SSF: The origins and scope of Shiite mourning rituals

Held on 8th December 2018 at AMI.

As mourning rituals for Imam Husayn have become a marker of Shia identity and a symbol of the faith, Shia scholars met to discuss the religious justifications and historical origins of different forms of commemoration. Whilst the reward for shedding tears and reciting poetry as a way of mourning have been enumerated in narrations from the Imams, other acts such as the beating of the chest in an institutionalised manner finds no recommendation in narrations but have been allowed because of a general principle that every act is permitted unless it has been specifically prohibited. More extreme acts such as blood-letting were most likely introduced into Shia culture through interactions with the Ottomans and with certain Catholic groups who carried out the practice. These practices have received mixed responses from the Shia marājiʿ ranging from absolute prohibition to encouraging the act as a show of devotion.

One of the recurrent concerns is the impact of our actions on the image of our faith with a repeated emphasis from certain marājiʿ that anything which harms people’s perception of Islam should be avoided. The remit of different forms of commemoration in an age of social media, where even chest-beating receives negative attention, was one of the focal points of discussion following the presentation. It was also questioned whether mourning for Imam Husayn is an end in itself or a means to an end, and if it is the latter, what are the objectives of mourning and are we achieving them?

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