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Last Updated: 2012/03/08
Summary of question
Why are Iranian ceremonies for holidays and for mourning different from Muslim and Shi’a ones?
Why are Iranian ceremonies for holidays and for mourning different from Muslim and Shi’a ones?
Concise answer

Even though ceremonies that are held for religious occasions must be in accordance with the general guidelines of Islam, but in regard to the details about which Islam has not mentioned guidelines, the ceremonies should be carried out accordanceing to the dominant culture of people and their customs. In other words, what has been encouraged in Islam is mourning for Imam Hussein, but the method of doing so may be decided by the people. This is why these ceremonies are held in different ways and methods depending on the place they are held in, and the only limitation is the violation of Islam’s general rulings in this regard.

Detailed Answer

Different ceremonies are held in different religions to honor their values, occasions and beliefs. Similarly, such ceremonies are held in Islam, especially amongst Shias. In the Quran, God has commanded that his sacraments be honored and venerated and states that this act stems from one’s Taqwa: “And whoever venerates the sacraments of Allah indeed that arises from the God wariness of hearts.”[1]

Therefore, holding these ceremonies has been encouraged in our religion. It is clear that each and every nation its own special way of holding and carrying out these ceremonies depending on their culture and customs. As long as these cultures and customs do not contradict Islamic rulings, they are accepted from Islam’s point of view. For example, holding gatherings of mourning for Imam Hussein, crying and making others cry for the Imam are all among acts greatly encouraged by the Prophet and the Imams.[2] However, the method of mourning and honoring Imam Hussein may differ in different countries. Even within Iran the forms of mourning are different in its many cities, as each city has its special method. The primary goal of such gatherings should be honoring the Imam and mourning for him and these gatherings should also be in accordance with Islamic teachings and guidelines. Since many years ago, it has been customary in Iran for people to hold gatherings and take to the streets in groups and mourn in public. This method has always been endorsed by the scholars of religion. In this regard, Imam Khomeini has said: “We must protect and maintain these Islamic customs. We must maintain the Dastes (groups that take to the streets and mourn in public). We must emphasize on these customs that are carried out during the months of Muharram and Safar so that they are perpetually performed.”[3] Sheikh Tusi narrates a hadith from Imam Sadiq that illustrates how the women of the Prophet’s progeny would mourn during his time. In this hadith, the Imam says: “The female descendants of Lady Fatimah, in these gatherings, would tear their clothes and slap their faces [in grief].” He then endorses this method by saying: “Upon the likes of Hussain should such be done.”[4]

However, we must say that due to ignorance, certain acts have been carried out by ignorant people that contradict Islamic rulings or promote myths. The ulema have opposed these people and have made it clear that their actions are not accepted from the Islamic point of view. A good example would be the act of Ghame Zani (self flagellation) which was a means of honoring Imam Hussein in the past, but has been prohibited by many of the Maraje due to nowadays’ circumstances. At the beginning of the revolution, Imam Khomeini said: “In such circumstances (nowadays) do not perform Ghame Zani”. Also, Ayatollah Khamenei has said: “Performing Ghame Zani openly and in the public in not permissible.”[5]

In conclusion, the differences in the forms and ways of mourning for and honoring Imam Hussein -which have not been stipulated in detail by Islamic guidelines and people are free to determine by themselves- [6]stems from the difference of culture and customs, which is completely natural and acceptable.


[1] Hajj:32.

[2] Maqtal Muqram, pg. 96.

[3] Farhange Ashura, Muhaddithi, Javad, pg. 341, as quoted by Sahifeye Nur, vol. 15 pg. 2041.

[4] Maqtal Muqram, pg. 97; Tahdhib, vol. 2, pg. 283 (at the end of the discussion on kaffaraat).

[5] Farhange Ashura, pp. 386 and 387.

[6] Unlike some acts of worship such as praying about which Islam has clearly explained how they should be performed and has not allowed anyone to perform them according to their culture and customs.


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