Chest-beating or Sīnazanī (Persian: سینهزنی) is one of the most common rituals performed in mourning ceremonies of Shi'ite Imams (a) especially for Imam al-Husayn (a). It is performed with mourning while people are beating on their chests. Chest-beating is the most common mourning ritual among Shi'ite Muslims in husayniyyas in Iran as well as other countries.
History of Chest-Beating
Beating on chest, was a common form of mourning ritual since the early periods of Islam. It is narrated that a number of Muslim women were beating on their chests and heads in the mourning ceremony in the time of Prophet Muhammad's (s) demise. After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), chest-beating has changed according to different cultures in Islamic territories. It seems, chest-beating is a form of austerity and a type of mourning ritual, as those who beat on their chests somehow bear some pain which is a symbol of the pain Imam al-Husayn (a) faced in the Battle of Karbala. Chest-beating was a costume in Arab countries and it was expanded in Iran in Safavid era as well. It is narrated that sometimes people beat their chests with fists as they were reminded of the hardships of Twelver Imams (a). According to sources, in Isfahan, the capital of Safavid dynasty, people were following the rhythm of Nawha Khani as they moved in circle while beating on their chests and stamping their feet.
In Qajar era, especially in the time of Nasir al-Din Shah, groups of mourning ceremonies were on the streets performing special rituals with special costumes and decorations. They moved with particular distance from each other, beating on their chests with certain rhythm; even in the women section of the palace, women themselves had Nawha Khani and chest-beating.
Nowadays, chest-beating is regarded as the main part of some mourning ceremonies which is favored by the young because of enthusiastic Nawha Khani.
Types of Chest-Beating
Chest-beating has different rhythms, the most important ones are:
- Wahid (single): chest-beating with slow rhythm, one hard beat with seconds of intervals.
- Sangin (heavy): chest-beating with moderate rhythm, a hard beat with short intervals.
- Shur (passionate): chest-beating with fast rhythms, gentle beats without intervals.
- Double beats, triple beats and four beats: two, three or four continuous beats with fast rhythms, while it has a short pause between each time.
Different types of chest-beating are performed based on different type of ceremonies. It can be performed while standing, sitting and moving in circles around Nawha Khan (the person who is reciting elegies).
Some regions have their own special type of chest-beating, for example in southern regions of Iran it is common that people form circles, put their left hand on the back of the person on their left and beat on their chests with slow rhythms. Another type is called Qatari (Train-like) Cheat-beating which is performed in Larestan and other types which are performed in different regions.
Chest-Beating in Religious Laws
According to Shi'ite scholars, different kinds of mourning ceremonies for Twelver Imams (a) are recommended. In addition, earlier Shi'ite scholars issued fatwas about these rituals and they also performed chest-beating in ceremonies.
However, Al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadl Allah regarded chest-beating Haram (forbidden) while some other marja's including Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi stated to avoid taking clothes off in the time of chest-beating; especially in public and in the presence of women.
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