Written by: Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi
Translated by: (Late) Dr. Mir Mazhar Ali
All praise be to the creator of the universe who filled life with sciences and mysteries. He created man who is the bearer of this life, the most mysterious of all his creatures. Our unlimited salutations to the most exalted heir of Adam (A.S.), the prophet Mohammed-e-Mustafa (S.A.W.A.W.S), who showed wandering humanity the path to (the world of) splendor and good fortune. Our salutations to his twelve successors each of whom in his tenure (of Imamath) saved humanity from following the course of destruction. Our salutations especially to his most promising son Husayn, son of Ali (A.S.), who carried out the war against oppressors to its extreme. (This article is dedicated to his sacred name).
You know that in the present age, scientific and collective works begin on the basis of experiments and statistical data. The aim (of such a research) is to arrive at the correct conclusions. The result of such a research is accepted as important and beneficial (to humanity) only when the practical results are clear and complete.
The congregational activities, which I saw in my childhood, were related to the majalis & processions with replicas of Rowza and Taazias. The earliest memories (of the scenes) of these majalis are still inscribed in my heart and mind. Like me the majority of the people of this country (Iran) have witnessed such scenes in their childhood. In those days we regarded the processions of/with Rozas and Taazias as nothing other than an amusement and activity. But slowly and gradually our perceptions and emotions began to mature and we were sometimes grieved and cried bitterly.
Later on we came to know the meaning and purpose of lamentation. We also came across such debates, which were carried out in favor of or against, this topic (Azadari), in the light of religion, reforms and welfare (of the society). But today we would like to discuss this subject in detail and to examine all the relevant issues, which involve us throughout the year, and particularly during the months of Moharram and Safar.
Basically, we would like to find out the real purpose of the majalis, and issues that are dealt with in these majalis and other details of Azadari.
The questions that arise in this connection are (under):
Is there any aim of these huge processions and majalis or is this Azadari a mere tradition to which the people have now become accustomed?
Is there any aim of the fervent activities seen in this country during the two months of Moharram and Safar and which affect the (other) activities of life? Does this Azadari have any powerful ideology behind it or is it just simple religious practice and spiritless custom and formality which is seen in the form of processions and activities in all cities, in their streets, main roads and specially in the capital city? What is the actual purpose of time and money spent on Azadari and the majalis conducted on this occasion?
What is the intention and purpose of the labor, fatigue and trouble that the respected persons undergo in attending the majalis and delivering speeches and reciting marsias?
What do the reciters of Marsia (Marsia Khawan), whose profession involves nothing other than reciting marsias throughout the year, say in this regard? Is their job less cumbersome and more profitable? Or is it more laborious and less profitable? Or do they have any other reckoning in their work?
Lastly, I would like to know who the man is Husayn (A.S.) because of whom all these activities take place. What was the aim for which he strived in his lifetime?
Once it is decided to begin the study on an experimental basis and come to a decisive conclusion, we proceed to contact the people, who organize these majalis with great fervor. Three important members are involved in every majlis.
- Organizer of the majalis (Convenor)
- Participants of the majalis (Audience)
- Preacher of the majalis (Khateeb)
First of all let us talk to the organizers of the majalis who convene majalis from mansions in the cities to huts in the villages. It is important to know their views and arrive at a statistical conclusion.
We contacted a person belonging to the upper class (of the society) and asked his opinion:
"Sir! What is the purpose for which you conduct these majalis?"
He replied, "Iran is an Islamic country. Shias are in majority and are in power in this country. The school of thought of this land is Jafar. In these days (of Moharram and Safar) particularly, when the people of the whole country are in mourning, and majalis are being held in every nook and corner, the organizations and associations situated in the capital city should also take part in the activities with fervor. The leaders and influential people of every country participate equally in the joys and sorrows of the nation and this is the custom." Well! This is the summary and soul of the reply to the question that was asked. Various persons gave a similar reply in different words and expression.
You are well aware of what sort of subjects is preached in these types of majalis. If the preacher talks on the life of Husayn (A.S.) and his sacred goal over and above the purpose of drawing tears from the audience, there is a possibility of the audience getting bored and it may be the cause of the restlessness in the majalis.
90% Majalis for customs and formalities
10% Majalis for the cause of Husayn (A.S.)
Now let us go to a higher class (of society). This is the upper most class consisting of noble and respected (persons). I do not want to comment on the style of their majalis because this is not my intention. You can imagine (the style and manner) of the majalis held in these mansions.
I asked a respected person belonging to this class "why do you arrange majalis? What is the purpose of conducting these majalis?"
With due regard to the respected ones, if they are not displeased, they will answer our question in these words:
"Are we not Muslims? We too have ties with Husayn (A.S.) like all Muslims and Shias, and we too hold majalis in these days of mourning to express our heartfelt sentiments to Imam."
In these majalis too, there should be no mention of the teachings and upbringing of Husayn (A.S.) and the ways of his pure life because the listeners get disinterested. Although they may not express their boredom openly, they definitely feel it in their hearts.
The Khateeb and the reciters of Marsia should have to do their job with skill and expertise. They deliver strange and colorful subjects under the cover of the sayings of saints and mystics and whenever needed recite couplets (from poems) in melody and tune. They have no concern at all with the topics related to the aims and objects of Husayn (A.S.).
The result in the form of statistics is as under:
70% Majalis under social pressure and appearances' sake
30% Majalis for the cause of Husayn (A.S.)
Let us leave the respected and noble class and contact the powerful and rich persons and question them:
"Sir! What is your purpose in holding majalis and meetings?"
The answer from their side is somewhat like this "It is the duty of the Shias of Husayn (A.S.) to arrange meetings in Imam's memory. Today we can help Husayn (A.S.) in this way and acquaint the world about Husayn (A.S.) and the ideology of Husayn (A.S.). It is only because of these majalis, the sacred religion of Islam is preached and propagated."
The intention of this answer is; because their friends & companions conduct majalis, they should also arrange (majalis). Their friends and relatives have televisions and radios; hence they should also have them. They have gardens to spend the hot season in and motorcars of latest model, so they should also possess them regardless of the cost involved. Similarly, since their friends and acquaintances hold majalis, it is also compulsory for them to arrange majalis. Of course, there should be no talk on the ways, manners, and ethical values of Islamic life in the majalis of these people. More so the rules of Islam regarding business & dealings should not be uttered. The style and ways of their homes, offices and markets should not be discussed. Even the issues of interest and usury should not be mentioned because all affairs are in practice in present day markets.
The outcome of this study is:
70% majalis for regard of surroundings, friends and family
30% majalis for the cause of Husayn (A.S.)
Let us now contact another class of society and ask: "Sir! Why do you conduct rnajalis? Your financial position is not so good. God does not demand this from you. Lamp burning in anyone's house for the mosque is "Haram'' (you can not make the house dark to illuminate the mosque) What ever expenses you incur on majalis, you can spend on your necessities."
The common reply of this class of people is: "What ever we have inherited from our ancestors it is better to spend it for rnajalis. We are caretakers of this inheritance. We conduct from whatever budget that has been set aside for this purpose."
It is obvious that in these majalis, all topics are discussed on minber except rules of Islam about "waqf" and matters related to waqf. The subject of law of shariat pertaining to the misappropriation of waqf money is not touched upon. They are offended by the topic of detriments of embezzlement of waqf money and hence this subject is not discussed. On the contrary, organizers are praised and thanked (from minber) for fulfilling the obligations of trust even under such personal unhappiness.
80% Just to fulfill the obligations of trust
20% for the cause of Husayn (A.S.)
Leaving this category, we shall go to the remaining classes, specially the inhabitants of villages or those who conduct weekly ladies and gent's majalis and enquire.
"Why do you conduct majalis?" Generally their answer is "We vow to get out of our troubles and recovery from our diseases."
"Reciting of marsia and holding of mediatory majalis will bring blessings and auspiciousness in our homes and lives."
According to some people marsia and mediatory majalis are sources of good fortune.
It is known to everyone that no speech is made in these majalis. Only a few stanzas of prose and verse are sung so that the listeners weep. Even though they may be crying on their own troubles and difficulties, it is enough if the narrator says things that make the audience weep or, in the language of experts, the majalis should be overpowering. According to some "The voice of lamentation should reach the tomb of Aba Abdullah (A.S.)." In this majalis there is no chance for talk on upbringing. There is no room for narration of rules and ethics of Islam. This is not the place to talk and discuss. After all there is a particular way to do a particular work and that work should be done in the prescribed way, so that the required result is achieved. There are special occasions and circumstances for mediations. There is no room for such (unwanted) talks on these occasions. Poetry, good voice and artistry are needed here.
90% of majalis for the sake of mediation with blind faith and in a useless way.
10% though lawful (according to shariat) but having no concern with basic purpose of majalis.
This is the summary of the answers given generally by convenors of majalis. Of course we come across people who are well aware of the real object and meanings of majalis and they have their eye on the actual outcome. They give basic answers based on sensible reasons. They say "These majalis are means of our propagation (of Islam). Islam and meanings of Islam should be learnt in these gatherings. The facts about the ways and manners of life of Husayn (A.S.) and his ancestors (A.S.) should be propagated in the gatherings held in the name of Husayn (A.S.) because we conduct these majalis in the name of Husayn (A.S.) so that we can benefit by his teachings, learn a lesson from the sacrifice for the sake of Islam and Quran, the lesson of his fight against the oppressors for the cause of truth and freedom, and thus get near to God and his sacred book."
Although it is true that people who give such answers do exist, they belong to an extremely small minority. These people are far less in number than those whose answers we have mentioned above. From the survey of the convenors and organizers of majalis-e-aza, on average seventy percent of them appear deviated from the actual aim and only thirty percent are aware of the purpose.
Let us also survey the listeners of the majalis. Although they express very little of what they have in their hearts, we will include this in our study too. We shall not discuss the audience from the first two classes. You know better why they attend these majalis. The status of the convenors is the same (as that of the participants).
There is social pressure on ninety percent of the participants. This takes them to the majalis conducted by the upper two classes.
Hence the moral of their answers is obvious; politics of life, working relationship, companionship, family environment, friendship, neighborly obligations and other similar factors motivate the people to participate in the majalis. There may be ten percent who attend majalis on the basis of relevance to Husayn (A.S.) to benefit by these centers of learning (majalis) and get acquainted with the teachings of Islam.
Despite some of the answers I heard from the audience of the majalis held by these two classes of people and turning a blind eye to few scenes that I witnessed, I do not say that people participate in the majalis, to see a show like children, to pass away the time, drink tea, gossip with friends or for other reasons. On the other hand, I say that they attend the majalis to pay respect to Husayn (A.S.) because of the season of mourning and for the obligations of neighborhood, companionship and relationship. Sometimes they attend the majalis to obtain spiritual gains. If you ask the audience "Who was the Khateeb and what did he have to say?" ninety one percent cannot answer. If there is a good listener amongst them, he will just say, "Yes sir, it was a very good speech. The Khateeb spoke on good topics. Although I cannot express what the Khateeb read, I know that the speech was highly knowledgeable." At the most he will repeat any joke, which the Khateeb may have told. This is the state of affairs of these listeners who attend the majalis arranged by first and second class of people.
Obviously, the state of the audience of weekly majalis is the same. There is no need (for them) to listen to anything. There should be no useful discussions. Only some verses and remarks, which give rise to lamentation, are needed. The speaker should also feel grieved and sometimes faint due to heart disease and weakness.
Of course there are listeners who are broad minded, conscious and fully attentive. Their number is very small and their proportion needs no mention.
80% of the listeners belong to the first kind of audience.
20% of the audience belongs to the second kind.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that if we collect the statistics of the majalis and their audience, we will come to know that seventy to eighty percent of the listeners are old gents and aged ladies and the majority consists of common people.
The number of educated youth belonging to the new generation, does not constitute more than thirty percent.
What is the reason for this? Who is to be blamed (for this)?
In this article this fact will also become clear, Inshallah.
THE HEAD OF THE MAJALIS (KHATEEB):
Now let us contact the orators, the "Ahley minbar" and reciters of marsia, according to you.
"Why do you go on the minbar and recite majalis & cry and cause to cry with full force and effort, without caring for (your) health?"
In this part of the discussion we shall be very brief. There are two classes of narrators. Ahle minbar and reciters of marsias. This division pertains to all from the leading speaker to the reciter of marsia who recites only in ladies majalis.
Speakers belonging to the leading classes are those who have trained themselves from the beginning. They have the spirit of piety and modesty. Being conscious of their religious and divine responsibility, they have been participating in the majalis and as far as possible, they perform their duty with utmost responsibility. Khateebs, Ahle minbar and reciters of marsias of this class, irrespective of whether they participate in the majalis held in mansions, in residences of hajis, nobles, or arranged by trust or weekly on radio, ladies and gents majalis, they deliver the divine laws and convey the teachings of Islam appropriately. They try hard to preach the sacred goal of Husayn (A.S.) and make people aware of the essence of the purpose of Imam (A.S.). They do not care about the pleasure or displeasure of the audience or the convenor of the majalis. They just want to do their religious duty. They know their responsibility and regard their God as their sustainer. They not bother whether the people are pleased or displeased with their speech or pay them more or little money, they are only mindful of their duty. This class of K.hateeb, Ahle minbar, & reciters of marsias remain in one state and do not adopt new modes everyday. They live, more or less, an honorable life. Whether people speak ill or well about him or expect any thing from him, he only delivers the religious truths. Their speech consists of correct religious teachings. He spreads the virtues of Islam from the minbar. Their marsia or verses, their contents are based on acknowledged divine truths. They will never deviate from the limits of divine laws in any place. Politics; threats, temptations, friendship and relationship have no influence on this leading class of Khateebs and do not distract them from the right path. These speakers always keep this faith in the sustainer of the worlds. They face agreeable and disagreeable surroundings and misfortunes with exceptional courage. To be exact, they have spent most of their life in jihad in the way of God. They are a shining example of all that is good and right, and enlighten and guide those around them.
Whatever I have stated above is no assertion. It is based on (my) cent percent experiences. I can single out each and every person and let you know about his life history and tell in a second all about his material and financial position.
I know and have myself seen persons whose profession is cotton wool beating, quilt stitching or working as trainees under a goldsmith. These very people change their dress during Moharram and Safar and become khateebs and consider themselves as Ahle minbar. Although ten percent among these people can be identified who, in spite of their illiteracy, ignorance and meager earnings, avoid committing sins and speaking on risky topics & through these means (reciting majalis and marsia) earn just enough (money) to keep themselves alive.
This is the brief account of study of the Khateebs, Ahle minbar and reciters of marsia. The results (of the study) that are obtained are not related to the number (of speakers questioned) but to the impression they give (whether the speakers are aware of the real purpose or not).
80% of speakers are aware of the real purpose (This does not indicate the percentage of speakers who are really serving the purpose). 20% of the speakers are not at all aware of the purpose.
On the basis of the accurate calculations we have made, 87% of the convenors, 75% of the audience and 20% of the speakers are found deviated from the real objectives of Azadari and not aware of its true ideals and purposes.
People say, "What is your purpose in discussing all these matters? By using the word of deviation you have insulted the organizers of majalis. You are rude towards the Khateeb and audience. Don't you know what would have happened and to what extent the religious awareness of the people would have declined, if these majalis even in their worthless condition had existed? Don't you know that today whatever little religious consciousness people have is due to Majalis-e-aza, Taziadari and these very congregations? Are you not aware of the effects that the religious processions have on the soul and minds of the people? These very majalis are responsible for the exposition, propagation and popularization of our religion."
Yes, you are right. We do not decry this fact, and we have not been rude towards the convenors of majalis, Khateebs and audience.
We would just like to say that there should be more effects and achievements of these important religious and congregational efforts. This matter is related to all people and according to you it is the medium for exposition and propagation of religion. When this is the fact then even a little deviation should not be tolerated, let alone give way to excessive declination to cause the real aim itself to become invisible, leaving just simple spiritless customs to remain. The opponents (of Islam) and calumny agents want to create such conditions by their hidden hands so that nothing remains. We say that the real purpose of these majalis is not a mere show and fame. The philosophy of the martyrdom of Husayn (A.S.) is not just gathering in a place, speaking and listening, and holding on firmly to this tradition and custom.
We say "martyrdom of Husayn (A.S.) is not meant for lamentation, crying, screaming and sometimes fainting."
We do not disapprove of lamentation. We will talk later on about the virtues & rewards of lamentation, but we know better that the philosophy of the real aim, martyrdom and confinement (of the Ahle bait) is not just lamentation.
We say "if what the people residing in mansions say is correct, that this (Iran) is an Islamic country and the inhabitants of this country are Muslims, hence they should conduct majalis," then we will ask them "why is this country Islamic only to conduct majalis, only to recite marsias and attend majalis?" The noble and respected people of this country say that they are Muslim and therefore it is their duty to hold majalis-e-aza like all Muslims do. We ask: "Why do they become Muslim, only in connection with the ritual mourning and grief?"
These Alhajs and nobles claim to have ties with Husayn (A.S.) and according to them the religion of God should exist in the name of Husayn (A.S.). Why then, they not cause the religion of God to exist at the time of transactions in streets and bazaars and why do they just clamor after friendship of Husayn (A.S.)?
Our contention is that if the weekly ladies and gents majalis are held for the sake of mediation and to show connection with Husayn (A.S.) and the family of the messenger (PBUH), then what are these scenes witnessed and heard off and on and here and then?
Lastly we say with great emphasis that the real purpose of Azadari and majalis-marsia is not just to proclaim your muslimhood, or link with Husayn (A.S.). The connection with Islam and Husayn (A.S.) should be exhibited in all departments of life.
We say openly that the philosophy of the martyrdom of Husayn (A.S.) is not meant for anyone to expose himself as the convenor of the majalis and the plausibility of the speaker is not to please the audience. Husayn (A.S.) was not martyred for the sake of lamentation and his family was not held in imprisonment (of Yazid) for (our) ladies to moan and get faint.
Majalis is not a coffee house. Majalis-e-marsia is not a place of entertainment and time passing. Majalis is not the name of night sittings. I once again repeat that Husayn (A.S.) did not lay down his life for the sake of some persons.
The objective of Husayn (A.S.) was a high and sacred objective. This object is far nobler than what we commonly presume. The sacred personality of Husayn (A.S.) is far superior than to what people generally think & say about it. There is no doubt that the subject of his sacrifice, devotion and his real aim is far higher than what we consider it to be.
Don't just think that Husayn (A.S.) was a weak and powerless leader, who was surrounded and beheaded in a state of thirst, and that his family was made captive, and now we must weep on the cruelties committed by the tyrant on Husayn's (A.S.) family.
The captives "Aaley Ismat" were not just weak and helpless ladies and children who died in disgrace like the western and Roman prisoners, & now our ladies must weep like the ladies of Kofa.
What we mean to say is that our Khateebs and recitors of marsia should introduce Husayn (A.S.) in a more befitting manner and explain his real objective, in front of the people.
The audience of the majalis should not just be satisfied by shedding a few tears. They should concentrate on the issues of upbringing and try to acquire ethical, spiritual virtues.
In short the convenors, speakers and the audience should get better and better acquainted with Husayn (A.S.) and his real aim. They should become practical supporters and helpers of "Hazrath". They should positively respond to this call made by him far from his home, not only in majalis but also in homes, streets, bazaars, offices and in all walks of life. Husayn (A.S.) knows his rivals and his supporters very well. He has fully tested them from the morning till noon of 10th Moharram of 61 A.H. If he is calling for companions and helpers when he says,
"Hul min nasir yun surni wu hul min moeen yaeenani wu hul min zab yazib ann haram Rasool ullah"
It is no not meant for the supporters of Yazid to come and defend his "Haram". This call of Husayn (A.S.) is meant for his own supporters, from that day to this, to stand up and defend the sanctity of God, laws of Islam and the sacred virtues.