Observing the Etiquette of Lamentation

8th of Muharram 1439

In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful


Experiencing deep sorrow for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and expressing the same in gatherings of lamentation are from among the most exalted forms of ‘ibadah. This can be understood well by looking at the following radiant hadiths:


  1. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: ‘The breath of the sorrowful on our account, and the grief-stricken for the oppression done on us, is glorification (tasbih), and his sorrow for our matter is worship (‘ibadah).’ [Shaykh Kulayni, al-Kafi, v.2, p.226]


  1. Imam al-Ridha (‘a) addressing al-Rayyan ibn Shabib says to him ‘…If you desire to be with us in the high stations (al-darajaat al-‘ulaa) of the Gardens of Heaven, then be sorrowful for our sorrow and be happy for our happiness, and upon you is our guardianship and love…’ [Shaykh Saduq, al-Amali, p. 130]


  1. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: ‘For everything [from among the acts of worship] there is a [limited] reward, save a tear for us’ [Ibn Qulawayh, Kamil al-Ziyarat, p. 106]


These radiant narrations inform us that experiencing sorrow and weeping for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) are acts of worship. Such acts, as we have been taught by the authorities of religion, have specific etiquette, the observance of which is essential. In order to benefit from the great effects of lamentation for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) we must try to study the etiquette of lamentation and observe the same.


Following are noteworthy etiquette we must try to observe when attending the lamentation ceremonies:


  1. Refining our Intentions: Insightful scholars advise the believers to attend these gatherings mainly to transform and align themselves with the spirit of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and his companions. They say that although it is known that there is great reward in lamenting for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) such as forgiveness of sins, freedom from Hell-Fire, the Garden of Heaven, lofty spiritual levels, etc. but our intention must be to ‘unite’ with the spirit of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and his loyal companions. We must aspire and pray that such gatherings bring a revolution in our hearts and motivate us to make us deserving to address Imam al-Husayn and his exalted companions and say ‘I wish I would be with you, so that I would have achieved great success’ (ya laytani kuntu ma‘akum fa afuza fawzan ‘aziman). One of the sons of the late mystic Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Tehrani discussing about the intention of the mystics and close servants of Allah in the lamentation gatherings of Muharram says ‘…In such gatherings we would like to place ourselves side by side with the Leader of Martyrs (‘a); in fact, we would like to be among those individuals who remained in the tent of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) on ‘Ashura night. We must go to such sessions with this intention, and not with the intention of having [successfully] held such a gathering, nor the intention of seeking reward, etc. [http://motaghin.com]


  1. Observing the Apparent State of Sorrow: Dressing oneself with clothes that would make one distinct from others in terms of wealth, etc. do not portray the spirit of the state of sadness for Imam al-Husayn (‘a). Sadness requires a specific mode of dress: wearing simple clothes, preferably black, and attending the sessions with the state of sorrow is what is actually required of us. Some pure hearts are such that throughout the first ten days of Muharram they refrain from not only consuming pleasantries, but also from some of the basic needs. It is reported about one of the sons of the great mystic Ayatullah Mirza Maliki Tabrizi that he would avoid eating broth with bread during the first ten days of Muharram. In his well-known prayer manual al-MuraqibÁt, whilst discussing about the states of the lovers of the progeny of the Holy Prophet (s) in the month of Muharram, he says: ‘Indeed I saw one of my young children abandon broth in his food during the first ten days [of Muharram], and he would eat bread without broth, and as far I know, no one had told him to do so; and I thought that it is his inner love that made him do that.’ [Shaykh Maliki Tabrizi, al-Muraqibat, v.1, p. 23]


  1. Observing God-wariness (al-taqwa): Satan is an open and sworn enemy of the human being, and thus we must realize that he does not like us to participate in gatherings of lamentation with peace and proper attention. He would therefore either encourage us to attend the gatherings late, or skip some of the gatherings, or even misbehave while attending such gatherings. Hence we must be extremely vigilant and not allow him to make us his prey. If we experience any kind of obstruction or misbehavior from some ignorant people around us, we must be astute enough to kindly withstand the problem and always aim to attain the fundamental purpose of attending such sessions. Sometimes the gatherings are packed and there is little space, sometimes mourners come with their young children who actually disturb others, sometimes the wealthy would interact unpleasantly with the poor, etc. Know that Satan simply does not want us to benefit from such powerful and meaningful gatherings. Hence we must be ready to fight against him in all his weak machinations and ruses. In the well-known sermon of Qasi‘ah narrated in Nahj al-Balaghah Imam ‘Ali (‘a) makes us vigilant about the fact that Satan’s attacks are ‘from a close place’. He (‘a) says: ‘wa ramakum min makanin qarib’ (and he [Satan] shoots at you from a close place) [Nahj al-Balaghah, sermon 192] which means he does not attack us from those things that we naturally shun due to faith. Rather he attacks us in those things that we strictly observe. Hence, for example, when it comes to lamentation, he would incite us to practice methods of lamentation that are against the proper principles of shari‘ah, or motivate us to vehemently support those who exaggerate in narrating the story of Karbala because that easily causes many people to shed tears. Hence, whilst participating in the gatherings of lamentation we must ensure that our lamentations are within the bounds of Islamic principles. One of the best ways to ensure that one adheres to the principles is to look at the lifestyle of the infallible Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) who were bereaved more than us and knew the subtleties of what actually transpired in the plains of Karbala.


  1. Observing the State of Wudhu: In order to be receptive to the special grace of Allah, the insightful scholars advise that one must always be in the state of the minor ablution (wudhu). Attending such beautiful gatherings where infallible personalities like Hadhrat Fatima Zahra (‘a) attend informs us that there is a special atmosphere that prevails there. Hence we must try to come in the state of purity as much as possible in order to be receptive to the special grace that is generously bestowed on the receptive hearts. The late mystic scholar, Ayatullah Muhammad Shuja‘i in volume three of his mystical masterpiece Maqalat says: ‘Constant ritual purity and being in the state of taharat at all times in itself has special importance in spiritual wayfaring of divine servitude. In view of the secrets it contains which are hidden from our limited intellects and thoughts, it bestows the human spirit with a special receptivity, and as a result, it can benefit from the special Lordly bestowals of grace.’ [Ustad Shuja‘i, Maqalat, v.3, p.99]


  1. Weeping or Pretending to Weep: Sometimes although the participant of a gathering of lamentation has relative purity and is free from the malady of having a hard heart, he cannot weep. In this case he is advised that he must at least engage in al-tabaki (showing his sadness and the state of weeping) not for others to think that he is truly weeping, but to sincerely express his sorrowful state. This state of al-tabaki also has great merit, and one must not conjecture that it has no value. In fact, some of us begin with al-tabaki and gradually come to the state of al-buka (true weeping). In any case what is important is that one must actively engage in the expression of sorrow for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) with sincerity in such gatherings.


  1. Time of Gatherings of Lamentation: Lamentation has no specific time, and whenever one is able to engage in quality lamentation for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) he should grab the opportunity. However, some insightful scholars advise that the best time for lamentation is between daybreak (tulu‘ al-fajr) and sunrise (tulu‘ al-shams). Special spiritual provision is distributed at this time, and thus holding gatherings of lamentation is extremely favorable. The late Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Tehrani would always say: ‘That grace that reaches the mourners of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) or even the gatherings of joy and celebration of the birthdays of the Ahl al-Bayt, between daybreak and sunrise, is not found in other times. Such grace is less during other times. Marhum Sayyid Haddad al-Musawi, the mentor of Ayatullah Muhammad Husayn Tehrani is reported to have said: ‘The angels write the spiritual provision of every day between daybreak and sunrise.’ [http://motaghin.com]


  1. Facilitating room to the Newcomers: The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O you who have faith! When you are told, ‘Make room,’ in sittings, then do make room; Allah will make room for you [in the Garden of Heaven]. And when you are told, ‘Rise up!’ Do rise up. Allah will raise in rank those of you who have faith and those who have been given knowledge, and Allah is well aware of what you do.’ [Q., 58:11]. Hence, when we know that there is a space in a packed place, we must never pretend that there is no space. If we make room for others Allah will widen our receptacles. Also, if we are required to stand up and give place to a great scholar of piety, we must stand and give him place, for not all the believers are in the same in rank. The knowledgeable are higher than those who are not. [See ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, al-Mizan, v.19, p. 188]


  1. Try to Sit Facing the Direction of Qiblah: Insightful scholars have highly emphasized that one must always try to sit facing qiblah, save in cases when it is makruh, like when one is relieving himself in the washroom. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: The Holy Prophet (s) would mostly sit facing the qiblah. [Shaykh Tabrasi, Makarim al-Akhlaq, p. 26]. The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: ‘Indeed for everything there is an honor and dignity…the most dignified of sittings is that in which the direction of qibla is faced.’ [‘Allamah Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, v.72, p. 469].


Readers must be alert that there are other etiquette in this regard, but we wish to suffice ourselves with the aforesaid in this limited article.


We sincerely pray to Allah to facilitate for us the best of states while we actively participate in the lamentation of the Leader of Martyrs.

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