Bahraini Shia Muslims crying as a cleric is telling the story of Imam Hussain martyrdom.
© Mohammed CJ, Wikipedia Commons
Bahraini Shia Muslims crying as a cleric is telling the story of Imam Hussain martyrdom.
Last updated: October 20, 2015

The story behind Shiite tears

Banner Icon Collecting tears in the hope that they wash away their sins, Shiite Muslims commemorate Ashura every year to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a tragedy they believe to be the epitome of the battle between good and evil.

Large blots of tears rolled down her cheeks. Her eyes swollen red. Everything was blurry. Her eyelashes were clotted together, joined by the clusters of salt from her eyes. The Majlis was over but she returned to her encased position, closed her eyes, and resumed her sobbing. She could still hear the lamentations echoing. She could still see the Battle of Karbala before her eyes.

She felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder. It was time to go. Everyone had already left. She acquiesced after which she wiped her tears with a floral handkerchief she had retrieved from her pocket. It was now soaked. She would never wash it again.

The Sheikh reciting the Majlis had advised the mourners who had congregated at the mosque to weep over Imam Hussein to keep their tears. Why? “The tears,” he said, “will be your salvation.”

“Better yet, don’t wipe them at all. Keep them on your face,” he added as the faces looking up at him welled up. The mourners performed ablution with their own bitter tears and readied themselves for an act of worship.


The Shiite Muslim sect which highly revers the household of Islam’s messenger Prophet Mohammad believes that a single tear shed over Imam Hussein can wash away a hundred sins.

Fatima could not help but think about those tears she had so effortlessly produced every year during Ashura. The pain that forces itself into the hearts of mourners had kept her from counting the benefits. She had cried for crying’s sake. She had cried because it was the only way to squeeze out the throbbing that afflicted her heart and numbed her limbs whenever she listened to the epic of Karbala.

Fatima is not alone. Men, women, and children; young and old, black and white, rich and poor weep over Imam Hussein, the revered grandson of Prophet Mohammad who was martyred on the 10th of Muharram in the Islamic calendar in a battle that charted the course of Islam. Even Imam Hussein has himself said: "I am the martyr of tears, no believer remembers me but that he weeps." 

The clouds in the sky form a black landscape above the Shiite Muslim community wherever they are, whenever Ashura casts its shadow over them.

Over almost 1,400 years, millions of Shiite Muslims have wept over the tragedy of Imam Hussein, tears of sorrow, regret, longing, and eternal grief. On average a person is said to cry 64 liters of tears in his lifetime. The Shiites, who actually congregate to cry together, must shed much more.

“The tears,” he said, “will be your salvation.”

Many believe that if all the tears Shiite Muslims have been shedding over Imam Hussein since the day of Ashura were collected, a sea of tears would flood Karbala.

This sea is constantly evaporating, rising in the atmosphere throughout the year, and then forming clouds when the holy month of Muharram approaches. Then, the clouds begin to shed droplets of the sacred water as the Shiites begin their mourning, unleashing the sadness they've kept inside of them all year long.

Crying among the Shiites is believed to be an important way to preserve the memory of Imam Hussein and a way to be preserved by Imam Hussein likewise. The Imams have encouraged crying over the tragedy of Imam Hussein as they themselves have.

“O Abu Hamza! I complain of my grief and my sorrow to Allah. But O Abu Hamza, Prophet Jacob cried so much that he lost his sight for a son of his who was still alive; whereas I saw eighteen members of my family butchered on the plains of Karbala,” said Imam Ali Bin Hussein to Abu Hamza Thamaly when he asked him for how many years will he continue crying with such grief.

In Ziyarat Nahiyah, Imam Mohammad bin al-Hasan al-Askari, also known as the long-awaited savior al-Mahdi, says:

“I will, therefore, lament you morning and evening, and will weep blood (ed. note: not to be confused with blood-letting) in place of tears, out of my anguish for you and my sorrow for all that befell you…”

Fatima reflected: will these tears one day stand up for me? Should I collect them in a bottle? Will they ever be enough to cleanse me? Will my eyes ever bleed tears of sorrow? Many more questions circled her mind. Then she thought the angels would be counting the tears just like they keep track of the sins. “They will not be forgotten,” she thought as she put the handkerchief of tears back in her pocket.

Fatima Hanan Elreda
Fatima is a journalist and an aspiring writer. She has a BA in journalism from the Lebanese International University and is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature at the Lebanese University.
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