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What Should I Do? – Women Commemorating Ashura in the Presence of Men
I. Details about the situation
Every year, Sukayna looks forward to the commemoration of Ashura which includes poetry, speeches, and other dedications that recall the valor, bravery, and sacrifice of Imam Hussain (p) and the martyrs who fought alongside him. In particular, she gets a great deal of inspiration from the elegies, or latmiyyahs/nohas, recited at the end of the programs, which are accompanied by rhythmic striking of the chest, or matam. The men in her Islamic center recite and perform these elegies and Sukayna likes to listen and participate by striking her chest. However, a few of the men sometimes take off their shirts during the elegies. Thus, Sukayna wonders whether it is appropriate for her to be present during the elegies. Moreover, Sukayna asks herself if it would be permissible for her to recite an elegy in the presence of men. What should she do?
The commemoration of Ashura is an important practice which keep the legacy of Imam Hussain (p) and the great heights to which he rose to defend the religion of God alive. As such, the purpose of these gatherings is to recount the tragedy that befell in Karbala and learn from the characters and the lessons they left for all of humanity. These commemorations must be held with the utmost respect and dignity, should never cast Islam in a negative light, and they must never violate any of God’s laws. This includes maintaining the appropriate Islamic decorum in the potential interactions of men and women who are non-Mahram to each other. Any act that elicits sinful thoughts or actions (e.g., forbidden looking) in the person performing or observing the ritual is not permissible, especially in such gatherings.
It is not permissible for Muslim women to look at the bodies of the men who take off their shirts based on obligatory precaution. In addition, they should not engage in any act that attracts the illicit attention of men. Thus, although it is permissible for the men to strike their chests without a shirt during the elegy, it should be done without women present. With regards to a woman reciting an elegy in the presence of men, the melodiousness and refinement of their voice can be provocative to men. Hence, it should be avoided. If women want to recite elegies and strike their chests, then they should do so without men present.
Sukayna should depart the gathering before the elegies start if the men remove their shirts. She should organize a separate women-only gathering for the elegies, or ask the center to make such arrangements if she would like to recite and actively participate in the commemoration of Ashura.
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