His Eminence, Grand Ayatullah Sayyid al-Sistani

A clarification about the opinion of His Eminence, Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, on the subject of Tatbir (Hitting the head with a sword or a knife on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, peace be upon him)


In the Name of God, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful

God, the Glorified, says, “He gives wisdom to whomever He wishes, and he who is given wisdom, is certainly given an abundant good. But none takes admonition except those who possess intellect” (The Holy Quran, 2:269)

In response to this question asked by “The Missionary Youth” group:

The circulating statements/comments regarding the opinion of His Eminence, the religious authority, may God protect him,  that he has “abstained” from issuing a religious edict on the subject of tatbir requires clarification. What is the reason the supreme religious authority is abstaining from answering a jurisprudential question that causes such disagreement among people?

The reason for abstaining from issuing an edict on this matter can be understood from the following standpoints:

First: A believer can refer in his or her emulation (taqleed) either to the supreme religious authority or to another religious authority. If a believer emulates another authority, then the abstention of the supreme authority from issuing an edict on a certain subject would not affect him. However, if he emulates the supreme authority, it means he thinks the supreme authority is the most knowledgeable and has the attributes of justness, piety, and wisdom, and therefore, should be assured that the supreme authority’s abstention from issuing an edict on a certain subject is because of some foresight. Even if he does not know (i.e. understand) that foresight, the believer should accept the position of the supreme authority (i.e. trust in his wisdom) and not worry.

Second: The jurist considers various factors and gives some of them priority over others when giving his opinion. There is no doubt that by not giving his opinion the supreme authority, based on his knowledge, experience and wisdom, considers certain factors as being more important (versus the factors that suggest an opinion is needed). It might even be because he does not see any suitability in issuing a religious edict because he knows that such an edict would not have any effect, and in fact may even increase the enmity between the two sides of the conflict and prolong it. The Master of the well-spoken and the wise, the Leader of the Believers, may peace be upon him, said, “He who is not obeyed cannot give counsel.”

Third: The reality we all live in and are aware of is that there is a conflict between two parties, each of them is so adamant in not abandoning its belief regardless of the supreme authority’s opinion about it. Therefore, the edict of the supreme authority would be used as a “stick” by one side to antagonize the other. While the supreme authority is mindful not to give any of the two parties a chance to do that.

This conflict is apparent to all believers every year as each of the two opposing parties struggles and strives to collect all kinds of evidence to prove the correctness of its position. They have searched all the books and found every detail of what previous jurists have said about this subject. Nevertheless, the supreme authority only aims to play its fatherly role and attend to all believers, whatever their position or viewpoint, and prevent the followers of the progeny of the Prophet, may peace be upon them, from being divided and disunited; and as such he does not want to favor one side over the other. This position of the supreme authority has been clearly demonstrated for various issues as is clearly evident to all.

Fourth: The conflict between the two sides about the Husayni sacraments is not limited to this subject such that the supreme authority can issue an edict and settle the matter. The groups will remain at odds and the debate will continue even if an edict is issued, because then another subject will be raised, and then another, and the supreme authority will be bound to issue edicts about all the subjects that will be raised. As a result of this the followers of the progeny of the Prophet, may peace be upon them, will be kept from commemorating the anniversary of the Master of the Martyrs, may peace be upon him, and will instead be busy with discussing and debating those subjects, which would cause further hostility and division among his followers, may peace be upon him. The supreme authority aims to distance himself from contributing to and participating in such a fruitless debate, the liability for which is borne by those who ignite it every year with the purpose of defeating the opposing party.

Fifth: Objections regarding the position of the supreme authority on this subject could themselves reveal that one party or the other is complaining about the supreme authority not issuing an edict that can enable them to argue for their position against the other party. This is evidence for the correctness of the position of the supreme authority and for his awareness of what is happening in society regarding this subject.

Sixth: The position of the supreme authority follows the example of Prophet Aaron, may peace be upon him, when he retreated and isolated himself from the people who worshipped the calf instead of God, the Glorified. He apologized to his brother Moses, may peace be upon him, who upon returning from the mountain asked him why he isolated himself from them, “He said, ‘O son of my mother! Do not hold my beard or my head! I feared lest you should say, You have caused a rift among the Children of Israel’” (Quran 20:94). Both Moses, may peace be upon him, and the Qur’an approved of the position of Aaron and did not condemn him. This was the case with those people who considered a calf their god and worshipped it. Yet our situation is much better; neither of the parties (God forbid) has been unfaithful to God (i.e. disbelieved). Therefore, the supreme authority isolating itself from this debate in order to not increase the divisions among the followers of the progeny of the Prophet, may peace be upon them, is most appropriate.

Seventh: The abstention of the supreme authority from issuing an edict about this subject can be considered a lesson and teaching for us from several perspectives as follows:

  • This is a jurisprudential subject the debate about which should not escalate to such levels of conflict and enmity. Each believer can simply refer to the authority he or she emulates regarding this subject, just as he does regarding hundreds of other jurisprudential issues about which different jurists have varying opinions.
  • The Husayni Sacraments can be applied and practiced in so many ways, whether we approve or disapprove of them.
  • A believer should distance him or herself from any fruitless debate that could cause them to insult others and should not busy themselves with such issues that would take them away from serving the Master of the Martyrs, may peace be upon him.

There are other points that I did not mention for fear of unnecessarily prolonging this answer or falling into the same trouble we are trying to avoid.

Sayyid Muhammad Husayn al-Amidi
Representative of His Eminence, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid al-Sistani
Najaf, Muharram of 1437 AH

We ask Allah (swt) to grant us success. May God make us all the servants of Islam and of our fellow Muslims, by which our good deeds are recorded in the book of Imam Husayn (as).

May the peace and blessings of God be upon you all.