عجفت الغور

shia rituals

Tags: shia


  • Hamdan, Faraj Hattab. “The ‘Ashurā Rituals and Visitation of Al-Arb‘ain,” n.d., 259.


Ashura Rituals

  • 10-13 days
  • majilis al-3za - mourning councils
    • sermons or lamentation poetry
      • niyahah - lamentation poetry done by a qari, khateeb, or sheikh
      • quraya - name for the mourning council
  • latm - chest beating
  • zangeel - back chain-lashing

10th Day only

  • maqtal al-hussein - 10th day only, reccounting the story of the battle in detail
  • tashabih - passion plays that reenact the battle

Rituals of Al-3rb’ain

  • Iraqis provide necessities for the pilgrims

Processions al-Hussein

  • al-mawakib al-husseiniyya - group of people who participate in rituals
  • mawakib al-khidmah - group of people who provided provisions


  • called ziyara
  • pilgrimage to sacred shi’a shrines during private and public occasions
  • considered the vistitations are considered means of getting intercessions
  • definitely different than hajj
    • because it has no temporal limitations
    • although might be similar to umrah?
  • Vistitations to the shrine of Hussein happen anytime, although ashura nad arbain are the most significant

Ashura Vistitations (ziyarat ‘ashura)

  • sourced from shia hadith, although attributed to Muhammad al-Baqir, the 5th imam
  • Sheikh al-Kulayni, Sheikh al-Tusi, and Sheikh Jaafar bin Quluweh al-Qomi has a whole chapter on this in Kamil al-Ziyarat
  • Also backup perscriptions in case one is unable to reach the shrine, such as practicing from the roof or any high location
  • Actual ritual:
    • stand in front of the tomb
    • recite formal Islamic greetings
    • then speak to the imam as if he is alive listening to his visitors
  • Also follow the customs of visitations (adab al-ziyara)
    • Visitor has to be clean in body and clothes
    • Show respect and humbleness
    • Before vistitors come into the shrine, they must ask permission from allah, the prophet, and the Imam, and after entering they stand as close as possible to the tomb
  • After
    • pray,
    • read Quran
    • pray for repentance and any specific prayer
    • and ask forgiveness for guilt or sin
  • In permission to enter the shrine
    • you read a special request written on a big board hung high next to the gates of the tomb
    • then visitor comes close to the windows surrounding the tomb to recite a invocation (du’a) from specific books to ask for blessings or support
      • usually entices an emotional response to the visitor cries during invocation
    • then visitors due the ziyara prayer
    • read ziyra ‘ashura

Arb’ain Vistitations (ziyarat al-arb’ain)

  • Go on foot to visit the shrine of Imam al-Hussein on the 20th of Safar to celebrate the 40 days for the martyrdom

    • Called “restoring the head” (maradd al-ras)
      • it was this day that the head of hussein was restored to his body
  • rituals are connected with the return of al-Hussein’s family from Damascus asserted by Sayid Ibn Tawoos

  • crying, striking the face, and wearing black are major features

  • One of the most important references was mentioned in tatheeb alahkam by al-Tusi

  • some reason ashura is more important but arba’een has seen more people

  • major mourning days:

    • 3rd, 7th, and 40th, and the annual anniversary after the death


Al-shur deviation

  • in 2011, al-shur became to occur because people started to use ‘sin sin’ instead of saying ‘hussein hussein’
  • hussein says this is an iranian invention

Local deviations

  • Persian and Urdu latmiyas have different beats
  • Interview with Ali Tekamji on March 26th, 2022
    • At the international relations department of the shrine of Imam Hussein
    • Majilis have tents that are typically rented out during special seasons, only for the special holidays do you actually need to rent out a tent
    • For Karbala natives, starting from the 3rd-9th of Ashura, there are about 20+ local groups who go around and make political latimyas
    • These are about the electrical problems, the services, etc, not explicitly political, but certainly political in nature
    • The processions tend to happen around the shrine itself, and it’s local karbala city folks that make this
    • This happens from the 3rd/4th of maghrib to sunrise, every day
    • Each group has it’s own radood, and every day there is a different qasida/qasaid
    • How did this occur? Who started this practice? When did these practices start?

Majilis al-3za

Majlis Al-‘Aza may take the name majlis Husseini because they are held for Al-Hussein as they are called in the Iraqi dialect Majalis Al-Qraya (reading councils), and the person who presents this ritual is called Al-Qari (the reciter or reader).”


  • Radood notes, March 24th, 2022 - Shia center for Karabala Studies

    • Interviewee: Radood Muntazir al-Husseini
    • He is 31 years old, started since he was 10
    • Originally from baghda%d
    • Process of Performing
      • Preparation, one has to pick the qasidas
      • One has to do wudu, and be spiritually clean and pure
      • The audience looks to the radood as a holy representative
    • Qualities that distinguish a radood?
    • Lyrical choice depends on the theme of the event
    • When Muntazir started, he used qasids from famous ones, before he had poets to write for him
    • There is a sub-industry of the poets and the writers, each of whom support each other
      • Sometimes you ask a poet based on the theme, sometimes a poet sends you ones to perform if you are famous
    • Has given radoods all over the world (Bahrain, Lebanon, Iran, Kuwait,Iraq)
    • Pointed out that when he went to Lebanon, they didn’t understand the idioms
    • Radoods typically follow three ways:
      • Start with a slow beat
      • Go with a faster beat
      • End with one like a “pop song” and loud
    • How many radoods are there in Iraq?
      • (jokingly) more radoods than attendees
      • There’s no exact number, but Muntazir describes that Iraqis have a sad voice, which is what people often look for in radoods
    • How do you feel about the changes such as the al-shur stuff post 2011?
      • Latmiyas change with time, but the new stuff is going both ways
      • Positive: More accessibility due to digital videos
      • Negative: More people are focusing on the rhythm
        • People like Bassim Karbalei have kept pace with changes
        • People like Mullah Jayyid have preferred to keep the old ways, which has casued him to drop in popularity
    • Why do people focus on rhythms more than lyrics?
      • lyrics are hard to transplant, rhythms are easier
    • Are changes happening at a faster pace?
      • yes, previously radoods were not very good and relied on memorization and were often illiterate
      • new tools have helped develop this, more educated and more academic as time has gone on
    • How do you learn to become a radood?
      • there are scholarly rawdids
      • largely about the structure of the throat
      • main ways
        • young age, realize you have a good voice, and then eventually you carve out a path
        • you can also go learn at one of the many schools
      • apprenticeships, now there are many out there
    • Who funds the radood schools?
      • All radood schools are private
  • Radood notes, March 26, 2022 - Shia Center for Karbala Studies

    • Interviewee: Radood Muntazir al-Husseini, who is at the Karbala Center
    • Describes how there is a “comission from wealthy people” to the radood school, which supports all over Iraq
    • Definitely not a waqf, and not associated with the 3ttaba
    • There are radood schools in Baghdad, Karbala, Basra, Nasriya, Kut/Ammara
      • In baghdad, there is a big one in Kathimya and another in Sadr City
      • The Kathimyya one seems to produce more radoods now than the Karbala school
    • https://alkafeel.net/news/index?id=11772&lang=en
      • seems to describe the radood commission
    • Turkmen radoods as well seem to have their own thing going up in the north, probably worth validating
    • Radood commission is fully private, confirmed by Ali Tekmaji at the international relations part of the Hussein shrine
    • One of the main responsibilities of the commission is to issue licenses and certifications for radoods to perform outside of Iraq
      • Within Iraq, anything goes, anyone can perform at a specific place
  • Interview with Ali Tekamji, March 26, 2022 - International Media Office at the Hussein Shrine

    • In Karbala city, during the 3rd of Muharram to the 9th of Muharram

    • Each one has a radood, and the songs are often about the electricity, or the services

    • around ~20 groups, each with 100 people

    • The professor from the shrine has his own mokeb, I was wondering if he has any ones related to that, since he’s a native karbali

      • Ask the professor and mustafa again?
    • 2PM shrine has a choir, Hussein shrine is “Mullah Sahib al-Karbalai”

    • The shrine is purchasing land around it, and all the land around it was previously private

  • Interview with mokeb administrator - March 27th, 2022

    • There does seem to be a certification process


  • Differences between Lebanon husseinyyas and Iraqi husseinyyas
    • Lebanese ones allow politics but the Iraqi ones don’t? Need to validate this claim
  • Husseinyas are different than mosques, husseinyas can comprise of a mosque and a place of prayer, but also is a place to rituals and practice, broader in scope


  • قصيدة
  • some poets compose only for specific Radoods,
    • Bassim Karbalaei, for example, supposedly receives qasidas in the middle of the night and free wheels it in the morning

As a Pilgrimage

“As a poetic project, the notion of pilgrimage induces Indonesian Muslims to travel to Ḥ aḍramawt by framing such a journey as a transformative process.”

The iraqi shia also have a deep understanding of this, because they say the spiritual rewards for the pilgrims are high, shifts from being consumers to producers, because crying at a majilis al-aza reflects an re-enactment of a different time, similar to ta’zieh (in farsi) or tashabiya (in arabic)

Ali Al-Wardi

“Ali Al- Wardi (1913-1995), is one of the main pioneers of Iraqi sociology. In his book Lamahat Ijtimaiyya min Tareekh Al-Iraq Al-Hadith (1971), he focused on the nature of the emergence and structure of modern Iraqi society since the Ottoman era until the end of the twentieth century. Al- Wardi builds an argument to demonstrate that the beating celebration (Majalis Al-Latm) and the processions of Al-Hussein (Al-Mawakib Al-Husseinyya) in Iraq during the nineteenth century onward appeared for the first time in Al- Kadhumya city”

Extra thoughts

  • Most focus on the economy of mourning, and of crying
  • What about morning as a political force? Transformation of mourning from mourning the dead and occupying a state into political action, how does this happen?
  • Places to take this: in Sadr city? in Karbala city?
  • What is my intervention? The bureacratization of muharram has actually made rituals more political, because as they become bureacrtaized and regularized, we see it seep into politics

Previous Books

  • Ali al-wardi
  • Ibrahim Al-Haydari, (1936- ), an ethnographical scholar, in his social anthropology study Trajidiya Karbala: Susyulujiya Al-Khitab Al-Shi‘i (1999), searches ‘Ashurā mourning in the socio- political dimensions and folklore in Iraq until 1969.
  • Robert Ferna - Shaykh and Effendi
  • Icon in the Sub culture: A field study in baghdad city


  • Safar 15 is I think when people start walking from Najaf? Arbaeen is on the 20th, so this gives 5 days of walking

Tuwairij Run:


  • Culture of service, everyone feels compelled to do a mowkeb
  • Specific mowkebs are known for different things (abu ali’s tea, thailand mowkeb, etc)
  • Similar to sufi guest lodges, although not funded by waqf, and requires constant maintanence

Draft notes

  • making people present
  • Branding and public nature
    • Shia rituals get campy because of a style of iteration and play, because the iteration and public nature engeders a casual one-upping, each iteration begets a more interesting and louder spread
    • Organic spread of differences, why do people create mowkebs? Because they simply want to serve a different fish
    • Dragons at the end of safina, what does this mean?
      • Representing the snakes and the coming of tragedy to hussein
    • Public performance, showing of the azeribajian flag
  • Why do people gather in circles during latm?
    • center role in latm circles
    • publization of radats
  • August 31st: AAH https://twitter.com/IraqiQahwa/status/1565018551857160195

Arbaeen Notes (August 12 afternoon to August 14th early morning)

  • Lots of mock graves for Qassem and Muhandis
  • Lots of iranians, and met with some ahwazi arabs too
  • Iranians negotiating on price
    • common complaint about iranians
    • after popping a blister, I decided to take a bus for 100 poles, which led to an interesting conversation between me, the bus driver, and two other iraqis
    • complaints about services, and usage, and ideaology, iranian nationalism abounds
  • amount of garbage generated
  • Do people live on the trail? Seems difficult
  • Talking with turkman from the north in a husseiniyya, who seemed very interested in my walking
    • turkman teacher in arabic from the north, impressed by the fact that I went to tel afar
  • medical tents and blisters
  • language was a common problem, medical tents would often be swarmed with doctors who would claim “faqat arabi”
  • lack of checkpoints
  • Next year maybe walk from baghdad?


  • Interesting claim is that the western shia are more drawn to a veneration of rationality than mysticism
  • Circumscribing mysticism and removal of wonder