Is it permitted to participate in gatherings to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (as) amidst the Covid-19 pandemic?
Holding communal gatherings to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (as) during Muharram is highly recommended and has been practiced for centuries by Shiʿas. However, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has raised concerns regarding the safety of holding and participating in communal gatherings. Since communal gatherings evidently contribute to the spread of the disease and potentially increase fatality, the question that arises is whether the Sharia would permit such gatherings to commemorate Imam Husayn’s (as) martyrdom during a pandemic?
It is a highly recommended and virtuous act to continue the practice of holding and participating in communal gatherings to honour the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (as). During a pandemic, however, the potential risk and harm of holding such gatherings must be first assessed by experts, who can determine the necessary precautions that must be taken to minimise the risk of spreading the disease and increasing fatality in individual localities. The mourners must therefore follow and act in accordance with the guidelines and regulations issued by health authorities.
1. There are countless narrations from the Ahl al-Bayt that enumerate the virtues of communally commemorating Imam Husayn’s (as) martyrdom, particularly during the months of Muharram and Safar. For Instance, Ibn Qulawayh (d. 978) in Kāmil al-Zīyāra mentions:
For those unable to visit [the tomb] of Imam Husayn (as) on the Day of Ashura [10th of Muharram], Imam Baqir (as) mentions the manner of commemorating him, he says: one should mourn over Husayn (as), weep for him and instruct the members of the house to weep for him. One should establish the mourning ceremony in the house by exhibiting lamentations and grief over him; the people should meet one another in their homes and offer condolences and consolation to each other over the calamities which befell him.
2. Additionally, Shiʿas have historically venerated Imam Husayn’s (as) sacrifice as being amongst the symbols of Allah. The Qur’an says: “… And whomsoever honours the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts.” In accordance with this verse, it is concluded that practices of commemorating Imam Husayn’s (as) martyrdom, either communally or personally, conforms with the pleasure of Allah.
Therefore, it is evident from the Qur’an and teachings of Ahl al-Bayt that they recommend the practice of commemorating Imam Husayn’s (as) martyrdom, and encourage Shiʿas to continue holding and participating in such commemorative gatherings.
3. However, the Qur’an also stipulates that we must not engage in any practices that cause our own destruction, in the verse which states: “…And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction. And do good; indeed, Allah loves the doer of good.”
Since communal gatherings can increase the spread of the Covid-19 virus and increase the risk of fatality, such gatherings are potentially very harmful. Whilst it is true that contracting the virus may not compromise the health of an individual who does not have underlying health issues, there is still the danger that they could unknowingly pass it on to more vulnerable individuals and cause them serious harm. Accordingly, based on the aforementioned verse of the Qur’an, it can be concluded, with utmost precaution, that communal gatherings during a pandemic must be avoided.
4. This position can only be annulled when a professional or a body of experts (whether local or international) assess the risks of harm due to communal gatherings, and issue guidelines and regulations to ensure that such risks are mitigated. The advice of health authorities must thus be adhered to.
 Qur’an 22:32
 Qur’an 2:195
 For International guidelines see World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/10665-333186
For national guidelines in Britain see Muslim Council of Britain (MCB): https://mcb.org.uk/resources/coronavirus/
For guidance from a religious authority see Ayatollah Sistani: https://imam-us.org/statement-by-ayatullah-al-sistani-regarding-the-mourning-ceremonies-of-imam-al-hussain
 Qur’an 21:7, 16:43