Grief is a natural reaction that human beings experience during their lives. Many people feel that being in a state of grief or distress is at odds with submitting to the divine will of God, when, in reality, it would be unjust for the Creator to hold us accountable for a basic human instinct. In fact, numerous Quranic examples as well as wisdom from the authentic traditions of the Messenger (pbuh&hp) and his family (pbut) demonstrate the importance of expressing grief and sadness over injustices and human suffering, specifically over the tragedies that befell the Prophet’s grandson, the Leader of the Youth of Paradise, Imam Hussain (p).

Grief in the Holy Quran

There are numerous examples within the Holy Quran describing how God’s chosen personalities expressed sadness, worry, and concern. For instance, God mentions the anecdote of the mother of Moses, who cast her son into the river to save his life from the oppression of the Pharaoh who was seeking to kill every male child from Bani Israel under his governance. Upon deciding to let go of her son and entrust him to God in that delicate situation, God states, “The heart of Moses’ mother became desolate, and indeed she was about to divulge it had We not fortified her heart so that she might have faith [in God’s promise].”1 The mother of Moses was in a state of desperation and was filled with grief given she was in the midst of an incredibly challenging situation, but God offered her a sense of support which made her task easier. Similarly, God mentions the pain, grief, and worry of Mary during the process of childbirth with her son, Jesus. God states, “When she started to experience (the pain of) of childbirth labor, by the trunk of a palm tree in sadness she said, ‘Would that I had died long before and passed into oblivion.’ Then she heard the baby saying, ‘Do not be sad.’”2 Here, Mary, mother of Jesus, one of the most esteemed women in Islamic tradition, expressed her grief over a trial she had been encountering until the miracle of God offered her a sense of consolation. Furthermore, in neither of these examples do we find any sense of divine condemnation for the behavior of these individuals.

Lessons from the Grief of Jacob over Joseph

The most famous and well-quoted example of grief in the Quran is in the chapter of Yusuf (p) (Joseph), which describes how Yaqub (p), (Jacob), spent many long years grieving over the absence of his son Joseph. This story provides valuable insight into the nature of emotions and the relationship of human beings with God, as He states, “In their story, there is a lesson for the people of understanding.”3 Thus, from this chapter of the Quran, and specifically from the expressed grief of Prophet Jacob (p) for his beloved son, we are able to take lessons that can help us grow and develop. Furthermore, the grief of Jacob over Joseph allows us to fully appreciate the permissibility and significance of grieving for Imam Hussain (p).

In verse 84 of the Chapter of Yusuf, God speaks about the emotion of Prophet Jacob (p), as He states, “(Jacob) turned away from them saying, ‘Alas, Joseph is lost!’ He wept continuously in his grief until, in suppressing his anger, his eyes turned white.”4 From this verse, we are able to derive much wisdom. Firstly, the grief of Prophet Jacob is the grief of an infallible prophet, and his sadness is not only for an ordinary son, but a son who is also a prophet and representative of God. Thus, his intense emotion demonstrates the uniqueness of the trial that Prophet Jacob (p) was undergoing. Secondly, we also understand that the grief of Jacob was “continuous” and so intense that “his eyes turned white,” which indicates that he became ill due to how much he was weeping. In verse 85, God describes the subsequent discourse between Prophet Jacob and the other sons, who come to console their father, “They said, ‘You are always remembering Joseph. By God, it will either make you sick or you will die.’”5 Initially, the brothers of Joseph wanted to kill him so that he would fade from his father’s memory, but Jacob would persist in his remembrance of his beloved son. To allow the memory of Joseph to continue to live on, Prophet Jacob would constantly weep for him. From this verse, we are able to see that although time seemingly heals all wounds, the grief of Jacob over what was a significant loss remained with him and represented a form of vigilance and attentiveness so that he would not forget a person who was so important to him (and God). For instance, our sadness at the passing of a family member often decreases in intensity as time passes, but evidently, from this verse, the grief of Jacob was so profound that his sons believed it might potentially lead to the death of an infallible prophet of God.

Finally, in verse 86, God quotes Prophet Jacob’s response to his children. He says, “‘I complain of my sorrow and grief only to God. I know from God what you do not know.’”6 In this verse, we see the anger and grief of Jacob channeled to God and as such, complaining to God is a form of worship. In Dua Kumayl, we beseech, “Oh to the One who I complain about my affairs,”7 a clear demonstration that a complaint to God is obedience to Him.

Hence, from a brief reflection on these verses of the Holy Quran, we can make the following determinations, specifically considering our grief for the Master of Martyrs, Imam Hussain (p):

– God says in the Quran (12:111) to take lessons from Prophet Jacob, thus, we can conclude that his grief is praiseworthy.

– Just as the grief of Jacob for Joseph is continuous and constantly renewed, it is important to remember and renew our emotion for the tragedy of the grandson of God’s Messenger, because like Joseph, Hussain is a representative of God.

– Although Jacob’s weeping and grief was very intense, he continued to be in that state because it was a way to preserve what happened to Joseph in his heart and in the hearts or minds of those around him.

In considering this heart-rendering event, we see that Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p) also used the grief of Jacob to explain his own grief over the tragedy of Karbala. In a tradition, after being questioned why he continued to grieve decades after the martyrdom of his father, he responded,  “Surely Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, was a prophet, a son of a prophet, who had twelve sons, and God had hidden one [son] from him…his hair turned grey and his back had bent from the grief and he became blind from the tears, yet his son was alive in this world. And I saw my father and my brother and seventeen of my family members killed, so how could I stop grieving and limit my crying!?”8

Grieving over Imam Hussain

There are many traditions that emphasize showing grief for Imam Hussain (p) and the tragedy that befell his family and companions. In mirroring what we gain from the Quran in the chapter of Yusuf, our grief is to immortalize the immaculate teachings of the Imam and the values that he stood for on the Day of Ashura. Furthermore, our sorrow is not only the sorrow of a tragic episode, but it is due to an intense love for God and His Messenger, as Imam Hussain is a manifestation of the religion of Islam. Thus, the reward for the grief over Imam Hussain (p) is unique, as portrayed through the words of the infallible Imams. Imam al-Rida (p) tells his companion, Rayyan ibn Shabib, “Oh son of Shabib! If you are going to cry over something, then cry for Hussain son of Ali, for surely he was killed in the same way they kill a sheep!” The Imam continues by mentioning the reward of weeping for Imam Hussain when he states, “If you cry for Hussain, until tears come down your cheeks, God will forgive all of your sins, small ones or large ones, if they are few or if they are plenty!”9 The tears that we shed and the rituals that we perform are to cultivate a connectivity with our faith and to recognize the significance of the personality of Imam Hussain (p) as a way of feeling the presence of God. Through the rites, the tears, and the emotion demonstrated during the Day of Ashura, there is a revitalization of our souls that brings us back to recognizing the spirit of the stand of Imam Hussain (p) and the epic role of the family of the Prophet in serving as a guiding light for us.

The Objectives of Mourning

There are numerous traditions, like the one narrated by Imam al-Rida (p) to Rayyan ibn Shabib, that speak about the merits of mourning and grieving for Imam Hussain (p). But it is vital to recognize that that weeping for the Imam, which certainly has a reward, does not allow us to reach nearness to God if we are not also following in the footsteps of the legacy which the Imam (p) left behind. God states, “(Muhammad), tell them, ‘If you love God, follow me. God will love you and forgive your sins. God is All-forgiving and All-merciful.’”10 In other words, we learn from this verse and from traditions that speak about the lofty reward of tears for the Imam that our grief is meant to be transformative and a mechanism that allows for our spiritual growth in addition to fulfilling obligations that God has prescribed for us—prayers, fasting, Hajj, and so forth.  Again, our grief is not solely over a tragic episode in human history, but a means to remember out Creator and purify our hearts. If we are heedless of the ultimate objectives of Ashura, Karbala, and the tragedy of the oppressed Imam, we are not bearing the fruit intended by the rituals of the days of Muharram and Safar.


As mentioned earlier, the number of traditions that speak to the significance of mourning for Imam Hussain (p) are numerous. But it is vital to take lessons from the examples of grief mentioned in the Holy Quran to reach the ultimate objective of grieving— a means of connectivity to our Creator. Hussain ibn Ali (p) is not only the grandson of the last Messenger of God, but he is among God’s divine representatives on earth, and his uprising on the Day of Ashura was solely for God, and thus remembering his epic martyrdom also allows for us to be in God’s remembrance. Grieving for the tragedy brings attention to the cause, and it helps us reflect on the reality of all that Imam Hussain (p) stood for. In addition, we find other benefits, in that crying allows us to become more passionate, patient, and to channel our hearts and minds to stand up against all oppression and injustice. In other words, the grief that we endure year after year enlivens his stand and illuminates the values that he stood for on that sacred day.

1. Quran 28:10. Ali Quli Qarai translation.
2. Quran 19:23-24. This quote and the remaining Quranic quotes in this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
3. Quran 12:111.
4. Quran 12:84.
5. Quran 12:85.
6. Quran 12:86.
7. Dua Kumayl of Imam Ali (p).
8. Sayyid Ibn Tawus, Al-luhuf fi qatla al-tufuf, p.122.
9. al-Hurr al-Amily, Wasail al-Shia, vol. 14, p. 502.
10. Quran 3:31.

1. ((وَأَصْبَحَ فُؤَادُ أُمِّ مُوسَىٰ فَارِغًا ۖ إِن كَادَتْ لَتُبْدِي بِهِ لَوْلَا أَن رَّبَطْنَا عَلَىٰ قَلْبِهَا لِتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ))، [القرآن، القصص 28، آية 10]
2. ((فَأَجَاءَهَا الْمَخَاضُ إِلَىٰ جِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ قَالَتْ يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَـٰذَا وَكُنتُ نَسْيًا مَّنسِيًّا ﴿٢٣﴾ فَنَادَاهَا مِن تَحْتِهَا أَلَّا تَحْزَنِي قَدْ جَعَلَ رَبُّكِ تَحْتَكِ سَرِيًّا))، [القرآن، مريم 19، آية 23]
3. ((لَقَدْ كَانَ فِي قَصَصِهِمْ عِبْرَةٌ لِّأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ))، [القرآن، يوسف 12، آية 111]
4. ((وَتَوَلَّىٰ عَنْهُمْ وَقَالَ يَا أَسَفَىٰ عَلَىٰ يُوسُفَ وَابْيَضَّتْ عَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْحُزْنِ فَهُوَ كَظِيمٌ))،[ القرآن، يوسف 12، آية 84]
5. ((قَالُوا تَاللَّـهِ تَفْتَأُ تَذْكُرُ يُوسُفَ حَتَّىٰ تَكُونَ حَرَضًا أَوْ تَكُونَ مِنَ الْهَالِكِينَ))، [القرآن، يوسف 12، آية 85]
6. ((قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللَّـهِ وَأَعْلَمُ مِنَ اللَّـهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ))، [القرآن، يوسف 12، آية 86]
7. جاء في دعاء كميل عن الإمام علي (ع): “يا من إليه شكوت أحوالي”، [السيّد ابن طاووس، إقبال الأعمال، ج 3، ص 337]
8. روي أنّ الإمام زين العابدين (ع) سأله مولى له أما آن لحزنك أن ينقضي ولبكائك أن يقل؟ فقال (ع): “إن يعقوب بن إسحاق بن إبراهيم، كان نبيا ابن نبي له اثني عشر ابنا فغيب الله واحدا منهم فشاب رأسه من الحزن واحدودب ظهره من الغم وذهب بصره من البكاء وابنه حي في دار الدنيا وأنا رأيت أبى وأخي وسبعة عشر من أهل بيتي صرعى مقتولين فكيف ينقضي حزني ويقل بكائي وها أنا أتمثل وأشير إليهم صوات الله عليهم”، [السيّد ابن طاووس، اللهوف على قتلى الطفوف، ص 122]
9. روي عن الإمام الرضا (ع): “يَا ابْنَ شَبِيبٍ: إِنْ كُنْتَ بَاكِياً لِشَيْ‏ءٍ فَابْكِ لِلْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ (عليه السَّلام)، فَإِنَّهُ ذُبِحَ كَمَا يُذْبَحُ الْكَبْشُ، وَ قُتِلَ مَعَهُ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ ثَمَانِيَةَ عَشَرَ رَجُلًا مَا لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ شَبِيهُونَ، وَ لَقَدْ بَكَتِ السَّمَاوَاتُ السَّبْعُ وَ الْأَرَضُونَ لِقَتْلِهِ، يَا ابْنَ شَبِيبٍ: إِنْ بَكَيْتَ عَلَى الْحُسَيْنِ (عليه السَّلام) حَتَّى تَصِيرَ دُمُوعُكَ عَلَى خَدَّيْكَ غَفَرَ اللَّهُ لَكَ كُلَّ ذَنْبٍ أَذْنَبْتَهُ، صَغِيراً كَانَ أَوْ كَبِيراً، قَلِيلًا كَانَ أَوْ كَثِيراً”، [الحر العاملي، وسائل الشيعة، ج 14، ص 502]
10. ((قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّـهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّـهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ))، [القرآن، آل عمران 3، آية 31]

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