The Flagellations of Muharram and the Shiite `Ulamâ

May 28, 2012



In the attached article (see directly above), The Flagellations of Muharram and the Shiite Ulama, Professor Werner Ende examines the mourning ceremonies (ta’ziyat) popularized in contemporary Shiite religious practice (including, of course, tatbeer). Professor Ende makes clear that his analysis is not about the origin and subsequent historical trajectory of these performances, but instead aimed at simply pointing out the extensive skepticism, “or even highly critical attitude of certain Shiite `ulama towards both the content of those plays and the way they are performed.”

Professor Ende describes a particular “controversy” among Shiite ulama– a crisis which has been called “the great fitna” by a modern
Shi `ite writer– that emanated primarily out of the Syria-Lebanon area more than 80 years ago. Sayyid Muhsin Al-Amin al-Amili (died 1952), the author of A’yan Al-Shia, published an important work called entitled al-majâlis al-saniya: Iqna` al-la’im `ala iqamat al- a’atim. In this work,  “Sayyid Mulısin criticized certain practices performed in the Mulıarram processions, especially the flagellations.” Sayyid Muhsin would face an onslaught of criticism as a result, and a whole host of literature developed responding to his arguments that called for eliminating the practice of tatbeer. The author mentions that both Sayyid Abul al-Hasan al-Işfahani, who was a very prominent mujtahid until his death in 1946, and Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi al-Qazwini in Basra strongly spoke out against the practice of the flagellations in the Shiite processions.

Interestingly, Prof. Werner suggests that one possible reason for the Shiite ulama’s reticence toward condemning the practice of self-flagellation is that of an economic interest. For example, Sayyid Muhsin, “accuss[ed] certain people of seeking wordly profit from their aid in spreading these bida` (innovations) in the Jabal Amil(southern Lebanon).” Sayyid Muhsin’s contemporary associates, including Sheik Muhammad Jawad Mughniya, the Shiite Iraqi sociologist `Ali al-Wardi and his former student Ibrahim al-Ilaidari alleged that there was a conspiracy between certain `ulamâ’ and businessmen “drawing large profits from catering for the masses of mourners and spectators visiting the Muharram festivities at Shiite shrines.”

All in all, an important article to read. Please post comments after reading the article in full. Thank you and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Ahmad Chehab


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One Comment on “The Flagellations of Muharram and the Shiite `Ulamâ”

  1. wcharaf Says:

    Great article Brother Ahmed. Unfortunately, this disgusting ritual is still practiced today at a wider level and even in America. Here is a word by Imam Sanjari in that regards:


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