Home / Religion / UK Zanjeer Zani Case and the Internal Shia Struggle

UK Zanjeer Zani Case and the Internal Shia Struggle

Zanjeer Zani is a divisive issue in the Shia communityHow can we utilize that passion to bring people together under the flag of Imam Hussain? That has always been the claimed goal, but reality suggests we are being pulled in different directions. This is a dangerous topic, one in which any suggested reform – be it abandoning a particular ritual like Zanjeer Zani. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:””; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”,”serif”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} Zanjeer Zani is a  divisive issue in the Shia communityA Shia man named Syed Mustafa Zaidi was convicted of child cruelty this past week for involving two minor boys in Zanjeer Zani – involving the use a long-bladed whip to beat the back – during the most recent Ashura commemoration of the Jaffria Islamic Centre in Levenshulme, UK. Mr. Zaidi grew up in Pakistan and has performed Zanjeer Zani since the age of seven three times a year.

The testimony in the trial suggested that the two boys, aged 13 and 15, may not have been the only minors involved and that they had most likely participated willingly. The UK court ruled that the boys were too young to give consent to self-harm and thus found Mr. Zaidi guilty. He is awaiting sentencing as the month of Ramadan approached. While other cases of Zanjeer Zani have been brought to the attention of officials in the UK, this is the first case in which prosecution was carried out.

According to the BBC, Syed Zaidi testified, “I’m on oath, and we’re talking about my religion here. I can’t lie about this, he (one of the boys) came towards me… and he said himself that he wanted to do the Matam…. It was an emotional time and the children were happy, they asked for it. No one forced anyone. If I knew that this was going to turn all against me, I wouldn’t have allowed them to do it, I wouldn’t have done it.”

One wonders how this particular case ended up going through the courts when previously UK officials have chosen not to involve themselves in the rituals of Shia Muslims associated with Muharram. The two boys were brothers, and perhaps the parents objected to their participation and chose to take the case to court rather than resolve it through more direct, simpler means. This seems to be a most unfortunate case in which the differences of opinion within the Shia community about the best methods of mourning, marking the tragedy of Karbala, and expressing love for Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) in general have led to a tragic outcome.

Many Shias are nothing if not passionate about Muharram rituals, either for or against particular practices. But it is apparent at times that the passion has barred communication and fueled division, and, at worst, impeded the successful dissemination of the message of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) into the hearts and minds of people.

How can we utilize that passion to bring people together under the flag of Imam Hussain? That has always been the claimed goal, but reality suggests we are being pulled in different directions. This is a dangerous topic, one in which any suggested reform – be it abandoning a particular ritual like Zanjeer Zani, adding a new one such as blood donation, improving the educational rather than emotional focus of the lectures, or anything else – will be cheered by some and reviled by others.

One can sometimes feel that there are two Shia communities. One of them regards the fervor of one’s participation in mourning rituals as a symbol of one’s devotion and love for Ahlul Bayt. The harder the beating, the more blood, the more dedicated the Shia. And if someone wants them to tone down the ritual, to this community it is unthinkable, as it is the same as being asked to give up devotion to Ahlul Bayt, to be less Shia, to be more like the enemies of Ahlul Bayt.

The other community regards a mourning ritual as a means to an end more than as a sacred symbology. Because the ritual itself isn’t as sacred to them, they are more willing to adapt their Muharram observances to varying circumstances of public opinion and communication. While the former community would see them as less passionate, this community sees itself as more focused on the self-reform message of Imam Hussain than on mourning itself.

Sometimes one can find these two communities even in one heart. Many Shias are engaged in an internal struggle over what we should be doing in Muharram. Where can we find the ideal expression of devotion to the cause of Imam Hussain? How can we best carry that cause into the modern age so that we can live it and breathe it until we find ourselves standing at the ready before the Imam of our Age (may Allah hasten his reappearance)? Perhaps that internal struggle is precisely what is needed – after all, we need to ask the questions before we can find the answers.

About Masooma Beatty

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  • ZaraSyed

    The case with the brother in the UK is very unfortuante, however your article is an eye opener for us all. Masha’Allah, many a times we tend to overlook the other side of this form of mourning, particularly when it comes to practicing zanjeer zani in public.
    Ramadan Mubarak!

    🙂 🙂

  • Servant

    Salaam… The issue is actually quite simple if one thinks about the bounds of Islamic Law and the message of Imam Husayn (a). Our Scholars have ALL, at the very least, condemned the acts which bring a negative image to Islam and Muslims (particularly the school of Ahlul Bayt).

    Keeping that in mind, one should, in all rituals, make sure that the image of Islam is not seen in a distorted fashion -and this lies on the responsibility of each individual follower of Islam, who may evaluate the situation based on his/her religious obligation.

    Beyond that, the essence of mourning rituals are as the Qur’an states about the rituals of Allah: that they are from the righteousness (piety, God-awareness) of hearts.

    I don’t think you will find any reasonable follower of Ahlul Bayt, from any of the categories of followers discussed, that does not emphasize the importance of the message of Imam Husayn (a) -because if they do not, then they would be going against the teachings of our great scholars.

    The bottom line is: In the school of Ahlul Bayt, we are not left to just choose our own “feels-right-for-me” approach to the matters of our religion… We have the representatives of Ahlul Bayt on Earth now and they lay-out the guidelines.

    The major criticisms of either category are most likely outside the guidelines that our Scholars have put forth and that is why this article is important in bringing that fact to light.

    As for the sound-hearted, sound-minded MAJORITY, it is their responsibility to call to the path of Allah (the path of Ahlul Bayt) with wisdom and good admonishment… and to revive the rituals of Allah, for, indeed, such revival is from the piety of hearts.

    Thank you

  • Sayyid Ednan

    In his Name the most merciful the all beneficent and infinitely compassionate

    I would just like to add my opinion on the matter that, I did zanjeer zani once when I was 8 which was the first and last time I ever did this ON MY BACK and I am from the Idara-e-jaferia Hussainiyah in South London.

    There was a case there which went all the way to Scotland yard. Where by children under the age of 18 are not allowed to even watch, let alone perform zanjeer zani. However I am not too sure what is the situation in 414 Manchester, but I know there is a big ignorant community there, which are highly influenced by popular culture. By this I am particularly referring to the Malang community who don’t pray and do sajood towards Alam’s. I remember when they did that in Bradford and someone ran from behind and kicked one of them right up there behind, while the man was in sajood to the Alam. It was funny as hell as the guy was committing shirk full stop. Its interesting when people do sajood to Alam’s and not to Allah the almighty who created then from a clot of blood. Then they claim to love imam Hussein who sacrificed his life and his family for the sake of saving islam and the pleasure of Allah. Let me remind these uniformed individuals how Imam Hussain was martyred “In Prostration (sajood)!! OMG I think I have hit the nail on the head oh wait a moment I’m having and Einstein moment here, Imam Ali was also hit on the head in “Prostration (sajood)” So let me get this straight infallibles with the knowledge of koon faya koon and the unseen who knew when they will be martyred died saving “SALAH” the prayer. Subhannlah All Praise and Glory is to Allah Lord of the Skies.

    It’s like you take away one thing from these people they’ll go and do something else insane. My Opinion on Zanjeer Zani is clear I agree with it and Disagree with it according to my research. My grandfather ran a blood donation campaign and used to do zanjir zani aswell. My father did it his whole single life in Pakistan. I do it every year in Ashura on my head but the scars disapear in like 2 week. I suppose its how crazy you get with the knives. Yet I have to admit I have witnessed at least two death in our hussainyah within the last 10 years because of blood lose caused by zanjeer zani. My overall conclusion if you gonna do it do it at home or away from the camera and public media. Interestingly it 2008 and there are camera phones & live video. People will think we are insane and please don’t tell me we don’t care about what people think. Because at the end of the day we do want to increase hussainiyat & not decrease it. So we gota think in the shoes of a non muslims.

    If was a Non Shia – “I would and you would think people doing zanjeer zani are complete utter Nuts!!”

    As for Mr Zaidi he should get a good lawyer and appeal on the basis of religion and the fact that children were present when they weren’t suppose to be in the “Hussainyah. it’s the Hussainiyah’s duty to keep under 18‘s out!!. The community should encourage the parents to drop the charges and think of it as a good deed / miss understanding, regardless of there views.

    The parents and the Hussainyah are to be held responsible of the where abouts of their child at that moment and time. The parents should understand that Mr Zaidi provoked the children to perform Zanjeer Zani with clear intent and trully belived at the time it was a religious and sacred act of worship and forgiveness, that is if he provoked the children in the first place. Further more the parents should think about the impact this will have on the faith and that Mr Zaidi could get potentially put away over something which he did not develop any mens rea for, hence the only thing the court can maybe accuse him off is possibly “Provocation” if he provoked in the first place which he clearly has denied at the Law courts.
    Mr Zaidi has clearly got a defence there is no crime without intent and Mr Zaidi is innocent till proven guilty. He had no intent or hatred towards the children at the time to provoke them to cause “Grievous Bodily Harm.” I think this is a case where Scotland yard should get involved and set the standards.

    Thank you for taking the time to read, hope it proves most valueable.

    Sayyid Ednan


  • Beenish Syed

    Zanjeeri matam is a cultural thing as far as I know, created by man itself. If something has been created by man, how can it be perfect? Moreover, the baligh age in Islam differs from the baligh age in the western system. Furthermore, it can’t be done without the permission of the mother. It is obligatory upon the child to take permission from his mother. The authorities of the Imam bargah should have a system where before the ritual the children have to sign permission forms from their mother/ guardian. When I saw people do zanjeeri matam for the first time I understood that it is something that families pass on from generation to generation. Mashallah we are lucky to be born in a Shia household but are we true followers of the Ahlul Bait (A.s)? Give me one example of Imam Zainul Abideen (A.S) grieving in the same manner or ne of the Infallibles as a matter of fact and i’ll be convinced. Its not Islam again, its not what the Qur’an or the Ahlul Bait(A.S) have taught us, it is the Muslim!!! Islam is in fact logic and even though people claim that Zanjeeri matam wounds heal quickly and I am sure it is a miracle for the believers of Imam Hussein(A.S), but it doesn’t seem logical. It is an emotional state and a trance that believers go into when they do this. They don’t have control over themselves and how is not having control over oneself Islam? Neway, I pray the best of luck to Mr. Zaidi and May Allah help him get through these hard times but I also pray that he understands his responsibility as a follower of the Ahlul Bait(A.S) to depict Islam the right way, as he claims to be a follower of the Ahlul Bait(A.S)!! Aameen!!!

  • smma59

    I strongly object on you title “Zanjeer Zani is a divisive issue in the Shia community” Do not raise such issues from every plateform. Leave in on Mujtahids as and doing taqleed and following your marja is wajib.
    In my eyes those who by neglecting mujtahids rulings, sugestions or fatwa give their own expert comments (based on their own mind and thoughts and experiences).

    Personally i am not in favor of encouraging zanjeer zani.

  • anonymous

    I don’t see that title anywhere? And I guess if we are following mujtahids we do not need to express our personal opinions if we are in favor or not? But regardless, people who do whichever practice site various scholars’ opinions for or against, so the issue remains in this case.

  • She Shia

    Br. Beenish Syed says: ”Zanjeeri matam is a cultural thing as far as I know, created by man itself”. From what I understand of this comment, this person is sugguesting that acts such as Zanjeer Zani and other forms of physical mourning have been created by the followers, with no such Islamic historical relevance. However, one of the famous Sahaba of the Prophet (saw), Owaiss Qarnii was once found to have fractured his teeth which was followed by very heavy bleeding after he intentionally clenched his jaws together upon hearing the news of the state of the prophet. This just goes to show, that forms of physical mourning have been around since the time of the prophet, and that Zanjeer Zani also falls in a similar (acceptable) context.

    As far as it goes for blaming people who are doing Zanjeer Zani in a private location, such as a closed Islamic centre, it is the fault of those silly people who record such things and secondly, for allowing such content to fall into the wrong hands.

    As far as blood donations are concerned, this is a good substitute for those people who do not usually give blood but do perform Zanjeer Zani, however people I have discussed this issue with say that they are more than willing to donate blood, however Zanjeer Zani is an entirely unique form of expressing one’s grief for the Ahluyl-Bayt.

  • salam

    What do your maraje say? Who permits it, and what is their ruling? And do anyone of them actually do it themselves? If not, why not?

  • ali4too

    imam hussein don’t accept that….it is against the rules…go to any hospital and give ur blood to some one need it

  • mumammad

    This time a will say thanks to the person who made this slogan ” Zanjeer Zani is a divisive issue in the Shia community”
    Zajeer zani: There is no need to say here some mujtahids permitted, some included it in mustahab acts and some suggested to take precaution. Not a single mujtahid said it Haram.

    Should we say (astaghfirullah): Zanjeer Zani is a divisive issue among mujtahids?

    We all know salatu ‘l-jum`ah, the Friday prayer “The late Ayatullah as-Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim (d. 1970) was one of the opinion that salatu ‘l-jum`ah is not obligatory during the Occultation of the Imam” in other words there is difference in fatwa of different mujtahids.

    Do you think it will be justified to say” salatu ‘l-jum`ah is a divisive issue in the Shia community”

    Mujtahid formulates his opinions after pushing his research and study as far as he can. These small differences can not divide our community . There is no doubt enemies of ahlulbayt trying to create Dispute among believers by searching these simple differences.

    It is also very important for us not to work and speak under impression of enemies of ahlulbayt.

    Simply in case of any confusion on any topic. ask your marja e taqleed and follow him and let the other follow their mujtahids.

    Why to target followers of different mujtahids? This is not an act of believer.

  • dawood

    Where is that slogan – I don’t see it in the article. But the comments alone show that this issue does indeed divide people. I did not see anyone targeted for following different mujtahids, either.

  • Mohammad Abbas

    zanjeer zani is forbidden on the grounds of IF AND WHEN it brings our faith and religion into DISREPUTE. Other than that, If Owais Qarni shattered his own teeth and “inflicted bodily harm” out of love for the Prophet (S.A.W.), than Zanjeer Zani for the love of Imam Hussein (A.S.) is indeed permissible. As our brother Sayyed Ednan said, as long as it is done in private away from public attention, it is a provate matter as Ibadat is indeed a private matter. However, given that this is indeed a controversial and divisive matter, the bottom line is that it is discouraged as a practice if our faith’s image will be tarnished. But other than that, who are we to question anyone’s love for Imam Hussein (A.S.)? After all, it is out of expressions of love that Humans resort to such practices. As for the case with the Zaidi trial, well we haven’t really heard from the people themselves. If The zanjeer zani was indeed beiong done in open where the Kids came, then it is indeed an issue of responsiblity that lies squarely on the shoulders of the Husseiniya and its organizers. Questions will perhaps one day focus on as to how the kids were able to make their way over to the location where the Zanjeer Zani was under procession. Hope my message makes sense, but that’s just my view.

  • Azadar-e-Hussainas


    For all those who are not in favour of Zanjeer Zani, and who claim that ‘show me one Imam who did this…’ all I can say is why do you bring our Imams into this.
    Do you not realize that when an Imam does girya the heavens shake, our Imam’s crying is much much much greater than any one performing Zanjeer-ka-Matam.
    We should not bring our Imams down to our level and compare ourselves with them. You are implictly thinking that Zanjeer Zani is a greater form of girya, than an Imam crying on Imam Hussain(as). Please dont do this!!!
    No matter how much we cry, do matam, be it Zanjeer or Qama, its not comparison to the girya of Imam Zainul-Abadeen(as) .
    Finally, ask yourselves does the religion of Islam allow freedom of expression with the rules of Shiriat. If yes then doing Zanjeer, or Qama is a way to express our grief for our great Imam.
    May Allah(swt) keep the Shia Milat together and hasten the appeareance of Imam Mehdi(as).

  • smma59

    There are person who always see what they believe and act as a blind when they want to neglect any thing. They are infact hypocrites. Normally hypoctite enjoy when two brothers fight with each others. Live example in the man who is asking repeatedly where in is written “Zanjeer Zani is a divisive issue in the Shia community”? Perhaps he do not see the image where it is written.
    Please follow rulings of your marja and stop following newly selfmade mujtahids who write just to gain popularitty.

  • Batool Jafri

    If everyone who did Zanjeer matham did it with absolute pure intentions and because “they need to go to that extent in order to take out their grievances for Imam Hussain (as)” then Imam Mahdi (AJ) should have returned many many years ago. True love for Imam Hussain (as) and his ultimate sacrifice can ONLY be seen & proven through obedience to Allah swt. Mourning in Moharrum via matham, marsias, salaams, and other rituals are only means to help us achieve that obedience to Allah. It’s funny because a large portion of those in support of Zanjeer matham remember the story of Bibi Zainab (as) hitting her head against the reigns of her horse until she bled or the story of Hazrat Owais, but fail to realize that Imam Hussain (as) was in fact in sajda for salaat when he was finally martyred. These same people who cry for 40 days and 40 nights during Moharrum and safr, don’t even stop doing matham when it’s time for salaat, I have witnessed this in my own community, and some even go to the extent of saying Azadari is more important. I’m not saying all pro-zanjeer people are like that, but from seeing my community I see a lot of hypocrisy from many of the people who advocate it. Where is that same passion when little Palestinian children are being bombed and Pakistani Shias are being beheaded? Where are those tears you cry for Imam Hussain (as) when it comes to the orphans in Iraq and Sudan? Why are we stressing over the Yazid of yesterday, when the Yazids of today are killing 5000 Iraqi children every month? This whole concept of putting all of our energy into the greatest tragedy of history and forgetting the tragedies of today makes no sense and has gotten Shias practically no where.

  • genderdefender

    Very good questions sister Batool has probed at. However, I strongly beg to differ on two of your statements, firstly we remember Maula Hussain’s (A.S.) sacrifice because it is wajib upon us. You cannot simply forget about this, as it is the greatest tragedy known to man. Secondly the “Yazids of today” are best tackled through this divine platform we are blessed with that is the gift of Azadari. It is a channel for us to vent our frustrations and loving memory of the Ahlul Bayt (A.S.). It is only after learning of the tragedy of Maula Hussain do we learn to appreciate human rights and the beauty of life. We wouldn’t know who Yazid was in the first place, had we not attended that Majlis at our local Husseiniya. Its anniversary brings with it a revision of one’s duties, responsibilities and respect for others. Moreover, the Aimmah Masoomeen (A.S.) have made special duaas for those amongst their followers who keep this tradition alive in their households. So to answer your question, Azadari is the key to solving all of our problems. and thirdly (I totally agree and condemn those misguided jokers who claim Azadari is Matam ONLY! That’s bologne) AZADARI STARTS WITH NAMAZ. This is crystal clear by the evidence that Imam Hussein (A.S.) was in Sajdah when his Shahadat came. There can be no denying those facts. Also, When Imam (A.S.) was praying, what about those who rushed to shield the Imam (A.S.) from the shower of arrows? They gave up their lives to protect the Imam’s namaz. Were they NAOOZOOBILLAH WRONG IN WHAT THEY DID? They were instant martyrs fasttracked to jannah. So what more is there to say about Namaz and Azadari? To question it any more is to border on the insane. Of course Azadari= NAMAZ + Matam. Matam has its own respectful place, but not above that of Namaz and we should not seek to make any comparisons between the two, as it is not possible. but all in all, some wonderful questions! May Allah bless you for your insight into this somewhat controversial and at times tense topic.

  • Batool Jafri

    Thanks for your response. “It is only after learning of the tragedy of Maula Hussain do we learn to appreciate human rights and the beauty of life. We wouldn’t know who Yazid was in the first place, had we not attended that Majlis at our local Husseiniya. Its anniversary brings with it a revision of one’s duties, responsibilities and respect for others.”
    The tragedy of Karbala, if commemorated in the correct and appropriate manner, should do exactly this; inform the people of the Yazids of today. Unfortunately, however, if you attend a large majority of the Shia Masjids during Moharrum in our day and age, most of our “Alims” do not even mention a single word about atrocities occurring today or even bother to identify who the Yazids of today are. Imam Hussain (as) did not become shaheed for our tears & our matham (those are mere outlets for us to reach and better understand our goals), he became Shaheed so that Islam would live and triumph and yet we supposed Shias lag behind in addressing real issues and conducting Da’wah. It’s a shame how much of his message we have watered down for the sake of easing our lives.

  • Genderdefender

    .Walikum salamz, —— “Unfortunately, however, if you attend a large majority of the Shia Masjids during Moharrum in our day and age, most of our “Alims” do not even mention a single word about atrocities occurring today or even bother to identify who the Yazids of today are. “Imam Hussain (as) did not become shaheed for our tears & our matham, he became Shaheed so that Islam would live and triumph “——-Imam Hussein’s Shahdat has already been pre-ordained and declared a victory in the Quran, in the Ayat where Allah addresses us and informs us “We have accepted a greater sacrifice”—Therefore, whether we mourn Maula’s sacrfices or not very much our own gain and our own conrtibution to our Salvation. So really, we are only helping ourselves by rocking up to the local Husseiniya to participate.

    “(those are mere outlets for us to reach and better understand our goals),”—Yes but the tears are said to be collected by Janab-E-Syeda (S.A.) as it is said she is present at any majalis-e-aza being recited in loving memory of Our beloved Kareem Imam (A..S.). Shed one tear in the memory of this Noor of Allah (S.W.T), and you’re well on your way to receiving salvation for your misdeeds.
    “and yet we supposed Shias lag behind in addressing real issues and conducting Da’wah.”—AHAH, I like this point (in my opinion, I agree Ulema on the mimbar should have a theme behind an Ashra when recited for Muharram. YES, they should do more to connect the present circumstances with references to the past, and yes, they need to do more to inform us of the modern day trials and tribulations, and respective Yazids. But that is not hard to understand, basically any treacherous ruler who tramples on the rights of any marginalized population is a Yazid. So by definition, they need to be punished for their actions. But yes, I do agree that at times, Ulema can perhaps make more of an effort to try and spread the message which is a little more “relevant” and better understood and applied to our life. It is only by understanding the past, and relating this facet to the modern day problems and applying the lessons of the past, can we move ahead and prosper in our mission. The above is my view, and I’m sure you can seek out much better informed and well read perspectives from your local Alim/ Ulema for clarifications. All the best.

    It’s a shame how much of his message we have watered down for the sake of easing our lives. “

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    ahah dear sister a very valid observation that irritates us youths of today. smaller | bigger
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    ervation that irritates us youths of today.

  • Tahir

    I consider this to be the most balanced answer covering ‘ritual’ and ‘essence’ debate. This excerpt is from the web site http://www.ezsoftech.com/mazloom/zanjeer.asp. It is a reply to a question by Board of Istifa, Office of Grand Ayatollah SistaniI. “The main objective of mourning and lamentation during ‘Ashura’, is to respect the signs and symbols of religion and remember the suffering of Imam Hussain (as), his companions, and his uprising to defend Islam and prevent the destruction of the religion by Bani Umayyad dynasty. These rites must be done in such a way that in addition to serving that purpose, it draws the attention of others to these lofty goals. Also its ritual aspect should be preserved. So those actions which are not understandable for the enemies of Islam and non-Shia Muslims and causes misunderstanding and contempt for the religion must be avoided.” It says it all.

  • Mariab

    Every person has his own beliefs and we should not judge others faith. I have watched zanjeer zani at http://pkvideos.net/watch/Zanjeer-Zani-rawalpindi/-xON2XcNb_A. I think every video like this should have a parental control message. Because the little angels cannot see these type of events.