occasion a poet comes to the Imam and asks permission to recite a poem about Imam Husain ibn Ali. The Imam told the poet to wait so that he could set up a hijab so that the women could come and listen to the lamentation. When the hijab was set up the Imam invited the women to come and asked the poet to start reciting, which he did. The Imam stopped him and asked him to recite the lamentation in way and dialect, which he does it in their hometown (in Iraq for example).

All these indicate that the Ahl al-Bayt used to teach and proactively encourage their followers to uphold the memory, torment, and the teachings of Imam Husain ibn Ali by words and poetry, by enactment - Shabeeh - to recreate the scenery of the day of Ashura in Karbala, and by show devotion to Imam Husain ibn Ali in Tatbeer as shown by Zaynab bint Ali al-Kubra.[23]


  1. ^ "Fatwa on Tatbir [Qama Zani]". Pasbaan-e-Aza. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  2. ^ Monsutti, Alessandro; Naef, Silvia; Sabahi, Farian (2007). The Other Shiites: From the Mediterranean to Central Asia. Peter Lang. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-3-03911-289-0. 
  3. ^ "Tatbir Fatawa". ImamShirazi.com. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  4. ^ "Tatbir Fatawa". ImamShirazi.com. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  5. ^ "Kuwait: Shia leaders stick to Grand Maraje Fatwa in favor of Tatbir". Jafariya News Network. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  6. ^ "Verdicts of Marajay on Azadari of Imam Husain [p]". Jafariya News Network. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  7. ^ "Verdicts of Marajay on Azadari of Imam Husain [p]". Jafariya News Network. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  8. ^ "Verdicts of Marajay on Azadari of Imam Husain [p]". Jafariya News Network. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  9. ^ A speech given to scholars of Kahgiluyeh and Bavir Ahmad, Muharram, 1372
  10. ^ Bihar ul-Anwar, vol 35
  11. ^ Ferdous al-A'laa, page 19
  12. ^ Majales ul-Faakhera, page 298
  13. ^ Jalaa al-Oyun, vol 2, page 238
  14. ^ Zaynab al-Kubra, page 112
  15. ^ Asraar al-Shahadah, page 474
  16. ^ Al-Muntakhab, vol 2, page 478
  17. ^ Nusrat ul-Madhlum, page 18
  18. ^ Ehtejaaj, page 335
  19. ^ Dar ul-Salaam’e Mohadese Noori, vol 2
  20. ^ Ziyarat al-Nahiya
  21. ^ دار السلام للمحدث نوری/جلد2/صفحه179
  22. ^ "Ashura". ImamShirazi.com. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  23. ^ "Ashura". ImamShirazi.com. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 

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