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