Ask A Question About Islam And Muslims
Can I still be considered a true follower of the school of the Ahl al-Bayt if I choose not to partake in Matam or other activities displaying public mourning during Muharram?
Yes, you can still be considered a true follower of Ahl al-Bayt if you do not take part in matam or public mourning ceremonies. These things are optional. The most important things are (a) inner belief (i.e. belief in the theology taught by Ahl al-Bayt as well as belief in their authority), and (b) following them in your outer actions to the best of your ability (acts of worship, how you treat others, how you live, etc).
Of course, as you are likely aware, one of the things that is mentioned in hadith is that the followers of Ahl al-Bayt feel happy at their times of happiness and sad in their times of sadness; that is, there is a sort of empathy or emotional link. Since you say you feel grief, this is already there; I am just mentioning it so it is not neglected.
I agree that sometimes people from more reserved cultures are uncomfortable with matam ceremonies. This is particularly the case if someone grew up with the tacit message that expressions of emotion are socially unacceptable, unmanly, weak, undignified, etc, or if someone was punished for them.
Sometimes people from a Sunni background are also uncomfortable at these gatherings (even if they come from emotionally expressive cultures).
However, even if you choose not to participate in these activities, it is good to acknowledge and respect that many other Shi'is do and this is the way they express their emotions and loyalty towards Ahl al-Bayt. That is, it is better simply to acknowledge that it is one's personal preference not to attend, rather than to try to make a blanket statement that it is wrong for others to do so. There is a strong spiritual component to these gatherings (although I could understand that this might not be felt if one is feeling shock instead), and they do function to forge a link between the individual and the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt that can come into play in other life circumstances.
To some degree, you will miss out on a sense of community spirit, belonging, or shared experience by not participating in these activities, because they are so widespread, but this is a different issue.
Also, this may or may not be of interest, but if you do look around at world religions, there are actually a lot of religions that have ritual or spiritual acts which involve a sort of emotional/intellectual abandon or self-harm. (For instance, speaking in tongues or nailing one's self to a cross) What makes these things "safe" ways of exploring or expressing one's spirituality is that they are controlled and there are unwritten rules about what is and is not acceptable, and when. For instance, someone walking down the street randomly doing matam would be seen as mentally unstable, but someone doing it in a ritual setting at the appropriate time would be seen as normal. Also this is similar for a some Sufi practices. This is more of a comparative religious studies perspective, but I just thought I'd put it out there.
Anyway, back to the main question, here are some hadith (which you may have already read!) about what constitutes a true follower of Ahl al-Bayt:
Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) said, ‘Our Shi’ah are none other than those who are consciously wary of their duty to Allah and obey Him. They are known solely for their humbleness, their humility, their returning promptly whatever is entrusted in their care and their Abundant remembrance of Allah.’[Tuhaf al-’Uqul, p. 295]
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) said, ‘Verily the Shi’ah of Ali were those who restrained their stomachs and their sexual desires, who struggled and fought intensely, who worked hard for their Creator, who hoped for His reward and feared His punishment. If you have seen such people, then they are the very Shi’ah of Ja’afar.’[al-Kafi, v. 2, p. 233, no. 9]
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s.) said, ‘Test our Shi’ah with regard to three things: the prayer times to see how well they observe them, their secrets to see how well they guard them from our enemies, and their wealth to see how they help out their fellow brothers with it.’[Bihar al-Anwar, v. 83, p. 22, no. 40]
Anyway, I hope you are able to find a way to sort out the unease you are feeling.
The first ten days of Muharram are the days of the sufferings of Ahlul Bayt (AS) which started on the arrival in Karbala on the second day of Muharram and ended on the tenth day of Muharram which is called Aashura, when Imam Husain (AS) was martyred along with his family members and companions in Karbala in year 61 After Hijra. These ten days are been observed by Ahlul Bayt (AS) and their followers as days of mourning and grief. Imam Reza (AS) said that his father Imam Musa Al-Kadhim (AS) was always observing these ten days with grief and sadness.
Followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS) observe these ten days with Majaalis (religious gatherings and sermons) remembering the tragedies of Karbala and the aims and teachings of Imam Husain (AS). Millions of believers attend these gatherings all over the world, and thousands of lectures and sermons are delivered to enlighten people and purify their behavior and make them better human beings. Millions of poor people are been fed during these ten days as a practice of generosity which is part of the teachings of Imam Husain (AS).
I was Sunni for 15 years and became Shia 9 months ago. Other than attending Majalis what are the other recommended deeds and acts of worship that I can do in these days of Muharram?
Most importantly, we need to appreciate and thank Allah (SWT) who granted us His guidance and did not leave us away from the Truth of Real Islam of Muhammad and His Ahlul Bayt (AS).
There are few suggestions :
1. Reciting of Ziyarat Aashura is very great every day or when ever you can.
2. Talking to and inviting people to the Truth of Imam Husain (AS) in any suitable way which should be wise and helpful in making people realize the fact of the Real Islam of Imam Husain and distinguish it from the corrupt religion of Yazeed and his gangsters.
3. Gifting good deeds to Imam Husain (AS) and his family and followers.
4. Serving the mourners on Imam Husain (AS) and the religious activities.
5. Reading more about he life and sayings of Imam Husain (AS and passing the information to people.
Is it okay to have Muharram lectures in a banquet hall, where on other days alcohol is served and music is played?
It is allowed to use or rent or hire for religious activities including Namaz, Majaalis, lectures etc, a place which was or is used in un-Islamic way on other times. It is like the road where we walk on, which is used by good people and bad people. Every one is responsible of his acts.
No doubt, we need to be sure about Taharat in the place of prostration (Sojood) of Namaz.
Musical instruments and alcohol related items should be removed during the religious gathering to keep the respect of the religious activity.