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Shia Scholars’ Fatwas on Tatbir

Tatbir is amongst a set of bloody rituals that are performed by some Shia Muslims in commemoration of the great tragedy of Karbala, when the family of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) was massacred by a group of Muslims. Tatbir is performed by striking the head with a sword or knife until blood gushes out. In the Persian language Tatbir is called Qama Zani.

What follows are some Fatwas of the Shia Scholars regarding Tatbir (qamazani) and Zanjir-zani:

Ayatollah Abul Hassan Isfahani

Ayatollah Isfahani (1860–1946) was the highest ranking Shia jurist and the sole Marja of his time.

“The usage of swords, chains, drums, horns and the likes today, which have become common in mourning ceremonies on Ashura, is definitely forbidden and against religious doctrine.”[1]

Ayatollah Mohsin Amin al-ʻAmili

Ayatollah Muhsin Al-Amin (~1868-1952), was one of the greatest scholars of his time. He is known for his biographical encyclopaedia, Ayan Al-Shi’ah (62 volumes) and for his very strong opposition to blood shedding rituals. He is known to have boycotted meetings where they were performed.

He wrote the book “Al-Majalis Al-Saniya” (1928) in which he said: “And what some people do injuring themselves with swords and hitting themselves in a way that harms them is from the encouragement of Shaytan”.

In 1927 he wrote “Rissalat Al-Tanzih” specifically to prove the prohibition of blood rituals and he declared them to be innovations (bid’ah). In it he wrote: “It is from the saddening things… using drums and flutes, and cutting the heads in a way that show the Shia in a barbaric way and make the others mock them… and on top of that (they) consider it a kind of worship and attribute it to the purified Ahlubayt (a).”

During his era, Ayatullah Muhsin Al-Amin’s position against blood flagellation was supported by a number of other scholars including: Ayatullah Abul Hassan Esfahani, Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Al-Qazwini, Abd al-Karim Al-Jazairi, Shaikh Ali Al-Qummi, Shaikh Jafar Al-Budairi & Sheikh Mahdi Al-Hajjar.

Sheikh Muhammad Hussain Kashif al_qhita’

Ayatollah Muhammad Hussain Kashif Al-Ghita (d. 1954) was one of the greatest scholars of his time.

“If we want to act in accordance to jurisprudential principles and the derivation of religious rulings regarding the issue of mourning by hitting the face and other practices like blood matam (which are prevalent in the modern age) we will not find anything except forbiddance. We will not have any choice in issuing a verdict stating that these actions are forbidden. The reason is that there have been no exceptions to the principles of the forbiddance of causing harm to ones body or endangering the life of a human in this regard. Therefore, there is no reason for these actions to have any other ruling than forbiddance. But, most of the people who perform such actions do so more to show themselves off or to be fanatic; they do not perform such actions with pure intentions. This, in itself, is problematic; rather it is also forbidden because of some reasons involved with the age and the location as well.”[2]

Ayatollah Khoei (May His Soul Rest in Peace)

“If blood matam and hitting oneself with chains, which are practiced in Muharram, cause serious harm, or harm or ridicule the religion and sect then it is impermissible.”[3]

During the days of Muharram particularly on Ashurah, the Shiah people hurt their backs with “Qameh” or chain, which is a bunch of small chains. Each chain is about 16 to 18 cm long. Each chain has a sharp small knife fixed in it. These people take off their shirts, and start hitting this “Qameh” on their back continuously for sometime, whilst saying, “Ya Hussain”. As a result their body bleeds very badly. Even their slacks or shalwars become wet with blood.

Regarding this action we have some questions as follows:

(a) What is the order of the shariah about hitting (with) such “Qameh” or chains? Please explain in detail.

Bisimihi Taala. This action has not been mentioned anywhere in the Holy Shariah. Not only that, but in any case it causes damage and becomes a source of mockery for the others, it is haraam.

(b) Some people later on go and offer the prayer in the same clothes soaked with their blood. If someone raises any objection, they answer that this blood which has been shed in the name of Hazrat Imam Hussain (a) thorough the chain or qameh is not najis (ritually impure). Therefore there is no problem in reciting the prayer with this blood. It is humbly requested to your honour to explain the order of the shariah in extensive detail on this matter.

Bismihi Taaala. As far as the taharat (purity) is concerned, this type of blood is not exempted, but it is just like the other blood of human beings in general and it does not make any difference.

Stamped: 18th Jumādā al-Ūlā 1409 AH. Ayatullah Khoei.
Click here to see the scanned image of the fatwa with the seal of the Ayatullah

“Hitting (one’s self) with chains and tatbir are from the rituals that we witness during the month of (Muharram). What is the ruling in the case of this action being harmful to the self along with bringing criticisms of others (towards the sect)?”

“It is impermissible if it necessitates considerable harm, or entails degradation and humiliation.”[4]

Imam Khomeini (May his soul rest in peace)

Ayatollah Khomeini was known for his very strong attachment to the remembrance of the tragedy of Karbala. He used the struggle of Imam Hussain (a) to inspire the Shia of Iran to revolt against the oppressive Shah (the Iranian uprisings began on Ashura). He would always remind people to involve themselves in mourning for Imam Hussain (a) and asked them to put a great deal of emphasis on the more natural mourning ceremonies. However he was not in favour of blood flagellation and other misguided practices.

His responses when asked about hitting oneself with blades:

“You want to do something for God, but in situations where your actions might harm Islam, refraining is best. Instead participate in chest beating processions endeavour to hold these events with greater glory.”

“In the current situation they are to refrain from blade beating. Passion plays are permitted as long as they do not include the forbidden practices and do not bring disrepute to religion. Reciting of the tragedies of the “master of the unjustly treated” (Imam Hussain (a)) is the noblest and most recommended (of actions) on this occasion.”

“Mourning and chest beating for the “unjustly treated” (the victims of the tragedy of Karbala) is amongst the best of religious practices, but the participants must exert due diligence to avoid wounds and the flowing of blood. If such actions bring about disrepute to the religion then they are forbidden. At any rate it is reccomended that the participants refrain from such actions.”
Click here to see these rulings with the official stamp.

“In his name, the Most High. Do not perform blood matam or the likes in the present state. If it does not include forbidden actions or defamation of the religion than there is no problem. Although, reciting poetry is better and mourning the Sayyid of the Oppressed is of the best forms of worship.”[5]

 “I should speak here about the gatherings and memorial ceremonies that are held in the name of Imam Hussain Ibn Ali (a), neither us nor (other) religious persons say that everything done by anybody is correct and good. Many times some of the grand scholars considered these things deviated and bad and they forbade them. We all know that in the last 20 years and so the respected scholar Hajj Sheikh Abdul Kareem Al-Haeri Al-Yazdi (q), who was among the eminent Shia scholars, forbade the Shia from acting out the events and persons of Ashura, and he replaced them with a gathering for mourning and elegies, and this is what the other scholars do with the actions that contradict with the religious rules and they still forbid it until now.” [6]

 “You should know that in order to preserve your progress then you should preserve these rituals, and of course if there are deviated and wrong actions done by some people who are not informed, then these actions should be stopped. But the mourning ceremonies and the processions should remain strong.”[7]

Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani

I want to know the status of beating our backs with knives (Zanjeer) on the day of Ashura? What is it’s status in our Fiqh?

The philosophy of mourning during ‘Ashura’, is to respect the symbols of religion and remember the suffering of Imam Hussain, his companions, and his uprising to defend Islam and prevent the destruction of the religion by the Bani Umayyad dynasty. These rites must be done in such a way that in addition to serving that purpose, it draws the attention of others to these lofty goals. So those actions which are not understandable and cause misunderstandings and contempt for the religion must be avoided.
Click here to see a stamped fatwa with a similar reply.

The following question was sent to the liaison office of Ayatullah Sistani in London (najaf.org):

“Please tell me if cutting yourself in muharram for Imam Husayn (a) is haraam or not.”

“Reviving Hussaini traditions is Mustahab but one is not allowed to Harm the body or the noble reputation of the Faith.”

The obligation of following the Hakim in issues such as this one. The Hakim in our era is Ayatullah Khamenei:

“Are the ahkam wila’iya (orders of the juristic authority) of the Wali Faqih implemented upon all the Muslims globally or is it specific to the area of his authority?”

“The Hukm of the Mujtahid who fulfilled the criteria and is accepted by the general masses, is implemented without any bounds in what is related to ordaining society unless his mistake becomes apparent and was contrary to what is certainly proven from the Qur’an and Sunnah.” [8]

“It is not permissible to abrogate/break the hukm (order/command/rule) of the (religious) governor/ruler (hakim), who meets all the necessary criterion (for governance/ruling), even by another mujtahid, except if it (the hukm) is contrary to what has been proven, with certainty, by the Qur’an and Sunnah.”[9]

Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei

Ayatollah Khamenei, in his position as the Hakim Al-Shari’i has given a Hukm forbidding blood flagellation. A hukm is binding on all Muslims, unlike a fatwa.

Question 1450:
Is hitting oneself with swords halal if it is done in secret? Or is your fatwa in this regard universal?
In addition to the fact that it is not held in the common view as manifestations of mourning and grief and it has no precedent at the lifetime of the Imams (a.s.) and even after that and we have not received any tradition quoted from the Infallibles (a.s.) about any support for this act, be it privately or publicly, this practice would, at the present time, give others a bad image of our school of thought. Therefore, there is no way that it can be considered permissible.

Question 1449:
In commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a.s.) on the tenth of Muharram, some people hit themselves with a machete, or walk bare-footed on fire. Such actions defame Shi‘ism and put it in a bad light, if not undermine it. They cause bodily and spiritual harms on these doing it as well. What is your opinion in this matter?
Any practice that causes bodily harm, or leads to defaming the faith, is haram. Accordingly, the believers have to steer clear of it. There is no doubt that many of these practices besmirch the image of Ahlul Bayt’s (a.s.) School of Thought which is the worst damage and loss.

Question 1451:
What is the shar‘i criterion in determining physical or psychological damage?
The criterion is noticeable and considerable harm judged by common sense.[10]

“Blood matam is a part of the culture that was made up. It is an issue that has no relation to religion and, without doubt, Allah is not happy with it.”

“It is an incorrect action which some people perform – taking a blade in one’s hand and hitting themselves on the head with it spilling their blood. What do they do this for? How is this action considered mourning? Of course, hitting one’s head with their hands is a form of mourning. You have seen over and over again, a person who has had something bad happen to them, hit themselves on their head and chest. This is a normal sign of mourning. But, have you ever seen a person who has had something bad happen to their most loved (ones) hit themselves on the head with a sword until blood flows down? How is this action considered mourning?”[11]

Ayatollah Muhmmad Baqi al-Sadr

Ayatollah Al-Sadr speaking about the commemoration of the tragedy of Karbala:
“the commemoration is a thorn in the eyes of the tyrants, and these rituals have implanted in the hearts of the generations the love of Imam Hussain(a.s.) and the love of Islam, therefore we should preserve them although some of them need polish and modification.”[12]

Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi

“The mourning congregations have to do their best to hold this ceremony as magnificent as possible, they should not permit anyone to do some acts which vilify the religion and give pretext to the enemies using the name of mourning congregation, acts like using music instruments, striking heads by sword, etc. although some people do these acts due to their passion toward imam Husain (a), but they should express this passion in a way that is acceptable and admitted by Imam Mahdi (a).”[13]

Ayatollah Bashir Hussain Najafi

“Is it permissable to do qama and zanjeer zani hitting yourself with sword and knives?”

“Bismahe Subhana

It is permitted unless Mawla Imam Hussain’s (as) and the Ahl-ul-Bayt’s persecution are considered as propaganda or if he is not allowed by his doctor because it might result in death or losing of a body part. Matam-qama or matam-zanjeer should not be done if he is settled in a part of the world where people due to their ignorance or lack of knowledge about Imam Hussain (as) after watching such matam are turned away from Imam Hussain (as). Therefore it should be avoided in front of such people.[14]

Ayatollah Muhammad Ibrahim Jannati

“One of the practices that is against religious rules in some of the mourning ceremonies is Qameh-Zani (drawing blood through cutting one’s scalp with a machete), a practice which is against reason and against the manner practiced by the imams. This practice in no way can be considered among the authentic religious rituals.”

 “Refrain from performing these actions which are inappropriate, cause harm to the religion, and are imbalanced and superstitious. They have no jurisprudential foundations and cause the face of Islam and Shiaism to become damaged.”[15]

Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani

“The school of thought of the Master of the Martyrs, Abi Abdullah al-Husayn (as) is a school of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, a school of raising Islamic merits. The history of Ashura which moves people has been the source of energy for all movements against oppression. The reason behind this is it ‘boils the blood’ of the lovers of this school of thought, especially in the present condition where the enemy has been slapped by Islam and its illegitimate benefits have been taken away. Therefore, it is necessary for the mourning sessions to be conducted in a beautiful way; that is a way that is in congruence with Islamic logic. Respected mourners must, instead of hitting their heads with a blade, think about hitting the enemy’s head who is occupying and weakening them, who is usurping their benefits and putting their Islam in danger on a daily basis.” [16]

Ayatollah Jawad Tabrizi

“Mourning the five people of the cloak is of the most important signs of religion and the secret to the survival of the Shia. But, it is necessary for our dear mourners to refrain from actions which defame the religion and are misused by the enemies of Islam.”[17]

“Hitting (one’s self) with chains and tatbir are from the signs/rituals that we witness during the month of (Muharram). What is the ruling in the case of this action being harmful to the self along with bringing criticisms of others (towards the sect)?”

“The inclusion of the aforementioned (acts) under the category of recommended grief for what occurred to the Master of Martyrs is problematic/doubtful.”[18]



[1] Dayrah al-Ma”arif Tashayu’, v.2, p.531; A’yan al-Shia, v.10, p.378; Professor Hassan Shabir, Tarikh Iraq Mu’asir, v.2, p.340

[2] Al-Firdus al-Ala’, p.19-22

[3] Al-Masa’il al-Shar’iyah, istifta’at Imam Khoei, al-Ibadat and al-Tariq al-Najah, v.2, p.445

[4] Sirat al-Najat, v. 2, Q 1404

[5] Istifta’at Imam, v.3, miscellaneous questions, question 37.

[6] “Nahdat Ashura”, page 110-111.

[7] “Nahdat Ashura”, page page 112.

[8] Fatwa number 134

[9] Minhaj al-Saleheen V. 1 page 15

[10] Practical Laws of Islam.

[11] A speech given to scholars of Kahgiluyeh and Bavir Ahmad, Muharram, 1993

[12] “Al-Shaheed Al-Sadr”, Shaykh Muhammad Rida Al-Numani (a very close student of the sayyid), Published Qom.

[13] source

[14] Source.

[15] “Imam Khomeini and the Culture of Ashura”, 1995, page 66.

[16] Istifta’at, v.2, p.597

[17] Istafta’at, question 2003, 2012, 2014

[18] Sirat al-Najat, v. 2, Q 1404


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