In the name of the Almighty
May the blessings of Allãh be upon Prophet Muhammad & his holy family
The Prophet (s) said:
“Verily there is a warmth in the hearts of the believers for the martyrdom of al-Ḥusayn that will never cool off.”
The ceremonies and gatherings commemorating the tragedy of Karbala during the month of Muḥarram and Ṣafar are the hallmarks of Shī‘ī Islam. The sacrifice of Imam Ḥusayn (a), his family and companions solidified and safeguarded the foundation of the authentic teachings of Islam as delivered by the Holy Prophet (s).
The Prophet (s) unequivocally predicted that the warmth in the hearts of the believers [from the tragedy of this event] will never cool off. May Almighty God bless the mourners, increase their numbers, and protect them.
Indeed the commemorative ceremonies have continued uninterrupted through time, but they have always done so by recognizing the prevailing social and political factors, and prudently proceeding to ensure the preservation of Islamic ideals. We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore, we cannot ignore the ongoing spread of the coronavirus and its dire implications on our communities in North America.
The Council of Shia Muslim Scholars recognizes that the prevalence and incidence of new cases in our communities across North America is not uniform. Some parts of this vast continent are experiencing an alarming surge in the transmission of the virus while others are impacted less severely. Therefore, it is clear that there is no single format for the Muḥarram programs that would be suitable for every mosque, center, and organization, and as such, we will see a variety of approaches being taken to commemorate the event of Ashura.
Given these conditions, the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America would like to strongly recommend the following guidelines:
Many centers will continue holding Muḥarram programs online as was done during the month of Ramadhān.
Programs at centers:
Some centers will decide to open for the Muḥarram program, either partially or fully. For such centers, the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America strongly urges to evaluate their local situation and if there is surge in the spread of the virus (such as currently seen in the southern states of the USA), then it would be prudent religiously to adopt the online format for ‘aza programs.
If they take on the responsibility to open the centers, then the Council strongly advises that they strictly adhere to the guidelines of their local health officials, paying particular attention to the followings:
Private Majālis at Homes:
Many Shi‘as organize private majlis at their homes during Muḥarram and Ṣafar. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are serious issues in such gatherings that need to be considered, and so the same advice given to the centres applies here also.
However, if a person decides to organize the private majlis, then he or she is legally and religiously responsible to adhere to the guidelines of the local health authorities as follows:
Remember that emergency situations like what we are experiencing currently require extraordinary solutions. There should be no sense of guilt if you are unable to adhere to these guidelines. Instead, consider doing it in a minimized form or delay it till things get back to normal.
According to the Grand Ayatullah Sistani, if an infected person knowingly attends a gathering and spreads the virus, then they are not only sinful, but also liable for any loss experienced by those who were infected by them, including indemnity for loss of life.
Let us end with a point of reflection: in our teachings, it is disliked (makrūh) for a person to go to the mosque after eating onion or garlic because they can cause bad breath. If Islam does not want you to create discomfort for your fellow congregants in the mosque because of your bad breath, then it surely wants to prevent any transmission of a deadly virus by aerosolized droplets. Therefore, wear face masks and gloves, and strictly adhere to social distancing. Consider that to be your religious duty. Our great marāji‘ are clear and united on this issue.
All the jurists, including the supreme religious authority, Sayyid al-Sistani (may God prolong his life), have clearly stated that it is necessary for every believer to safeguard themselves and others from harm, especially when the risk occurs due to disregard of guidelines and instructions issued by healthcare professionals. (Click here to view the detailed instruction by Imamia Medics International on Programs for Muharram/Safar during the pandemic).
On behalf of the council,
Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi,
The Secretary General