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Hurting Oneself in Ashura: Any Basis?

07 August, 2022
Q As-salamu `alaykum. What is the Islamic perspective concerning the acts of the Shiites on the day of `Ashura'? We see them hurting themselves. Does this have any basis in Islam?


Wa `alaykum as-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

In this fatwa:

  • If we physically torture ourselves for the sake of mourning, we are actually degrading our humanity. Allah Almighty did not prescribe for humans that they should torture their bodies in order to mourn someone. This is so regardless of the status of the person.
  • In the case of prescribed penalties in the Shari`ah, the criminal is not allowed to perform the penalty on himself, so how could punishing and torturing oneself be allowed without a crime?
  • Many Shiites go out on the day of Ashura (10th of Muharram, the first month in the Hijri Calendar) and beat their chests, slap their cheeks, strike their shoulders with chains and cut their heads with razors to let the blood flow in the name of mourning the martyrdom of Al-Husayn ibn Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), the grandson of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). We say that doing such things are absolutely impermissible and is considered a bid`ah that has no basis in Islam.

Elaborating on this issue, we would like to cite the following fatwa issued by Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer and author:

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What the Shiites do on Ashura of beating their chests, slapping their cheeks, striking their shoulders with chains and cutting their heads with razors to let the blood flow are all bid`ah that have no basis in Islam.

These things are evils that were forbidden by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), who did not prescribe any such things for his Ummah or anything similar to them to mark the death of a great leader or the loss of a martyr, despite his high status.

During his lifetime, a number of senior Companions were martyred and he mourned their loss, such as Hamzah ibn Abdul-Muttalib, Zayd ibn Harithah, Jafar ibn Abi Talib and Abdullah ibn Rawahah, but he did not do anything similar to what the Shiites do. If it was good, he (peace and blessings be upon him) would have done it.

The Prophet Yaqub (peace be upon him) did not strike his chest or scratch his face, or shed blood or mark the day of the loss of Yusuf as a festival or a day of mourning. Rather, he remembered his missing loved one and felt sad and distressed. No one can be blamed for doing this. What is forbidden is the actions that have been inherited from the Jahiliyyah that Islam forbids.

Abdullah ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “He is not one of us who strikes his cheeks, rends his garment, or cries with the cry of the Jahiliyyah.”(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

These impermissible actions that the Shiites do on the day of Ashura have no basis in Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not do them, nor did any of his Companions.

These actions were not done when any of the Companions were killed, and they were also not done when Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) passed away, and he was greater than Al-Husayn ibn `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him).

Al-Hafizh Ibn Kathir (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

“Every Muslim should mourn the killing of Al-Husayn ibn Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), for he was one of the leaders of the Muslims, one of the scholars of the Companions, and the son of the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), who was the best of his daughters. He was a devoted worshipper, and a courageous and generous man.

However, there is nothing good in what the Shiites do when they express distress and grief; and most of it may be done in order to show off. His father was better than him and he was murdered, but they do not take his death as an anniversary as they do with the death of Al-Husayn ibn `Ali. His father was killed on a Friday as he was leaving the mosque after Fajr Prayer, on the seventeenth of Ramadan in 40 AH. Uthman ibn Affan was better than Ali ibn Abi Talib according to Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah, and he was killed when he was besieged in his house during the days of Al-Tashreeq in Dhul-Hijjah of 36 AH, with his throat cut from one jugular vein to the other, but the people did not take his death as an anniversary.

Umar ibn Al-Khattab was better than Ali and Uthman, and he was killed as he was standing in the mihrab, praying Fajr Prayer and reciting Quran, but the people did not take his death as an anniversary. Abu Bakr As-Siddiq was better than him but the people did not take his death as an anniversary.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) is the leader of the sons of Adam in this world and the Hereafter, and Allah the Almighty took him as the Prophets who died before him, but no one took the dates of their deaths as anniversaries on which they do what the Shiite do on the day that Al-Husayn ibn Ali was killed.

The best that can be said when remembering these and similar calamities is that which Ali Ibn Al-Husayn narrated from his grandfather, the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), who said, “There is no Muslim who is afflicted by a calamity and when he remembers it, even if it was in the dim and distant past, he says, `Inna Lillaahi wa innailayhi raaji`oon(verily to Allah we belong and unto Him is our return),’ but Allah will give him a reward like that of the day when it befell him.” (Ibn Majah)

Celebrating that day is a bid`ah, and making it an anniversary for mourning is also a bid`ah. Hence, Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy on him), said, “Because of the killing of Al-Husayn ibn `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), Satan caused the people to introduce two innovations: the innovation of mourning and wailing on the day of Ashura, by slapping the cheeks, weeping, and reciting eulogies and the innovation of rejoicing and celebrating.

Therefore, some introduced mourning and others introduced celebration, so they regarded the day of Ashura as a day for wearing kohl, performing ghusl, spending on the family and making special kinds of food. Every innovation is a means of going astray. None of the four imams of the Muslims or any other scholars regarded either of these things as recommended.” (Minhaj al-Sunnah 4/554)

Allah Almighty knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.