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ISLAM, SHI ITE ISLAM

the whole, of little practical everyday significance. Foods or parts of animals forbidden based on exclusively Shiite hadiths include hare and porcupine, fish without scales, sea creatures with shells (except shrimp is allowed), rab- bits, and certain body parts such as the gallbladder and spleen.

Quranic food laws are seen as a sign of God’s will, but there is no sin in eating prohibited foods in small quantities if essential to sustain life. Sunnis generally per- mit the consumption of meat slaughtered by Jews or Christians, while Shia do so only if necessity dictates. As in all religions, the strictness with which dietary laws and guidelines are observed differs with social status and cir- cumstances, depending on the commitment to practice.

Fasting

There are different categories of fasting in Islam: those that are obligatory; those that are recommended but which may be broken without penalty; those that are blameworthy and discouraged; and those that are for- bidden. Obligatory fasts include the month of Ramadan, expiatory fasts performed as kaffarah (atonement) for breaking the Ramadan fast, and those performed in ful- fillment of a vow. The chief obligatory fast is Ramadan. Shia generally break the fast a few minutes after the sun has set and commence the fast a few minutes before dawn. In both instances the intent is to ensure that the full fast- ing period is observed. The exemption categories for the fast are similar for Shia and Sunnis, though with some variations in interpretation. For Shia fasting is not valid if it would cause or aggravate illness or intensify pain or delay recovery; to do so is to cause harm, which is pro- hibited. Pregnant women in the final trimester and nurs- ing mothers ought to break their fast if there is danger of harm. To continue fasting in such circumstances is not valid. In both instances breaking the fast is optional for Sunnis. Acute hunger, unless life-threatening, is not a suf- ficient reason for Shia to break the fast, but is accept- able to Sunnis. There are other differences relating to travelers, to what precisely breaks the fast, and to what is required in the way of restitution for infractions. The most serious infraction, sexual intercourse with a spouse, is punished with extended fasting and fines in both Shiite and Sunni law; such fines include freeing a slave, feeding sixty poor, or fasting for two consecutive months.

Muhurram, the first month of the Muslim year, is a time of major public affirmations of Shia beliefs. The one-day fast of Ashura, which falls on the 10th of Muhur- ram, was, according to Sunni tradition, instituted by Muhammad in imitation of the Jewish practice of mark- ing the deliverance of the children of Israel from the Pharoah. Although the fast was soon abrogated in favor of Ramadan, it remained as a voluntary observance. For Sunni Muslims Ashura is a joyous festival, commemo- rated precisely because it is Sunnah—the Way of the Prophet. But for Shia it is a time of mourning, the an- niversary of the murder of Husayn, son of Ali and grand-

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son of Muhammad, by the Caliph Yazid at the battle of Kerbala. Husayn opposed caliphate rule and was killed in an attempt to restore the imamate. Shia mark this occa- sion with large public parades, at which loud lamenta- tions are accompanied by beating of drums and penitents who scourge themselves with whips or knives. In some places dancers enact scenes from Kerbala and decorated replicas of the martyrs’ tombs are carried through the streets. A specific Shia practice during Muhurram is the provision of food and drink to the community. In Shia neighborhoods children distribute ladles of water to passersby, while tables of food may be set up for the poor. This allows believers to symbolically compensate for the fact that Husayn was allowed to die hungry and thirsty while, at the same time, alleviating the thirst and hunger of the oppressed.

Supererogatory fasts are meritorious for all Muslims on any day when fasting is not specifically forbidden. The first and last Thursdays and the 13th, 14th, and 15th of each month are particularly auspicious, as are a number of other days during the year. It is reprehensible to sin- gle out Fridays or Saturdays for fasting, or to fast on Naw Rouz (New Year) or on the day preceding Ramadan. Fast- ing is forbidden on the first days of Id al-fitr and Id al- adha. For Shia fasting is also forbidden on the 9th of Muhurram, as on this day the enemies of Husayn fasted in preparation for the battle of Kerbala.

Holidays and Festivals

Shia observe the major Islamic festivals of Id al-fitr and Id al-adha, as well as commemorating many events in the lives of the Imams. Id al-fitr is a three-day festival following the Ramadan fast and is celebrated to give thanks to God for providing the strength to complete the fast. It is marked with visiting, gift-giving and prepara- tion, and exchange of favorite foods. Specially prepared sweet dishes are characteristic of the festival, giving it the popular name of Sweet Id. Id al-Adha, the feast of sac- rifice, is a four-day public holiday occurring at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. It celebrates Abraham’s com- plete obedience to God in being willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael, and God’s dispensation in allowing Abra- ham to substitute a sacrificial ram. At public ceremonies the imam sacrifices a sheep for the community. Every Muslim who can afford it should sacrifice at home a goat, lamb, cow, or camel and share the meat with family and friends and with the poor.

Id al-Ghadir, held on the eighteenth day of the month of pilgrimage, is a Shiite feast instituted in 962 C.E. to commemorate the events of Ghadir Khumm,

when Shia believe that the Prophet designated Ali as his successor. This is not observed by Sunnis.

See also Fasting and Abstinence: Islam; Ramadan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abbas, Ali, ed. A Shiite Encyclopedia. Available on the Internet at http:/www.al-Islam.org/encyclopedia/chapter7/3.html.

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