Why Do the Shias Beat Their Chest?


Lamentation and Mourning the Tragedies of the Prophet and
His Family

In general, the Noble Qur’an praises the act of crying and those who cry for a rightful cause. The Noble Qur’an describes many of the prophets and their followers by saying,

“When the verses of the Most Gracious were recited unto them, they fell down prostrating and weeping.”[1]

Similarly, it also describes certain believers as follows,

“And they say, ‘Glory be to our Lord. Truly, the promise of our Lord must be fulfilled,’ and they fall down upon their faces weeping, and it adds to their humility.”[2]

The prophet has been narrated to have cried over the deaths of several members of his family, such as his son Ibrahim, Imam al-Bukhari narrates:

The Messenger of Allah said, “A child was born unto me this night, and I named him after my father, Ibrahim.” He then sent him to Umm Sayf, the wife of the blacksmith, Abu Sayf. He (the Prophet) went to him, and I followed him until we reached Abu Sayf who was blowing fire with the help of bellows, and the house was filled with smoke.

I hastened my step and went ahead of the Messenger of Allah and said, “Abu Sayf, stop it, as here comes the Messenger of Allah.” He stopped, and the Apostle of Allah called for the child. He embraced him and said what Allah had desired. I saw that the boy breathed his last in the presence of the Messenger of Allah. The eyes of the Messenger of Allah shed tears, and he said, “Ibrahim, our eyes shed tears, and our hearts are filled with grief, but we do not say anything except that by which Allah is pleased. O Ibrahim, we grieve over you.”[3]

The Prophet is also narrated to have wept for his uncle Hamzah:

When the Prophet returned from the Battle of Uhud and witnessed the women of Ansar weeping for their martyred husbands, he stood up and said, “But nobody is weeping for my uncle Hamzah,” so the women understood that the Prophet desired people to weep for his uncle, and that is what they did. The crying for all the others ceased, except the crying for Hamzah.[4]

For his cousin Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib[5] and his grandson Imam Husayn:

Lady ‘A’ishah narrates that when Husayn was a child, he came into the presence of the Prophet and sat on his lap, and Jibrail descended and told the Prophet that some of his nation would kill him (Husayn) and brought him a sample of the soil of Karbala, and said that the land was called al-Taff. When Jibrail left, the Prophet went out to his companions with the soil in his hand, and there were Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Ali, and Hudayfah while he was weeping. They asked him why he was weeping. He said, “Jibrail has informed me that my son Husayn will be killed in the land of al-Taff,” and he brought me this soil from there and informed me that his final resting place will be there.[6]

Weeping for Imam Husayn is considered seeking nearness to Allah, because the tragedy of Imam Husayn is inextricably bound to the great sacrifice he endured for the sake of Allah. The Prophet, who knew the fate of his grandson, cried at his birth, cried when he was a child playing, and cried at his last moment before he died.

It is a natural act for people to show sympathy and affection towards those whom they love when they are stricken by grief and calamity. The Noble Qur’an says,

“Say (O Muhammad): ‘I do not ask any reward from you for this (preaching the message) but love for my relatives.”[7]

The Messenger of Allah explicitly told the Muslims that this verse refers to his Ahlul Bayt—’Ali, Lady Fatima, Hassan, and Husayn (for further information, see section on “Ahlul Bayt”). Thus, it is incumbent upon the Muslims to show love and sympathy for these individuals and the trials that they endured for the sake of Allah and to safeguard the religion of Islam.

None of the Ahlul Bayt died a natural death; all of them were either poisoned or killed by the sword in their struggle to defend Islam. None can fail to feel sorrow and pain for their tragedies. How can someone hear about the tragedy of ‘Ashura, when Imam Husayn sacrificed 72 members of his family and companions for the sake of Allah, and was killed in such a tragic manner. The tragedy continued, when the women of his household—the family of the Messenger of Allah—were taken captive and dragged from city to city, accompanying the severed heads of Imam Husayn, his relatives and companions; how then can a person not cry?

Even those who are not Muslim shed tears when hearing this story. If Muslims will cry over their own relatives, then how can they not cry over the family of the Prophet of Allah? Imam Husayn was not killed to be cried for; he gave his life to save the message of Islam and was martyred to fight tyranny and corruption. But the tears and sadness for Imam Husayn brings about a solemn pledge to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet and his family.

Showing sympathy about the tragedy of Imam Husayn and others from the Ahlul Bayt is neither an innovation nor is it a bid`ah. It must be noted that following the path of Imam Husayn is more important in the school of Ahlul Bayt, than merely crying for him.

[1] Noble Qur’an, 19:58
[2] Noble Qur’an, 17:109
[3] Sahih al-Bukhari, “Book on Funerals”, Hadith 1220; Sahih Muslim, “Book on the Virtues”, Hadith 4279; Abu Dawud, “Book on Funerals”, Hadith 2719; Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Vol. 3, 194
[4] Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Vol. 2
[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, 152; Sahih Muslim, Vol. 1, Ch. “Weeping for the Dead”, says, that the Prophet visited the grave of his mother, Aminah and cried and caused those around him to cry too. Ibn Abi al-Hadid al-Mu‘tazili, Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, Vol. 3, 387
[6] Al-Mawardi al-Shafi‘i, A‘lam al-Nubuwwah; al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-Ummal, on the authority of Umm Salamah (one of the wives of the Prophet).
[7] Noble Qur’an, 42:23

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