Bukhari quotes from ‘Abd Allah that the Holy Prophet (S) said,
«ليس منّا من لطمَ الخدودَ وشقَّ الجيوبَ ودعا بدعوی الجاهليةِ.»
“A man who slaps his face, rends his collar and promotes the legacy of the Age of Ignorance (before the advent and rise of Islam) is not from us.”21
Some have made use of this hadith to prohibit beating the chest and mourning for the awliya’ of Allah, including the Doyen of Martyrs, Aba ‘Abd Allah al-Husayn (as).
This hadith views the act of beating the chest as an objection to Allah’s decree and mourning as a means of protesting against one’s destiny when a beloved one dies. This is the view which most of the commentators of the book of hadith of Sahih Bukhari have adopted; among them ‘Asqalani, Mulla ‘Ali Qari, Kirmani and Qastalani.22
Kirmani writes, “If a person says that rending one’s collars and hitting one’s face will not cause man to be banished from this ummah (Islamic community), what therefore is the meaning of such a prohibition?” In response, we say that this prohibition is a result of intensity and severity. If the statement regarding the Age of Ignorance is interpreted to mean disbelief [kufr], like making lawful what is unlawful [haram] or the lack of submission to and acceptance of divine decree, then the prohibition is correct.23
Manawi adds a footnote to this hadith saying, “The above interpretation denotes lack of contentment, and assumes a lack of satisfaction with devine decree.”24
In conclusion, this hadith is not proof against beating the chest on the day of ‘Ashura while mourning over the sufferings of Imam al-Husayn (as) and the other awliya’ of Allah, because in this case beating the chest is a deed which is meant to show homage and paying tribute. It is done to show reverence to the religion and as a manifestation of love for the Ahl al-Bayt.
This sorrow and grief is in no way a display of discontentment with Allah’s decree. Such grief, in fact, is in one aspect exhibition of intense sorrow over the failure of Muslims to support Imam al-Husayn (as) in his struggle to keep alive Allah’s law and decree.
There are some traditions in Shi‘ah sources of hadith which appear to prohibit beating the chest and mourning.
1. Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah Ansari says, I asked Imam al-Baqir (as) about grief [jaza‘]. He (as) said,
«أشدُّ الجزعِ الصراخُ بالويلِ، ولطمُ الوجهُ والصدرِ وجزُّ الشعرِ من النواصيَ، ومن أقامَ النواحةَ فقد ترك الصبرَ، واخذ في غيرِ طريقةٍ.»
“The most intense grief is wailing while saying “woe”, slapping the face and pulling the front hair out. Anyone who mourns and expresses grief has certainly lost his patience and is on the path of impatience.”25
2. It has been recounted that Imam al-Sadiq (as) said,
«نهی رسول الله صَلَّی اللهُ عَلَيهِ وَآله عن الرنة عند المصيبة، ونهی عن النياحةِ والاستماعِ اليها.»
“The Prophet of Allah forbade crying loudly when one is afflicted with a misfortune. He also forbade mourning or listening to it.”26
3. ‘Amru ibn Abi Miqdam narrates that I heard Imam al-Baqir (as) commenting on the Qur’anic verse, “And will not disobey you in what is good.”27 He said,
«إذا أنا متُّ فلا تخمشي عليَّ وجهاً، ولا تُرخي عليَّ شعراً، ولا تنادي بالويل، ولا تقيمَنَّ على نائحةٍ.»
“The Prophet of Allah (S) told his daughter, Fatimah (as), ‘When I die, do not scratch your face, dishevel your hair nor mourn or cry loudly’.”28
Firstly, this type of hadiths does not prohibit the holding of mourning ceremonies. On the contrary, they intend to restrain or prohibit any action that is not compatible with submission to divine decree and the will of Allah because some people lose their control when a beloved one dies or when they are afflicted with calamity.
They complain and grumble in protest, and question Allah’s decree. However, when holding mourning ceremonies involves the recounting of the virtues and good deeds of the deceased through elegies and mournful poems, there is no problem with this.
Secondly, the traditions which apparently prohibit mourning and the reading of mournful poems are related to instances that do not have positive practical effects. However, mourning for the awliya’ of Allah is reasonable and rational. We have previously shown that mourning for Allah’s awliya’ (as) is reasonable under stated general rationales.
It has also been shown that mourning for Allah’s awliya’ was the conduct of the Prophet of Allah (S), the pure and chaste Ahl al-Bayt (as) and the Prophet’s companions. Even the generation which came after the Noble Prophet and Muslims throughout the entire history of Islam have been holding mourning ceremonies for the awliya’ of Allah, especially for the sufferings of Imam al-Husayn (as).
We have also shown that such ceremonies have practical positive results for Muslim individuals and society.
Thirdly, in some hadiths, it has been explicitly stated that holding mourning ceremonies is permissible and that it is even quite desirable and preferable to grieve and express sorrow over the sufferings of Imam al-Husayn (as).
1. A hadith has been recounted that Imam al-Sadiq (as) said,
«کلُّ الجزعِ والبکاءِ مکروهٌ سوی الجزعَ والبکاءَ على الحسينِ عليه السّلام.»
“Every kind of despondency and crying is disapproved [makruh], except grieving and crying for Imam al-Husayn (S).”29
2. Imam al-Rida (as) told his son,
«... إنّ يومَ الحسينِ عليه السّلام اقرحَ جفونَنا واسبلَ دموعَنا واذلَّ عزيزَنا بأرضِ کربٍ وبلا واورثَنا الکربَ والبلاءَ الى يومِ الانقضاءِ...»
“… Verily, the day of al-Husayn (the day of ‘Ashura) has lacerated eyes and made them swollen. It has caused our tears to flow because our beloved one has been exposed to abjectness in the land of Karbala. He has left for us to inherit sorrow and afflication for as long as we are to live in this world…”30
3. Imam al-Sadiq (as) told ‘Abd Allah ibn Hammad, “News has reached me that a group of people around the area of Kufah and other places and also a group of women gather on the 15th of Sha‘ban near the holy shrine of al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali and mourn the loss of al-Husayn (as). They recite the Holy Qur’an, and some among them recount the story of ‘Ashura and the events that came to pass while the rest of them weep and wail.”
Hammad told the Imam (as), “I witnessed these mourning ceremonies myself.” Imam al-Sadiq (as) said, “Praise be to Allah that He has made some men inclined and affectionate towards us (the Ahl al-Bayt), so that they may praise and extol us. They mourn for us and rebuke our enemies, and in this way clearly expose the ugly and unacceptable deeds of those who oppose us.”31
4. Ibn Quluyah quotes Masma‘ Kardin recounting that Imam al-Sadiq (as) asked him, “Do you commemorate the events of Karbala?” I answered, “Yes, I do.” He asked, “Do you grieve and express sorrow?” I said, “Yes, I swear upon Allah that I cry!” The Imam (as) said, “May Allah accept your crying and reward you for it. Be aware that you are one of those people who express sorrow for our sake, and show joy for our joy.”32
21. Sahih Bukhari, no. 1220.
22. Fath al-Bari, vol. 3, p. 195; Sharh al-Kirmani ‘ala al-Bukhari, vol. 7, p. 88; Irshad al-Sari, vol. 2, p. 406; ‘Umdah al-Qari, vol. 8, p. 87.
23. Sharh al-Kirmani ‘ala al-Bukhari, vol. 7, p. 88.
24. Fayd al-Qadir, vol. 5, p. 493.
25. Wasa’il al-Shi‘ah, vol. 2, p. 915, Bab Kirahat al-Sirakh bi’l-Wayl wa’l-‘Awil.
27. Surat al-Mumtahanah 60:12.
28. Wasa’il al-Shi‘ah, vol. 2, p. 915.
29. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 44, p. 289.
30. Ibid., p. 285.
31. Ibn Quluyah, Kamil al-Ziyarat, p. 539, section [bab] 108.
32. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 44, p. 289.