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Miscellaneous

Mourning ceremonies and depression

Depressive disorders are divided into three main groups:

1. Major depression.

2. Habitual depression.

3. Circumstantial depression.1

Major depression is the most intense type of depression. Some of its signs include:

a. Feelings of sorrow, emptiness or purposelessness for the greater part of the day or even the whole day.

b. Visible and apparent decrease of interest in and enjoyment of daily activities for the better part of the day.

c. Visible decrease in body weight without abstaining from food or noticeable increase in body weight in the course of one month.

d. Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleepiness throughout the day.

e. Fatigue and loss of energy for most of the day.

f. Lack of self-worth or excessive feelings of guilt.

g. Decrease in mental capacity, lack of concentration and inability to make decisions.

h. Recurring thoughts about death.

Upon consideration of these three types of depression, it is clear that the first and third types are not intended by those who say that mourning ceremonies are a cause of sorrow and depression in the society.

The first type is extreme and it is clearly invalid to claim that the Shi‘ah societies are widely afflicted by major or chronic depression and sorrow.

The third type of depression is also not intended by the sceptics because it is related to special and particular instances like premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or depressive disorders that follow psychological distress like schizophrenia.

Therefore, habitual depression and sorrow is that which is intended by critics. Habitual depression is relatively minor and has the following features:

a. Lack of appetite or excessive appetite.

b. Lack of sleep (insomnia) or excessive sleepiness.

c. Lack of energy or excessive fatigue.

d. Difficulty in decision making or feelings of helplessness.

e. The appearance or manifestation of these symptoms for the greater part of the day or for most days for a period of at least two years.

f. The symptoms are not a result of physiological effects due to inappropriate use of medicines, etc.

g. The symptoms result in disruption of the individual’s work and social activities.

Now, we will examine whether or not mourning ceremonies bring about the symptoms of habitual depression in man, and therefore cause social despondency.

In order to make this issue clear, it is necessary to scrutinize the factors which cause depression and despondency from the viewpoint of psychology. Psychologists have enumerated three main factors that cause depression: existential, hereditary and environmental stimulants.2

The surroundings or situation alone do not cause depression. In fact, negative stimuli in the environment are only effective in people who have a background of hereditary depression or biological disorder in the brain affecting its normal function.

In addition, mourning ceremonies cannot be classed as environmental causes that generate intense stress. Real grief and sorrow resulting from current tragic events can cause extreme distress and depression, but mourning ceremonies for the awliya’ of Allah play no part in producing intense stress.

On the contrary, and with due attention to issues discussed in social psychology about the characteristics of religious rituals, it can be said that mourning ceremonies play a strong part in stress relief.

In cases where tears and sorrow arise as a result of belief, because of seeking moral perfection and excellence, or due to sympathy for the persecuted and oppressed, they can produce tranquillity in man and remove agitation from his soul. To substantiate this issue, we will refer to an example in this regard.

Doctor Tayjani Tunisi says, “My friend called Mun‘im came and together we traveled on pilgrimage to Karbala. There, like the other Shi‘ahs, I came to understand the hardships and sufferings which befell our master al-Husayn (as).

That was when I understood that Imam al-Husayn (as) had not really ever died. The people were crowding and pressing upon one another all round his shrine. They were crying with unmatched grief and anguish the like of which I had never seen before. They showed so much agitation that it seemed like al-Husayn (as) had just been martyred.

I heard clergymen reviving the tragic event of Karbala. Their retelling of what came to pass on the day of ‘Ashura was arousing the people’s emotions and causing much wailing and lamentation. No one could listen to the story and bear its intense sorrow. On the contrary, some who listened to the account would involuntarily pass out. I, too, cried. I cried and cried.

I cried so much that it seemed as though grief had been trapped in my throat for years, and it was now exploding out.

After that wailing though, I felt inner peace. I felt tranquillity like I had never felt before. It seemed as though previously I had been one of the enemies of Imam al-Husayn (as), and in a split second I had been converted and become one of his companions. In a moment, I had become a follower of that great man who had sacrificed his life for the preservation of Islam.

Even more interesting is that at that very moment, a clergyman was giving an account of the story of Hurr. Hurr was one of the leaders of the enemy troops who had come to Karbala with the intention of fighting Imam al-Husayn (as). All of a sudden, Hurr started shaking and trembling on the battlefield.

His friends asked him, ‘What is wrong with you? Are you afraid of death?’ He answered: ‘I swear upon Allah! I do not fear death at all, but I see myself having the option to choose between eternal bliss in heaven and eternal perdition in hell.’ Suddenly, Hurr mounted his horse and started riding towards al-Husayn (as).

He hastened to meet the Holy Imam (as) and, as he was crying, said, ‘O son of the Holy Prophet! Is there repentance for me?’

Believe it when I say that this was the very moment when I could not bear it any more. I started wailing and threw myself on the ground. It seemed as though I was reliving Hurr’s part and was asking al-Husayn, ‘O son of the Prophet! Is there repentance for me? O son of the Prophet! Forgive me!’

The preacher’s voice had such a strong impact on the listeners that it caused the wailing voices of the people to raise to unprecedented levels. My friend, who had heard my wailing voice, took me in his arms while he himself was crying. He embraced me in the same way that a mother embraces her child. He, too, was shouting, ‘O al-Husayn! O al-Husayn!’

Those were moments when I perceived and understood what real crying was. I felt that my tears were cleaning and cleansing my heart. My entire body was being cleaned right from the core. It was at that moment when I understood the meaning of the Prophet’s words when he said, ‘If you knew what I know, then you would laugh less and cry more.

’ I spent that whole day in deep sorrow. My friend wanted to console me, so he brought some juice and cookies, but I had lost my appetite. I refused to eat and instead asked my friend to repeat the story of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (as), because I did not know anything about it at all…’”3

Notes:

1. Anjuman-e Rawanshenasi-ye Amrika (American Psychological Association), p. 602.

2. Anjuman-e Pezeshki-ye Amrika (The American Medical Association), Trans. Mahdi Ganji, pp. 67-88.

3. Thumma Ahdaytu (Then, I was Guided), pp. 96-98.

Adapted from: "The Uprising of Ashura and Responses to Doubts" by: "‘Ali Asghar Ridwani"