The Taboo of Tatbeer

May 11, 2011


A word filled with so much emotion and contention that each year it is discussed and each year individuals come forward with their varying opinions.

Quite simply Tatbeer is the act whereby the individual sheds blood in remembrance of the tragic events of Karbala. The individual seeks to attain higher spiritual levels by putting oneself to a level where they almost feel that they are taken back to Karbala and thus with the sword in their hand they strike their heads, a clear intent of allegiance to Imam Hussein (as). Love and compassion that sends the message that his mourning is very much still alive even in the 21st century.

Why is it then that this word causes such a fuss and brings about colourful dialogue?  Well there is no simple answer to this and there probably will never be. It is an area that has remained untouched amongst the higher ranks of our community, the pulpit is shy of discussing it whether being good or bad.  Having said this though the fact remains that the majority of scholars do deem it permissible and some even highly recommend it.  I do not write to dispute this rather I wish to approach it from an angle that is rarely walked upon.

The issue at hand is the dealing of this topic I have witnessed and seen how this area has almost become a ‘no go’ zone hence the use of the word taboo in the title. At times the very mention of the word is considered as a method of attack on the Shia or sub-sect of the shia where an individual is vilified for even uttering his own opinion on the matter. I once questioned this act at a centre in London and found myself approached by an elder who gave me sound advice not to question these acts.  He told me that I should be careful of what can happen on the day of judgement and that my questioning may be used against me where the Imam himself will be displeased.  Of course I took the advice on board so as not to offend my elder but it then daunted on me that there are those who really elevate this act to such a level where it is almost considered a part of religion. This aspect is really the  crux of the point I choose to make.

So did I say considered a part of religion? But isn’t it a part of religion? How dare I utter these words you might say?  This is where it takes me to the issue of Culture and religion before I go any further let’s look at the dictionary definition of the two words,

Culture : The tastes in art and manners that are favoured by a social group

Religion: A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe

So we can see that the core difference between the two is that culture refers to a set of actions where religion is a set of beliefs. Does this mean that culture is looked down upon in Islam? Does it also mean that one is right and the other is wrong? No it certainly does not, culture is a very important aspect of one’s life as it can be a unifying power in the common practices that are held. Equally religion is important as it defines ones outlook on life and is the basis of their thoughts however do the two aspects complement each other? Should one dictate the other, if so which one?

I won’t be answering those questions here for you as id hope it’s quite clear what the answer is but I will be picking upon what really is the core of the message that I am trying to get through here. Over the years I’ve noticed that this trend of placing great emphasis on Tatbeer has somewhat had a negative impact on the Shia community.

Well I actually wrote this blog last Muharam where a particular story of a family whose baby was taken to social services as a result of Tatbeer was being talked about. The story triggered my thinking where I questioned why our community had reached such a level and what led that family to striking their baby with a knife. All my thinking came down to what I have discussed above and the failure many have in distinguishing between culture and religion. I believe if that family had indeed made that distinction      then the story would not have arisen.

You see I choose to complete and publish this blog now in a time far away from Muharam because I know that emotions run high during that period and a blog like this one would do little to hearts mourning the tragedy of our Imam.  However I feel it important to share my views in the hope that a revaluation of how this act is looked upon is brought about.

If this post has offended you then I do apologise and seek your  forgiveness

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About mohamedridha

Network Systems Engineer with focus on Wireless LAN Infrastructure and Security. Interests in Middle East

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9 Comments on “The Taboo of Tatbeer”

  1. Anon Says:

    for political reasons scholars can’t come out and say its not permissible, there would be a massive backlash. They come out and say something like if it causes harm it is haram, one is then left to interpret what is considered as harm. The few scholars that do forbid it are accused of heresy! People need to stop getting all emotional and enter into a civilised dialogue.


  2. Sajjad Says:

    I have to disagree on some points. Culture and religion aren’t issues you can answer but you should leave them to people’s judgment.

    The problem lies, in my opinion, with people’s understanding of religion nowadays. You need to look at their major if not ONLY source of religious education which is the local Islamic centre. Review the level of teaching propagated there and also the content. You’d be surprised to see what pathetic topics are being discussed.

    It comes down to what mentality and approach the centre has. What is the aim of this place? Do we just want to entertain the people? Fill their mind with shallow arguments?
    I witnessed this the other day in our local centre when I was listening to the lecture. I was truly shocked by the nonsense perpetrated.

    The base is formed from these places. That’s the way I see it.

    Anon you make it sound as if our maraji3 are against it but are afraid to speak out. Try to be more objective.


  3. Ali Says:

    Very well done.


  4. The Heretic Says:

    I agree with the comment below that scholars are afraid to speak out as they fear a backlash. If you look at some of the wording with some of the scholars they sometimes say “if it does not harm one’s self” or “it is haram if it gives out a negative image of islam” well when there are certain centres in London that have ambulances waiting outside whilst they complete their annual tatbeer rituals and confiscating of any recording devices if found then I think both can be applied. People come back with all this emotional rhetoric about how blasphemous it is to even question such an act, emotional attachment to this act does mean it’s validity is cannot be questioned and is not an argument for it’s legitimacy!


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  9. Annonymous Says:

    i just can’t get why people have made it Untouchable ??
    why Scholars are afraid of talking about it? why did that elder man stop you from asking such question?
    are scholars afraid of back-lashing? or want to keep shia united at any cost?
    can we really achieve unity by keeping our issues underneath carpet ?
    this is so disturbing , that no body has a problem , it would be considered a philosophical discussion , an intellectual argument if people discuss, does God exist ? do we have one God or two or many? was Muhammad (PBUH&HF) a Prophet ? are Ahlulbayt infallible?
    so-on and so forth but
    ohhhhh ssssshhhhhhh! keep quiet about tatbir !!!!!!
    excuse me why??????

    secondly you mentioned “majority of scholars said it is permissible , and some recommend it” ,
    fatawa present at reveal the opposite !!!
    please can you enlighten me? i can only found Ayatollah Sadiq Shirazi


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