وَجَعَلْنَا فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُ رَأْفَةً وَرَحْمَةً وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاء رِضْوَانِ اللَّهِ فَمَا رَعَوْهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَا
And We put in the hearts of those who followed him (Jesus) compassion and mercy. But they invented monasticism, which We had not prescribed for them. All we asked was seeking Allah’s pleasure, yet they did not observe it with due observance. (57:27)
This short note is written with due acknowledgement of the sincere love and dedication offered to our beloved Imam Husayn (a) by those who practice tatbir and zanjir. It is not their love and passion which is questioned here, rather the way they express it.
There is no doubt that expressing grief for the tragic martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a) is one of the richest instances of tawalla which is a pillar of Islamic faith and to which numerous verses of the Quran and narrations of the ma’sumin testify. However, a believer’s conduct, speech and expression in tawalla and tabarra should always be restricted by the sound rational judgment and by the framework of shari’ah which is the brightest path gifted to us by our creator. Shari’ah is the most rational, ethical, decent, upright, and honourable way of conduct.
During the history, people have expressed their love and submission to the Supreme in peculiar ways. Some thought that total dedication requires absolute withdrawal from life, others guessed that He is so sublime that they needed intermediaries to reach Him. Others used to cut themselves in temples to show their love with blood; some chained themselves to its pillars and others slaughtered their sons and daughters to show the extent of their devotion. If expression of submission is left to people, they come up with such peculiar customs.
The expression of grief for Imam Husayn (a) is something of a similar nature. Although we are encouraged to openly express our grief for Abi Abdillah (a), and although different cultures may have their unique ways of expressing grief, but their customs must always be checked by and aligned with the guidelines of shari’ah, common sense and rationality. There have been and there are different customs in expressing grief for Imam Husayn (a) during history and in our present time which did not and do not stand the standards of shari’ah or common sense. One of such customs which has become controversial in our present day community is the practice of tatbir and zanjir. Here I will try to trace the custom of tatbir to its origins and discuss the appropriateness of its practice, especially in public gatherings and in our centres.
It is difficult to locate the origin of tatbir and zanjir practice in history. The most documented view is that tatbir (qameh zani) or razor cutting (teeq zani) were practices borrowed by Persians and Arabs from Azari Turks.
The practice had no precedence in pre-Safavid Iran. It was in Safavid era (1501- 1722) that tatbir (qameh zani) and some other practices like padlock locking on the flesh (qufl zani) became popular.
The practice of tatbir apparently started with the Safavid army. We know that the Safavids were originally a Turkish Sufi order who did not know much about Shi’a faith and Islamic practice before they invited to Iran great jurists like al-Muhaqqiq al-Karaki (d. 1534) from Lebanon and other Shi’a areas. It was a custom with Safavids that they had their army march on the day of Ashura with their weapons. A faction of a highly loyal forces in the army who were called Qezelbash (Red Capped) and who were used to have their heads shaved all the time started to beat their heads with their swords on that day. This was either due to their Sufi origin, or to sympathise with Imam Husayn (a) and his followers, or to show their readiness and strength as highly trained army loyalists. After all, these were the special forces who had severe and difficult trainings including eating all sorts of animals and reptiles like snakes; something which is still practiced in trainings of special forces all over the world.
The practice, however, was restricted to Iran for some while. According to the Iraqi sociologist, Ibrahim al-Haidari, ceremonies like tatbir were not practiced in Iraq before nineteenth century.  Towards the end of the nineteenth century Turkish Iraqis, Sufis and Kurds of the western Iran started to practice such ceremonies but the Iraqi Arabs did not join them until early 20th century.  A report from British officials in Iraq regarding the Ashura of 1919 in Najaf indicates that a group of about one hundred Shi’i Turks had performed tatbir in that year.
Haj Hamid Razi (d. 1953), who lived for 110 years, has reported that in his youth, tatbir was not a custom in Karbala and Najaf. Neither the practice is mentioned in any oral memoirs of the elderly of Najaf and Karbala before the latter part of the 19th century in which “a group of Qezelbash Turks started to beat their heads with special swords while visiting Imam Husayn’s shrine.”
2- The Position of the Past Ulama
Renowned scholars objected the practice. In his book Tuhfeh Firouziyyeh Mirza Abdullah Afandi (d. 1718), the most prominent aid to Allamh Majlisi in compilation of Bihar al-Anwar, reports some of these objections. One of these ulama was the paragon of zuhd and taqwa, the renowned Muqaddas Ardabili (d. 1585), who is believed to have met with the twelfth Imam (a). 
Apparently, due to these oppositions the practice was not generalized until after Safavids at the time of Akhund Mulla Agha Darbandi (d. 1869) who strongly encouraged the practice. Most of the sources regard him as the inventor of tatbir practice in 19th century. He was the author of infamous maqtal, Asrar al-Shahadah (The Secrets of Martyrdom). His opinion about grief for Imam Husain allowed him to include in his book many stories about Karbala which had no basis in history, something that urged ulama to criticise and abandon his book. For example, he states in the book that the day of Ashura was seventy-two hours, the temperature of the day was seventy degrees above the normal, and the number of Ibn Sa’d’s army was one million and six hundred thousand! Of this number three hundred and thirty thousand were killed by Imam Husayn and twenty-five thousand by Hazrate Abbas. That is why the day of Ashura should have been longer than twenty-four hours because if you kill one man every second you cannot kill more than ninety thousand men in twenty-four hours. He believed that Allah has created the heavens and the earth for no purpose but to uphold the aza of Imam Husain (a).
It is reported that the great Ayatullah Naini (d. 1936) was asked about the contents of Asrar al-Shahadah upon which he replied that if we want to judge positively, we have to say that the author regarded himself as a mujtahd and in that capacity he did not see any intrinsic malice in lying, especially if it served some benefit. He regarded the lies in his book as a service to religion. Muhadithe Nuri the teacher and mentor of Sheikh Abbas Qumi and the author of Mustadrak al-Wasa’il states that this book directed all sorts of criticism and derision against the Shi’a and Ayatollah Mutahari says that the contents of the book makes one cry for Islam.
At any rate, due to the popular appeal of emotional rhetoric of Mulla Agha Darbandi the practice of tatbir became widespread and the opposition of great scholars like Sayyed Mohsin al-Amin (d. 1952), the author of the massive A’yan al-Shi’ah, which included one of the most comprehensive and reliable maqtals too, could not stop the surge. It is said that Ayatollah Na’ini, due to the circumstances allowed the practice. He lived at the time of the Iranian despot Reza Shah (d. 1944) who had banned all expressions of grief for Imam Husayn (a) and arrested and imprisoned anyone who held any majlis. It was in such a context that Ayatollah Na’ini not only did not oppose the practice but issued a fatwa in its desirability.
However, his great contemporary and the leading marja’ of the time Ayatollah Sayyed Abu al-Hassan Isfahani (d. 1946) declared it as impermissible and issued a strong fatwa against it. This was after the less educated talabah had launched fierce attack on Ayatollah Sayyed Mohsin al-Amin because of the condemnation of tatbir in his book, al-Tanzih li A’mal al-Shabih, to the extent that they accused him of intending to abrogate the traditions of Ahl al-Bayt and to stop practice of Islam. The fatwa of Aaytollah Isfahani was as follows:
However, after Ayatollah Na’ini, some of his students who are among the past generation of maraji’ did not seem willing to oppose his fatwa openly.
3- The Position of Contemporary Ulama
The new generation of maraji’ do not see themselves bound to the fatwa of Ayatollah Na’ini and are becoming more and more concerned about the global and inter-cultural impact of this practice in the age of TV and internet.
Following are the fatawa of some of the maraji’ in disagreement with tatbir:
Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr:
What is performed today by the name of Tatbir and causing bodily bleeding is the practice of ignorant among the lay people and none of our ulama has ever practiced it. They continuously have prevented it and regarded it as haram.
Tatbir (qameh zani), cannot be customarily regarded as an expression of sorrow and grief; and not only there is no precedent of that at the age of A’immah (a) and after, and there is no general or specific confirmation of that by the ma’soumin (a), it is today a cause of insult and ill-repute of the mazhab and is not permissible publicly or privately.
Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi:
Ayatollah Javadi Amuli:
Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani:
The practice of azadari and grief for the Master of the Martyrs, Hazrate Imam Husayn (a) must be performed in a way to cause more attraction and love for him and his holy cause. In our current circumstances, not only tatbir would not play such a role, but due to its unacceptability and lack of any understandable justification it would cause ill consequences. It is therefore incumbent on the Shi’i lovers of the school of Imam Husayn (a) to avoid it. And in case of any nadhr in this regard, the nadhr does not meet the conditions of correctness and conclusion (in’iqad).
Ayatollah Sayyed Kazim Ha’iri:
Ayatollah Noori Hamadani
In reply to an istifta’ about tatbir:
To regard tatbir as an act of azadari for Imam Husayn (a) and his Ahl al-Bayt and companions is not established. Thus, it is necessary for all the believers to choose the type of azadari which is proven and well established like crying, chest beating and forming azadari marches.
Ayatollah Muhaqqiq Kabuli:
Ayatollah Alawi Gorgani:
Tatbir causes ill-repute to tashayyu’ and is not allowed.
Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani and Ayatollah Sistani:
In an interview, Ayatollah Faqih Imani of Isfahan has stated that what is heard about the views of Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani regarding permissibility of tatbir is not accurate and may be his past opinion. “I sent my representative to his excellency and he told him that in the current circumstances tatbir is haram. However, his office may not give you a direct answer.” Regarding Ayatollah Sistani’s opinion he says, “My nephew is Ayatollah Sistani’s son in law. I sent him to his excellency and similar to Ayatollah Wahid he said that tatbir is haram.”
Review of some arguments in favour of tatbir
As an act like harming the body is essentially and in principle haram in our fiqh, the supporters of tatbir have tried to make some arguments to exclude its impermissibility for the mourning of Imam Husayn (a). However, none of those arguments are justified as I explain in what follows.
1- The approval (taqrir) of the ma’sum (a).
This argument is based on a mythical story in which Lady Zainab salam Allah alayha is reported to have hit her head against the post of the howdah causing blood to flow on her face. A tow-pronged argument is deduced from this story. Firstly, Lady Zainab’s act is in itself a great proof for permissibility of tatbir as she was raised in the Household of the Prophet and would never commit any haram. Secondly, this act was done in the presence of Imam Sajjad (a) and he did not object to it. This is a tacit approval (taqrir) from the Imam regarding the permissibility of this action.
The story however, is not accepted by scholars. It is a report by a stucco worker who was decorating Ibn Ziyad’s mansion while the battle of Karbala was going on! Nothing more is known about this man who is named as Muslim al-Jassas, and surprisingly he was absolutely unaware of the whole event of karbala!! The origin of the hadith is a book called Nur al-Ayn fi Mash.had al-Husayn by an unknown Sunni author by the name of Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Nayshaburi. Some believe that he was the Shafi’i scholar of the fifth century Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini. The book is full of uninformed accounts of Karbala stated without any chain of transmission. No other source or maqtal has mentioned this story and it is so strange that the late Sheikh Abbas Qummi, the author of Mafatih al-Janan objects to its contents. He says, it is extremely implausible to attribute such an act to Zainab (s) because she was the Aqila of Bani Hashim and owned the station of riza and taslim. Moreover, with a thorough historical investigation, he concludes that the captives did not have the luxury of having a howdah when transported to Kufa. Apart from that, the depiction of Zainab (s) in this story, especially the poetry attributed to her, portrays a personality diagonally different from what we have learnt about Zainab (a) from reliable accounts.
2- The Ziyarah of the twelfth Imam (a)
In a statement in the Ziyarah attributed to the holy Twelfth Imam it is stated that, “I shall lament you every morning and every evening, and I shall cry for you blood rather than tears.” The argument is that if the Imam (a) cries blood why are we not allowed to spill some of our blood for Imam Husayn (a)? The absurdity of this argument is self-evident. No one would ever assume by this inspiring and beautiful figure of speech that the Imam (a) really cries blood for Imam Husayn (a). And if someone is so literalist to take up this statement in its literal sense, then they are better follow the statement exactly as it says and cry some blood for the Imam (a) rather than using blades for the purpose.
3- Losing control in the matam of Husayn
Another argument that one may hear in this regard is that the tragedy of Husayn creates in them such a grief that they lose control and hit themselves with blades and swords. This is the most unjustified of all arguments. For firstly, someone who fears to lose control do not put such instruments at their disposal; secondly, those who practice tatbir, prepare for it from the previous day and it is not an impromptu act. And above all, they are not higher than A’immah (a) in their emotions for Aba Abdillah (a). No such practices or anything close to it is ever recorded from our divine guides. Imam Husayn (a) made the great sacrifice to bring some sanity to our insane world not to put people out of their minds.
4- The desirability of lamentation (jaza’) for Imam Husayn
Jaza’ (جزع) can be translated as excessive lamentation. It is usually expressed on the occasion of highly sorrowful events. The supporters of tatbir would argue that it is desirable to express jaza’ for Imam Husayn and tatbir is an instance of that.
If tatbir is an instance of jaza’, then why not other things? Especially, if we say that jaza’ is expression of uncontrolled emotion. Why not burning one’s skin, or cutting lobes of the ears, or blinding one eye and do with the other? The answers to all these hypothetical cases are obvious: everything has a limit including jaza’. This limit is either defined by common sense or by shari’ah. The supporters of tatbir, certainly would not encourage chopping one’s arm in sympathy with Hazrat Abbas because obviously this is off limit.
Thus, jaza’ has a limit in urf and a limit in shari’ah. In terms of shari’ah, Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari reports from Imam al-Baqir (a) that “the most extreme degree of jaza’ is woeful shouting, slapping the face and the chest, and clipping hair from the forehead.” In a weak narration certain acts of jaza’ are forbidden generally but allowed particularly for expressing grief for Imam Husayn (a), although it needs repentance and istighfar. This hadith is reported in al-Tahdhib from Imam al-Sadiq (a). Khalid ibn Sadir asks the Imam about the kaffarah of certain types of jaza’. After elaborating on kaffarat, which shows unwarranted jaza’ is not permissible, the Imam (a) says, “and there is no kaffarah in slapping the face except repentance and istighfar, [and how would it be otherwise] since the Fatimid ladies tore the front of their dress and slapped their faces in mourning for Husayn (a); and for the like of Husayn (a) faces are slapped and dresses are torn.” 
A sad thing I have noticed is that this hadith being quoted from secondary sources or from memory, has been shifted and twisted, probably unintentionally, by supporters of tatbir. The copies of al-Tahdhib and Wasa’l al-Shi’ah that I have consulted have recorded the hadith as “and for the like of Husayn the cheeks deserve to be slapped and the clothes to be torn” (وعلى مثله تلطم الخدود وتشق الجيوب), while some literatures produced by supporters of tatbir have written it as “and for the like of Husayn the cheeks must be slapped, the faces must be scratched and the clothes must be torn” ( وعلي مثل الحسين فلتشق الجيوب ولتخمش الوجوه ولتلطم الخدود). The difference between these two is considerable. Firstly, the original hadith is not in imperative, while the distorted version is in imperative mood. Secondly, the sentence “the faces must be scratched” (ولتخمش الوجوه) is added in the distorted version which crucially changes the meaning. Khamsh means scratching to bleed and the added sentence means that “for Husayn (a) the faces should be scratched to bleed.” This is while Khamsh is particularly forbidden in grief and Imam Husayn (a) instructed his women not to do khamsh after he is dead. I have not been able to verify which was the first source that made such a bold distortion in the hadith.
From the urf and common sense point of view, cutting one’s skin and flesh with sword or knife or razor, has never been regarded as an instance of grief and jaza’ in our recorded history before tatbir. Yes, at times it has been an expression of devotion to gods, or Sufi feats of karamah, as I have seen in some of their majalis, but never an expression of grief. As it was mentioned before, it was invented by Sufi Qezelbash and became a popular practice during the Ghajar Dynasty in Iran due to the efforts of Mullah Agha Darbandi. To insist on such an innovative practice as an essential act of devotion of Shi’as is far from reality.
In addition to that, the adverse social effects of this practice is not questionable. Sayyed Mohsin al-Amin regards it not as an act of devotion but as a disgraceful innovation which has brought disrepute for the Shi’a faith. That is why not only the passionate supporters of tatbir defend its practice but also the non-Muslim political establishments have on occasions tried to promote it. It is said that in the year 1945 the British embassy in Tehran purchased 15000 qameh (swords used in tatbir) and distributed them among the mawkibs. No judgment about their intentions!
The following anecdote is also stated by Ayatollah Khamenei. He said, “When the communists occupied Azerbaijan, they removed all signs of Islam from the area and converted Mosques into storehouses. … They did not allow any manifestations of Islam or Shi’a to remain except one thing: tatbir. The instruction was that Muslims must not hold congregational prayers or have circles of Quran recitation. They were only allowed to practice tatbir. Apparently, they saw tatbir as a good publicity against religion and Tassayyu’.”
A last word
It is always easy to contemplate imaginary benefits for an innovative devotion. The Quran condemns Christians for innovating monasticism, however, it says that those who did it did not do it with bad intention. They thought they were seeking the pleasure of Allah, while they were deviating from the right path. And of course, they imagined myriads of devotional benefits for it and they went through all sorts of excruciating sacrifices to prove their devotion to God, yet God was not pleased with those sacrifices.
The performers of tatbir too can contemplate on its devotional merits and can concoct various philosophies for its practice. They may say that it is manifestation of deep love and loyalty to Imam Husayn (a), it is a sign of preparedness to sacrifice one’s life for the Imam (a), it symbolises valour and boldness in the face of death, willingness for martyrdom, sympathizing with the Household of the Prophet, and defiance against the enemies of Islam. Even if we list hundreds of more of such merits, they cannot cover the fact that tatbir was an innovation introduced by Qezaelbash Sufis and was popularised by Mulla Agha Darbandi and is a disgrace for Islam, a disrepute for tashayyu’, and an insult to common sense.
Having made clear my own view, the purpose of this note is not to legally argue for or against tatbir, as the respected maraji’ have already voiced their opinions about it. My main argument here is that as there is disagreement among maraji’ regarding tatbir, and the majority of the contemporary maraji’ regard this act as haram or problematic, we should not allow it in our centres. To allow an act in our centres which is seen as haram by the majority members of the community defies the whole idea of an Islamic centre. Those minorities, who following their maraji’, regard this act as permissible and for whom we have great respect, can practice it privately.
مصاحبه با دکتر یوسفی غرویhttp://www.tebyan.net/index.aspx?pid=15281
محمد هادی یوسفی غروی (از محققان حوزه و متخصصان تاریخ اسلام) http://article.tebyan.net/15281
 Interestingly, some had quoted Ayatollah Bahjat that he had said that Ayatollah Abu al-Hassan Isfahani had not only permitted tatbir but he had made it obligatory. And because he was afraid of tatbir he merely joined a group of seven hundred mujtahids who were doing it and had his dress bloodied. He, then made a will to be buried in that dress. This is his reply to that rumour which categorically denies all those lies. http://article.tebyan.net/61234
 پیام حضرت آیت الله العظمی محقق کابلی(مد ظله) در آستانه محرم الحرام 1432 http://www.mohaqeq.org/fa/news/48.html
 A clip of this interview is available on http://www.fetan.ir/home/18655
 لاَ شَيْءَ فِي اَللَّطْمِ عَلَى اَلْخُدُودِ سِوَى اَلاِسْتِغْفَارِ وَ اَلتَّوْبَةِ وَ قَدْ شَقَقْنَ اَلْجُيُوبَ وَ لَطَمْنَ اَلْخُدُودَ اَلْفَاطِمِيَّاتُ عَلَى اَلْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ ع وَ عَلَى مِثْلِهِ تُلْطَمُ اَلْخُدُودُ وَ تُشَقُّ اَلْجُيُوبُ (تهذیب؛ ج ۸؛ ص۳۲۵؛ وسائل الشيعة (اسلامیه) ج 15 ص 583)
 See for example https://www.yahosein.com/vb/showthread.php?t=93463
 نقل شده در دیدار عمومی با مردم مشهد در اول فروردین 1376 http://www.pasokhgoo.ir/node/8415
About Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour:
Sheikh Bahmanpour studied sociology at LSE and Tabatabai University of Tehran where he obtained a masters degree. His interest in sociology was not an intrinsic interest instead a call from within to know more about religions. That call eventually took charge of his life and directed him to study religion proper in Tehran and Qum seminaries and to assume clerical duties.
In 1999 he was invited to Cambridge University to teach as a visiting lecturer in the Faculty of Oriental Studies. Later he was appointed as the principle of The Islamic College in London which has both seminary and university degrees on its educational programs. He was in that post for four years. His main fields of interest are theology, Islamic mysticism, and Qur’anic sciences and exegeses, including its history and compilation. Currently, he is the director of inter-faith relations at the Islamic Centre of England. He is also interested in the history of Jesus and Mary from an Islamic perspective and has written a screenplay about the life of Mary based on Islamic sources, which was made into a successful movie. Another of his works on Christian history was the screenplay on The Seven Sleepers of the Cave (Ashab al-Kahf). He has authored several books including Muslim Identity in the 21st Century, ed. (2001), The Idols Will Fall (2010), The Blessed Tree: The Life and Times of Fatima Daughter of Muhammad (2011) and Towards Eternal Life (2015).