By: Amin Dagher
“O you who believe! When it is said to you, Make room in (your) assemblies, then make ample room, Allah will give you ample, and when it is said: Rise up, then rise up. Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge, in high degrees; and Allah is Aware of what you do” (58:11).
The aforementioned verse is the only verse in the Holy Quran that discusses the philosophy of Majales. The word “Majales” itself is translated in English to “congregational gatherings.”
As we all know, the religion of Islam is a holistic system of values on which man relies in his daily life. It provides guidelines in the theological, ethical, legal, and social fields. Man requires guidance in the social field: He needs to follow the set of rules provided by Islam in order to maintain his discipline as a human being. Our religion gives us insight on how to walk, talk, eat, and engage in social interaction with the other. Among the most important social etiquette discussed in Islam is the etiquette of the social gathering, or congregation.
In the Muslim world, in an annual event during the month of Muharram, hundreds of Muslims sit together in congregation to honor the message of the Prophet (p)’s grandson, Imam Al Hussein (a.s.). They are known as “Majales”.
However, these Majales have been the subject of intense scrutiny from both Muslims and non-Muslims as well. Some claim that these Majales are innovations upon the Shariah, since they were not instituted by the Prophet (p) himself.
Likewise, there seems to be scrutiny within Muslims themselves, claiming that the congregations are mere gatherings of people who have to listen to repeated lectures concerning historical events that have no relevance to our contemporary times.
What is the purpose of these gatherings? In what Quranic context was the word “Majles” mentioned in the Quran? Are Majales innovations or are they part of the religion? Should these Majales be reformed?
The aim of Masjed Al-Nabawi, built by the Prophet (p), was not only for performing prayers, but also to be a school for knowledge seekers, and even a sanctuary for the poor and the needy who needed shelter and food. Thus, the mosque must be always full by the community where people would congregate.
Originally, a Majles was not to honor Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.); the Prophet (p) himself used to sit by a ledge (Suffah) next to where he is buried today. As the Prophet (p) used to sit by the ledge, his companions around him, the former would hold a Majles.
It has been narrated in some stories that the companions used to love the Prophet (p) so dearly that they would stick to him while he sat at the ledge, and he never minded it.
Once, while the Prophet (p) was holding a Majles, a renowned scholar came in. the Prophet (p)’s companions did not make room for him to have a seat, thus the verse “O you who believe! When it is said to you, Make room in (your) assemblies, then make ample room, Allah will give you ample” was revealed.
As mentioned by His Eminence the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, even the minute details of our daily lives are expanded upon in the Quran. The verse serves as a reminder that reverence to scholars is an obligation. It was not a matter of social class, but rather pay respect for the scholars who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of gaining and disseminating knowledge as well.
However, Majles has become an occasion in which the tragedy of Imam Hussein (a.s.) is recited. Each year, the memories of the tragedy are revived in an overwhelming manner where the speaker tries to provoke people’s sentiment and emotion, and even resorts to relating stories that are not always trustworthy.
His Eminence believes that the Hussaini platform, upon which the tragedy is recited, must be an occasion to discuss innovative concepts related to our world in the 21st century, current affairs, and even taboo subjects: “We believe that bringing up the tragic aspect of the Hussaini cause is not required for itself, turning it merely into a cause that brings about tears and enflames sadness, regardless of the resulting positive outcomes. Rather, it is one of the means for invigorating the feelings against those who have committed this tragedy, so as to take a negative historical stand from them, and reflecting that onto reality and renewing our refusal, through the Hussaini cause, to whosoever commits any wronging against Islam and Muslims, and against the right and the rightful, and against the downtrodden. In this way, the Hussaini cause, in its tragic sense, would be the basis for all the human miseries, especially those lying within the Islamic circle; thus, exerting every effort to thwart these miseries by standing in the face of whosoever is committing them in reality.
Therefore, the speaker who is narrating the tragedy ought to direct it towards the main goal and objective, demonstrating Al-Hussein (a.s.) as an Imam who experienced the tragedy in his heart, feelings and body, and through his relatives and companions, all for the sake of the bigger cause; thus, enabling man to experience the emotional ambience mixed with the intellectual, revolutionary, and humanistic one.”
The Sayyed believes that these memories represent our entire history which still provides the soul, morals, lines, and movement with a certain value, for these memories actually represent an intellectual, spiritual, and political essence.
However, this essence ought to have certain means for expressing it, and since we know that the expressional methods develop with time, a certain method might be useful at a certain phase and not useful at another, and it might be advanced at a certain phase and backward at another. Therefore, the expressional methods of our times that we might resort to should neither contradict with the line of Islam, nor be far from its legal significations and practices, so as to be able to face this age by means of its own language and style. In this way, we would commemorate Ashoura in a theatrical ambience which conforms to the lawful lines and in the prospect of social mobilization at all levels, which could provide every generation with the elements which would open up man to the values, Islam, the revolution and the movement in man's reality and future.