Is it permitted for Sunni Masjid to hold Karbala gatherings like the Shia?

Quran

Hadith

Islamic Text

It is not permitted for Sunni Masjid to hold Karbala gatherings in the same way as the Shia.

عَنْ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «أَحِبُّوا اللَّهَ لِمَا يَغْذُوكُمْ مِنْ نِعَمِهِ وَأَحِبُّونِي بِحُبِّ اللَّهِ وَأَحِبُّوا أَهْلَ بَيْتِي لِحُبِّي» . «هَذَا حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ غَرِيبٌ إِنَّمَا نَعْرِفُهُ مِنْ هَذَا الوَجْهِ»

Sayidina Ibn ‘Abbas said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘Love Allah (Most High) for what He gives you of His blessings, love me due to the love of Allah, and love the people of my house due to (your) love for me.’ (Tirmidhi 3789, Hasan).

Loving the Ahl Bayt (family) of the Prophet ﷺ is well established in Quran and Hadith, and anyone who does not recognise this is ignorant. Anyone who thinks this is the way of the Shia and not Ahl Sunnah is blinded by sectarianism. Rather, love for Ahl Bayt, especially the Sahabah amongst them is repeatedly mentioned in Hadith, and it is considered part of loving the Prophet ﷺ.

However, the manifestation of this love must also be in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Quran and Noble Sunnah. It should not be taken from cultural practices or those outside of the Ahl Sunnah.

ابْتَدَعُوا إقَامَةَ الْمَأْتَمِ وَإِظْهَارَ الْحُزْنِ يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ لِكَوْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ قُتِلَ فِيهِ. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

They innovated a gathering to mourn and exhibit sorrow on the Day of Ashura because (Sayidina) al-Husayn was killed on that day. (Imam Ibn Abideen, Radd al-Muhtaar).

In the above Nass (text) Imam Ibn Abideen refers to gatherings mourning Sayidina al-Husayn as Bid’ah, many other Hanafi scholars stated similar objections to such gatherings. There is no doubt that Bid’ah is prohibited, however Imam Ibn Abideen also clarified that this was established by people outside of Ahl Sunnah (al-Rafidah) which will further strengthen the prohibition.

In the Nass below Imam al-Sayuti explains that the Sharia does not encourage focusing on sorrow and mourning, rather upon blessings and favors.

فَدَلَّتْ قَوَاعِدُ الشَّرِيعَةِ عَلَى أَنَّهُ يَحْسُنُ فِي هَذَا الشَّهْرِ إِظْهَارُ الْفَرَحِ بِوِلَادَتِهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ دُونَ إِظْهَارِ الْحُزْنِ فِيهِ بِوَفَاتِهِ، وَقَدْ قَالَ ابن رجب فِي كِتَابِ اللَّطَائِفِ فِي ذَمِّ الرَّافِضَةِ حَيْثُ اتَّخَذُوا يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ مَأْتَمًا لِأَجْلِ قَتْلِ الحسين: لَمْ يَأْمُرِ اللَّهُ وَلَا رَسُولُهُ بِاتِّخَاذِ أَيَّامِ مَصَائِبِ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ وَمَوْتِهِمْ مَأْتَمًا، فَكَيْفَ مِمَّنْ هُوَ دُونَهُمْ. (الحاوي للفتاوي).

The principles of the Sharia indicate that it is commendable to exhibit joy in this month (Rabi al-Awal) due to his ﷺ (the Prophet’s) birth, and not to exhibit sorrow due to his ﷺ passing away in it. Indeed (Imam) Ibn Rajab said, in his book ‘al-Lataaif fi Dham al-Rafidah,’ they have taken the Day of Ashura as a day of gathering to exhibit sorrow due to the killing of (Imam) al-Husayn. Allah (Most High) and His Messenger ﷺ did not command us to take the days of calamities of the Prophets (peace be upon them) or their death as days of sorrow, so why would we do so for those who are not Prophets. (Imam al-Sayuti, al-Haawi lil Fataawi).

Some scholars mentioned a way of holding gatherings whilst avoiding the prohibitions.

لا يجوز ذكر المقتل في أيام عاشوراء ، لأن ذلك من شعار الروافض ، فإن أراد أن يذكر المقتل ، ينبغي أن يذكر مقتل الصحابة، رضي الله تعالى عنهم ، ثم يصير إلى مقتل الحسن والحسين ، رضي الله تعالى عنهما ، تبعا لا مقصودة، فحينئذ لا بأس به. (الهدية العلائية)

And it is not permitted to narrate the events of the killing (of Imam al-Husayn) in the days of Ashura, because that is the way of the Rawafid. So, if someone wants to mention it then he should mention the killing of the Sahabah (May Allah Most High be pleased with them), and then come to the killing of Imams al-Hasan and al-Husayn (May Allah Most High be pleased with them both). Such that it becomes a part of the discussion and not the purpose of it, in such a case there is no harm in it. (Imam Ala al-Din ibn Abideen, al-Hadiyah al-Alaiyah).

It is worth noting that such controversial gatherings are not widespread throughout Ahl Sunnah communities, rather they seem to be limited to a particular group from the subcontinent. Sometimes people see something taking place in their locality and assume that this is a widespread phenomenon throughout the Muslim world, whereas in actual fact it is anomalous.

It is also important to understand that when something is practiced by a relatively small minority of Muslims, then it is unlikely to be an established Sunnah. Since the norm with Sunnah is that it is widespread. However, this is a general rule and not always the case. Therefore, every practice should be analysed based on its own merits and evidence.

And Allah (Most High) Knows Best.

– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (02.08.2021)

See also:

Karbala Gatherings in the Shafi’i Madhab