Why do Shi'a Muslims hit chests, slapping cheeks, hit shoulders with chains and, hit heads with swords and shed blood during Ashura?

These reprehensible things forbidden by the Prophet (peace be upon him) as he did not tell his followers to make something of it or close to it, for the death of a great, or loss of a Shahid, whatever the amount and status.

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم:‏"‏ اثْنَتَانِ فِي النَّاسِ هُمَا بِهِمْ كُفْرٌ الطَّعْنُ فِي النَّسَبِ وَالنِّيَاحَةُ عَلَى الْمَيِّتِ "

It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) observed: Two (things) are found among men which are tantamount to unbelief: slandering one's lineage and lamentation on the dead

[this hadith in Sahih Muslim ]

And there is many of evidence that prevent such acts...

So my questions:

Why they do it?

What reasoning and argument do they use to support their practice?


3 Answers 3


The Hadith referenced in the question prohibits Muslims from النِّيَاحَةُ عَلَى الْمَيِّتِ = lamentation on the dead. We must however ask ourselves which people are considered dead in Islam, and whether or not Hussain-ibn-Ali is among them.

1- Is Hussain-ibn-Ali الْمَيِّتِ = dead?

What does Allah say about the dead?

وَلَا تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاءٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ - آل عمران 169

And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision

أَمْوَاتًا is the plural form of الْمَيِّتِ. So if someone is killed in the cause of Allah, considering him dead is not compatible with the Qur'an.

2- Was Hussain killed in the cause of Allah?

What does the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) say about him? Among many Hadith provided for Hussain-ibn-Ali in Sunni books, a few are listed below:

قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ـ صلى الله عليه وسلم ـ ‏ "‏ الْحَسَنُ وَالْحُسَيْنُ سَيِّدَا شَبَابِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ وَأَبُوهُمَا خَيْرٌ مِنْهُمَا ‏"‏

The Messenger of Allah said: "Hasan and Husain will be the leaders of the youth of Paradise, and their father is better than them." Sunan ibn Majah, Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 118

Another Hadith from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللهِ بْنُ صَالِحٍ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا مُعَاوِيَةُ بْنُ صَالِحٍ، عَنْ رَاشِدِ بْنِ سَعْدٍ، عَنْ يَعْلَى بْنِ مُرَّةَ أَنَّهُ قَالَ‏:‏ خَرَجْنَا مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم، وَدُعِينَا إِلَى طَعَامٍ فَإِذَا حُسَيْنٌ يَلْعَبُ فِي الطَّرِيقِ، فَأَسْرَعَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَمَامَ الْقَوْمِ، ثُمَّ بَسَطَ يَدَيْهِ، فَجَعَلَ يَمُرُّ مَرَّةً هَا هُنَا وَمَرَّةً هَا هُنَا، يُضَاحِكُهُ حَتَّى أَخَذَهُ، فَجَعَلَ إِحْدَى يَدَيْهِ فِي ذَقْنِهِ وَالأُخْرَى فِي رَأْسِهِ، ثُمَّ اعْتَنَقَهُ فَقَبَّلَهُ، ثُمَّ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ حُسَيْنٌ مِنِّي وَأَنَا مِنْهُ، أَحَبَّ اللَّهُ مَنْ أَحَبَّ الْحَسَنَ وَالْحُسَيْنَ، سَبِطَانِ مِنَ الأَسْبَاطِ‏.‏

Ya'la ibn Murra said, "We went out with the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and we were invited to eat. Husayn was playing in the road and the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, raced the people and then spread out his arms. The boy began to run this way and that and the Prophet made him laugh until he caught hold of him. He put one of his hands under his chin and the other on his head and then embraced him. Then the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn. Allah loves anyone who loves al-Hasan and al-Husayn. They are two of my distinguished descendants.'" - Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 364 and also Sunan ibn Majah, Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 144

And what does Hussain himself say about the reason behind this battle?

اني لم اخرج اشرا ولا بطرا ولا مفسدا ولا ظالما وانما خرجت لطلب الاصلاح في امة جدي، اريد ان آمر بالمعروف وانهى عن المنكر

I did not come out seeking to do evil, nor seeking to have fun, nor seeking corruption nor oppression. Rather, I came out seeking reform in the nation of my Grandfather. I want to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.[Testament of Hussain ibn Ali to Muhammad ibn Hanafiyah] 5

And also from himself:

الا ترون الى الحق لا يعمل به والى الباطل لا يتناهى عنه، ليرغب المؤمن في لقاء الله، فاني لا ارى الموت الا سعادة، والحياة مع الظالمين الا برما

Do you not see how right is not acted upon and falsehood is not prevented? Then let the believer desire the meeting with Allah, for I see death as being nothing other than happiness, while life with the oppressors as the most undesirable.

3- Is there any permission to cry because Hussain?

Sahid al-Bukhari, Book 23, Hadith 62 says that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cried after his son Ibrahim-ibn-Muhammad passed away.

The case for Hussain-ibn-Ali is also outstanding, because he is killed in the cause of Allah (and so Quran says he is Alive with his Lord). There are several book chapters of Hadith that offsprings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) cried for Hussain, like this chapter of Bihar al Anwar.

4- What is the benefit?

We may then ask ourselves: What is the benefit of lamenting and crying to the offspring of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?

This is a good way to remember that Hussain sacrificed himself to prevent Yazid-ibn-Muawiya from changing the direction of Islam from the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Hussain trained us not to live with oppression and not to be quiet upon the falsehood, even if it costs our life. And this may be a reason that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn.

5- Are all types of mourning people do correct?

Definitely not. Most current Shi'a scholars do not permit people to show their sorrow by any means that severely injure the body, such as by hitting themselves on the head with a sword. Here is a fatwa by a Shi'a scholar, Sayed Ali Khamenei:

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.

  • 4
    This does not answer the question.
    – muslim1
    Nov 26, 2012 at 4:53
  • 4
    +1 from me - I think it answers the question very well (even though as a Sunni, I don't agree with the interpretations!)
    – Hanif
    Nov 26, 2012 at 11:47
  • 1
    I agree with you in the first and second paragraph .. But: *Firstly: The third paragraph: My question was not about crying as stated in the hadeeth Bukhari you mentioned !!. My Question for these acts and bloodshed!! are that acts of Islam as something !?. And another thing, why the Shea do not do such rituals to commemorate the death of the Prophet (Since he is the best in this acts). And secondly will come :) Nov 26, 2012 at 14:48
  • 1
    @Thecrocodilehunter In the point 5 I tried to cover it
    – Ali
    Nov 26, 2012 at 17:31
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    @MYamanT, about the second part of part of your question. Shia muslims commemorate and beat their chests for the Prophet and the holy Household, peace and blessings on them all. Just do a very simple search in youtube: This one is for Prophet (ص): youtube.com/watch?v=GvV3gRUgHg0
    – rowman
    Nov 26, 2012 at 21:09

As @Ali has already mentioned the holy Prophet --peace be upon him and his household-- has stated that "Hussain is from me and I'm from Hussain". But what does it mean? It is clear that Hussain peace be upon him is from Prophet as he is the Prophet's grandson. But what about the part saying "and I'm from Hussain"? The Shia scholars have understood this statement as follows:

Islam, the religion, is founded by the holy Prophet, he is truly the father of every Muslim including the holiness Ali (Ali peace be upon him is "Qaasim Al-Jannate wan-Naar" which implies the divider of hell and heaven, so the holy Prophet peace be upon him and his family is Abul-Qaasim) and Al-Hassan and -Al-Hussain, peace be upon them all. But what about after the holy Prophet, if would the religion corrupt like the previous religions have corrupted by their corrupted scholars? The holy book alone to survive is not sufficient as the book needs a describer. So that the holy Prophet --peace be upon him and his household-- has stated that I would leave two precious things for you after me not to be misled, the book of Allah and my household, they would never separate from each other until they come to me together at Kuthar. (AFAIK even most Sunni scholars have recorder this Hadeeth this way and only Abu-Hurayreh has recorded this Hadeeth the way that reads: "the book of Allah and my Sunnah", and this is obviously wrong as Sunnah itself needs a describer exactly like the book) Therefore, the household of the holy Prophet peace be upon them are the describers of the book, and they are those by whom the religion would remain healthy. Therefore, here the holy Prophet peace be upon him is stating that "I am the founder of the religion and they ("my household" to whom all the Sunni brothers also respect very much, all introduced in name by the holy Prophet although some was never born until years after the Prophet had passed away) are the reason for it to survive, without them even my role in Islam will get lost, as is lost the role for Jesus and Moses peace be upon them, inviting people to real Christianity and Judaism totally different than what is now called Christianity and Judaism. To conclude this paragraph the religion is founded by the holy Prophet and guaranteed to remain healthy by his household.

But why in the Hadeeth of the holy Prophet --peace be upon him-- the stress is over Hussain --peace be upon him? Simply because he was the only one who found the opportunity to explicitly announce that the Muslim community is going the wrong way, rising to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. He gave his blood to lit up a candle that is glowing for centuries by now. Also we. Mentioning this one can now read "حُسَيْنٌ مِنِّي وَأَنَا مِنْهُ" (Hussain is from me and I'm from him) like "الإسلام محمدی الحدوث و حسینی البقاء" (the religion is founded by Muhammad and guaranteed by Hussain).

The candle Imam Hussain --peace be upon him-- has lit up is still glowing and has lighten the way for many Muslims and non-Muslims, Shia and Sunni. What Shia Muslims do in AL-Muharram and AL-Safar, including Ashura, is to not let the lighted candle goes dark. We have many times in Ahadeeth adviced not to let this light goes off by crying for the martyred Imam, dressing in black and to do all these in public, for someone to ask why are these people doing such and be answered because their leader who was among the most faithful, honest, kind, respectful, knowledgeable, pious and ... was killed with many of his lovers and followers while they were much thirsty and hungry, by those who were claiming to be the true followers of his grandfather --who was the Prophet of Islam-- but were truly far from being Muslim.

Although there are Ahadeeth stating the way Imams themselves were doing in the loss of their family members and perhaps other afflictions, but there is no deed forbidden in this regard unless it will harm oneself. Even each culture may have its own way of that. Crying, even if is accompanied by yelling, is obviously permitted; hitting chests and slapping cheeks are also way to do this and it is very common that someone who suffers a great disaster may do this as an extreme form of crying; I have experienced it by myself that I couldn't understand what are these hitting to chest or laps for, but at a time that I was suffering a great disaster I was doing so while I was unaware of what I am doing, then I found myself and mentioned that I have done this when I was deep in suffer and sorrow. Anyway, it may depends on culture, neither obligatory nor forbidden. Only about hitting the body with sword, this is something under debate even between the Shia Scholars, but AFAIK it has been announced as forbidden by most Shia scholars.

For more information you can read here and here and other pages in the site.

And last, but by no means least, it should be stated that "Everyday is Ashura and everyland is Karbala" (کل یوم عاشورا و کل أرض کربلا) which implies anywhere around the globe wherein there are two groups of people, the good and bad people, the situation there is like in Karbala and people should look what Imam Hussain did and follow him, first put themselves in the right side then to withstand and fight against the bad guys, be it Wall-Street, the Zionist regime or else. According to this teaching of Karbala Islamic revolution in Iran won against the American backed government of Shah, and according to this teaching of Ashura Iran is withstanding the West although is under sanctions and etc., and according to this teaching people in Bahrain shouts "هیهات من الذلة" and etc. So Karbala is alive, we are living those past days, and we refresh every Muharram with all those mourning ways that I have described, Karbala should never die because if it dies out Islam would die and even Islamic countries all would be American and Zionism backed like some today are. Mournings and re-stating what has happened there every year is a way to let the candle keep lighting. You can see how many Muslims our enemies kill in Iraq or other countries ever year during Muharram doing such mournings, they want the candle to goes dark and Allah wants it to glow, even if the enemies don't like it.


Shiites wear black on Ashura day. They go to mourning ceremonies and mourn. Because their Imam was martyred thousands of years ago by ungrateful people. The woman and his children were also abused and beaten On this day, the Shiites mourn with their Imam

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