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Q and A on Ashoura rituals

Date: 01/12/2011 A.D - H

Translated by: Manal Samhat

Q: What is the legislative stand towards the act of crying in Ashoura over Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) and his progeny (a.s.)?

A: The spiritual bond with Al-Hussein (a.s.) and the elite of the Members of his House and his companions ought to be an emotional bond, as well as a faithful rational one, for loving the revolutionist requires enrooting his revolution in one's heart and thought at the same time.

In the beginning, the Members of the House (a.s.) who planned for reviving the memory of the Hussaini revolution wanted people to hold Ashoura ceremonies and chanters to recite poems that make people cry, for they used to stir emotions in the way that was common at that time. We are aware that the act of crying is one of the essential means of expressing one's feelings, but does crying represent a lifeless traditional state, i.e. a ritual just as any other Ashoura ritual? Is this crying not in any way related to one's innermost? Does the act of crying take place without any awareness? Or does this crying represent how deep man is interacting with the cause of Al-Hussein (a.s.)?

As a matter of fact, we must not experience Ashoura as a traditional state that brings about tears, turning crying merely into an external aspect, but rather, it should be based on the awareness of the cause as a whole, away from its surrounding environment and the tunes used in composing the poems, in a way man would cry over it as if he is crying over an ordeal that he had gone through. Actually, this is what enroots the memory in one's conscience and preserves its vibrancy in his feelings, instead of turning it into a tradition, in which he would cry as he sees other people crying, or cry just because it is required to cry during Ashoura without being touched by the misery or tragedy, i.e. turning Ashoura into an occasion for crying upon listening to the tune played, rather than an occasion that reveals the depth of the human affection.

Q: You deem "violent slapping" forbidden, what is meant by this kind of slapping and is ordinary slapping enlisted under the same category; thus, deeming it forbidden, as well?

A: I consider slapping, in its nature, a means to express deep grief and sadness. Therefore, I cannot but encourage the phenomenon of slapping in the Hussaini Ashoura procession and I disapprove of removing it from the Ashoura rituals. However, we must keep in mind that slapping, just as crying, is a means for expressing the humanistic state of grief; thus, it would be natural that it should, in a humanistic way, be carried out by means of composed slapping that reveals reverence, rather than violent show-off slapping that represents one of the discordant forms through which people express any of their situations; thus, making slapping lose its expressive sense by turning it into a kind of a show-off art.

Moreover, just as other jurists, I deem the act of inflicting harm on one's own body forbidden, even if this harm does not lead to a major danger, meaning that even if slapping affects man physically, in a way he would recover in a day or two, I still deem this act forbidden, for it would be of the same nature as when one exposes himself to cold wind to catch bronchitis, or eats a meal that he knows will cause him a fever or diarrhea. Therefore, I deem all such acts forbidden, for Allah prevents man from inflicting harm upon himself, for the act of harming oneself is forbidden, just as it is forbidden to wrong others.

Allah, the Most Exalted, says in His Glorious Book: "And We did them no injustice, but they were unjust to themselves." (16:118). Actually, this Ayah reveals that Allah rejects the act whereby man wrongs himself, be it by unbelief which makes his abode in Hellfire, or by violating his own human rights. Moreover, inflicting harm on one's self is forbidden, rationally and mentally, as Sheikh Murtada Al-Ansari (May Allah shower him with His mercy) has mentioned.

Therefore, by forbidding the act of violent slapping that harms man, I am actually doing so from the perspective of forbidding harm itself, and not forbidding one of the features of commemorating Ashoura. As a matter of fact, we encourage commemorating the tragedy of Karbala by any means that express sorrow and grief, provided that they conform to the legislative line.

Q: Are the feasts held during Ashoura and the donations dedicated for this purpose considered among the rites for commemorating Ashoura?

A: Actually, this constitutes a social occasion to express love towards the Members of the House (a.s.) and Al-Hussein (a.s.) by holding feasts in his name; thus, revealing to people that Al-Hussein (a.s.) can bring people together to commemorate his tragedy in a social occasion, where people gather around to share food, which constitutes a primary step towards uniting on Al-Hussein (a.s.)'s revolutionary issues. This represents a social act in which people share their love to Al-Hussein (a.s.), considering that it is done for the sake of Allah, and dedicated to the soul of Al-Hussein (a.s.). However, I prefer that people invite the poor who might be deprived of such food to such meals and feasts.

Q: Are the processions and marches held during Ashoura considered one of the acceptable forms of commemorating this anniversary?

A: The marches and processions held during Ashoura actually represent a great means for mobilizing the entire society, including men, women, the youth, and the elderly, for they would form a current that moves towards the horizon that Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) has opened for all those who would follow his lead. However, I would like these processions not only to highlight the tragic aspect, but also to include the social and moral aspects, as well as the political one when possible.

We can also include the political issue by talking about the politics in the past, from which people would deduce what applies to the present and future, and figure out that we would like the huge effort that they exerted to pledge allegiance to the Members of the House to be turned into an adoption of their values, as well as their social and political lines both in theory and practice. This would actually be a true revival for their memory, for the tragedy allows people to experience it from an emotional aspect, as a primary step that leads them to the political, social, and moral aspects.

Moreover, I even call for renewing the emotional means of expression for lots of the means and ways still used by people in funerals and processions have become obsolete, for they used to express the cultural context that linked the tragedy itself to the feeling of sorrow. As for the present day, there are new methods for expressing one's grief and making use of the emotional aspect to immortalize the tragedy.

Q: Is it permissible to use rhetorical methods and unrealistic emotional suggestions to stir people's feelings and evoke their emotions? And is it permissible to use inaccurate or questionable narrations just because they are exciting and could evoke people's emotions and bring about tears?

A: We believe that it is necessary for the speaker who recites the Hussaini tragedy to be literarily educated, meaning that he should possess the skill of artistic expression, for it is by such artistic image that highlights the scene with its shadows and colors and that points out the moral suggestions in the atmosphere of the narration one could leave a profound impact, especially when we rely on the elements of the true tragedy, which open up man's feelings to the invisible elements in the narration. Therefore, we might be able, by means of these rhetorical methods and artistic representation of this dreadful tragedy, to do without many other methods that lay emphasis on unauthentic traditions, or conditions that do not conform to the nature of the memory's Islamic line.

As for the issue of resorting to unreliable narrations for the purpose of evoking people's emotions, it might be acceptable, as long as they do not contradict with the vital Islamic lines and themes of the Hussaini cause. Therefore, the speaker would be allowed to read it as a narrated story, provided that its own concepts conform to the Islamic concepts and the Hussaini revolutionary theme. Thus, it is impermissible to relate weak stories that picture Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) as a frightened, scared, and weak person who calls on his enemies for help, or Sayyeda Zeinab (a.s.) as a frightened person who is disturbed and weak. Thus, when we take into consideration these aspects, it would constitute no problem to relate the narration, be it authentic or weak.

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.

Q: What is the religiously legal opinion on getting paid for reciting the Hussaini tragedy, considering that it is a call for a message that is obligatory on every human being?

A: We believe that the speaker, as it is commonly known, undertakes this mission as a job from which he sustains himself, especially if he is totally dedicated to it, meaning that he would strive hard, throughout the year, to prepare himself through extensive reading, and practice his recital. Therefore, he would be considered as any other person who would perform a cultural job for the society, as a result of the society's need for him to enliven its traditions and customs, considering that the Hussaini issue has somehow turned into a tradition enrooted in people's reality, especially in the Islamic Shiite milieu.

However, the speaker who undertakes this job must make sure not to subject it to the influences of the common people, meaning that he should not turn the entire message in the way that pleases them; thus, moving the Hussaini cause away from its natural Islamic course. On the contrary, he ought to open his job to the issues of the message, and apply it in the line of the Islamic reality that aims to enrich humanity, by means of this historic cause that overlooks the movement of the present and the future, as well.

We deem the act where the speaker receives a return for his recitals legitimate and justified, and it does not constitute any problem. He could even be rewarded by Allah even if he gets paid, if the recitals he chooses conform to the atmosphere of the message, in the sense that they would enrich the experience of the people who listen to these recitals and act according to them.

We would like to say to whosoever holds Hussaini ceremonies, or whosoever attends them, that they ought to consider how Al-Hussein (a.s.) used to think and remember all his words in all the values he had established in Ashoura, and in all the stands he had taken, sacrifices he had offered, pains he had bore, and slogans he had raised, so as to realize that his tragedy was not that of one's self; but rather, it was a tragedy of a cause he had embodied. Actually, we emphasize the necessity of expressing our affection by tears, emotions, and sentiments, so as to embark on the processions in a way that expresses our grief which joins the tragedy together with the cause.

Therefore, the efforts one exerts for the sake of holding a Hussaini funeral, as well as the money he pays and time he spends, should not go in vain, in the sense that people should not merely cry and not live the cause.

Let Ashoura be commemorated and expressed as a tear in the eye, and a grief in the heart…and as a letter in the mind and a revolution of freedom and a movement in the course of dignity, so that we would not surrender, be humiliated or flee like slaves… and commemorate Ashoura the way Imam As-Sadiq (a.s.) has put it down: "Revive our issue and mission; may Allah have mercy on whosoever revives our issue and mission." We would also commemorate Ashoura on the basis that Al-Hussein (a.s.) was the successor of all messages; he inherited Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Ali, so that we would say to him: "I testify that you upheld the prayers, paid the zakat, enjoined what is good, forbade what is evil and obeyed Allah until the last breath."

These are the lines on the basis of which we ought to commemorate Al-Hussein's memory. Our aim should be to encourage upholding prayers, paying the zakat, enjoining good, forbidding evil, and obeying Allah and knowing Him.

We ought to work for the sake of what all the messages had called for; the messages of prophets that were embodied in Al-Hussein, so that they would be embodied in us once again. Therefore, one ought to encourage the speakers who consider the commemoration a tear that goes hand in hand with the depth of the message, and a message in the depth of the movement, and a mind lying within the emotions, so as to bring up a generation that experiences the message with Al-Hussein (a.s.) away from all the traditional generation that does not live the major objective of the cause of Al-Hussein (a.s.) in the reality.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for commemorating these occasions, to develop the way of commemorating these occasions and bringing them closer to the aspired goal?

A: I believe 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.

Q: What is your opinion on the accustomed methods of commemorating Ashoura, such as elegies, lamentation and the like?

A: I believe that it is necessary to preserve the popular traditions that represent a mobilization means which maintains people's loyalty to the Members of the House (a.s.) and the emotional interaction with Al-Hussein (a.s.), and opens up to the general aspects of the Hussaini revolution in the line of Islam, for the people have their own way of expressing grief or any emotions that might have a profound effect which no other traditional cultural means may have. However, this should not prevent us from linking these popular traditions to how much they conform to the movement of Islam concerning its conception of things, and its relation with history, and how it responds to some of the traditional concepts and so on, so as to move these popular means away from the ephemeral elements in the movement of man throughout time. Actually, man is capable, even by popular means, of receiving new ways of expression, new traditions, and new elements, so as to preserve the efficiency of these means amidst the development of people's innermost. Some issues might have had an influence at earlier phases, regardless of whether they were forbidden or allowed; however, time might surpass them, rendering them ineffective on the social reality at future stages, considering that they are a rigid legacy that no longer enjoys any influence on man's soul or intellect.

Q: Some of the accustomed methods of commemorating Ashoura include acting or depicting some or all the events that took place on the tenth of Muharram, such as Al-Kassem's wedding…etc., which requires playing the roles of the Imams (a.s.), what is your opinion on that?

A: When examining these methods, we ought to confirm the historic authenticity of the issue in question, for trying to verify the historic value of what does not have a history or what does not enjoy a historical reliable value might lead to certain intellectual or conceptual complications, which might have a negative impact on the bright image of the Hussaini biography.

For example, the issue of Al-Kassem's wedding has no historic ground and I believe that those who handled it actually did so based on the suggestive emotional element that is embodied in certain social customs, which is based on the concept that a man should marry his cousin. Therefore, since Al-Kassem and Sukayna were at a young age that enables them to get married, it was natural that the narrators should turn to these two people as tragic elements that add to the flow of emotions. Therefore, the listener would feel that these two young people that were waiting to get married have lost their dream, as a result of the martyrdom which added to the actual tragedy an emotional tragedy.

However, this suggestive play that has no historic basis might have a few positive aspects represented by the ability to bring up emotions and set the popular ambiences for this tragic ambience that is full of emotional suggestions, keeping in mind that the issue moves in the line of suggestions and not in the line of historic reality. I do not find any problem in proceeding with acting these events, provided that they do not turn into historical facts in man's conscience.

We also do not find any problem in the traditions that present a character which resembles the character of Ali Al-Akbar, Al-Kassem, or the women captives (Sabaya)…etc., so as to transform the historic image from a mental state into an expressive one, whose impact on our emotions exceeds its impact on our abstract conceptions. We do not believe that playing the drums in these occasions is forbidden, considering that they are, more or less, like the drums hit during wars which flare enthusiasm without leading to any distraction which conforms to the state of debauch. Moreover, we have previously deemed permissible any music or tune which does not arouse the instincts or is not enlisted under the category of "tunes of the people of debauch."

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