Quranic Reflection No 640. Āyat 9:82 – Types of Tears

فَلْيَضْحَكُوا قَلِيلًا وَلْيَبْكُوا كَثِيرًا جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ

So let them laugh a little; much will they weep as a requital for what they used to earn.

(Sūrat al-Tawbah, No 9, Āyāt 82)

The above verse is preceded by an account of how some Muslims shirked their duty and chose this temporary world over sacrifice and danger in the path of Allah ‘azza wajall. In response to this, Allah is telling them to make amends for these sins by weeping much and laughing little. An alternative meaning given to this verse is that it is not a command, rather it is simply stating the reality of what will happen to such sinners. They shall laugh for a short time in this world but an eternal punishment wherein they shall weep, awaits them. Since these are the months wherein the believing community is mourning and weeping over the tragedy of Imam al-Husayn ‘alayhis-salām, it is appropriate to briefly discuss crying and the different types of tears that human sheds.

Like laughing, crying is an emotional behaviour unique to human being. Everyone is familiar with laughing and crying, having either experienced it themselves or else seen it in those around them. Both types of behaviour arise out of a strong emotional state and are completely natural. In fact, one who does not empty their emotions by laughing or crying can be described as having an imbalanced psychological state.

Looking at narrations of the Prophet and his noble family ‘alayhimus-salām, we can see different examples of crying:

1) Tears of pain and personal loss. Such as what is seen in a young child who gets hurt, one who loses a beloved family member, or one who fails to succeed in a competition. Shedding tears in such a state allows the raging emotions within an individual to calm down; by doing so they find peace and solace. Such tears are good and approved of by religion. In a narration from the Prophet’s wife found in the Āmālī of Shaykh al-Tūsī, she says, “When [the Prophet’s son] Ibrāhīm died, the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam cried until tears flowed down onto his beard. It was said to him, ‘O Messenger of Allah, you forbid [others from] crying and you are crying!’ He said, ‘This is not crying, verily this is only a mercy. One who does not show mercy, mercy will not be shown to him.’” (p 388). Other similar accounts of the Prophet (s) crying or commanding others to cry upon the demise of his daughter Ruqayyah and his uncle Hamzah are found in narrations of our Sunni brethren.

2) A similar type of crying that arises from personal emotions is that of crying out of extreme happiness. In a narration whose chain of narrators includes 10 of the infallible Imams in it, it is narrated from Imam ‘Alī that when his brother Ja‘far returned from Ethiopia, how the Prophet (s) warmly welcomed him. He embraced Ja‘far, kissed him on his forehead and “wept out of happiness from seeing him.”

3) Tears of mercy that are shed for others. When someone sees the oppression that others have undergone, or the devastation caused by natural disasters, they are naturally moved. Even if they are thousands of miles away or live centuries afterwards, such mercy and pure love may move someone to cry. The tragedy of Imam al-Husayn (a) is the outstanding example of an event that evokes such tears. In a famous narration, Imam al-Sādiq (a) tells a companion of his named Abū Hārūn: Whoever recites poetry about al-Husayn (a) such that he cries and makes ten others cry, Paradise is obligatory on him. The Imam then proceeds to reduce this number, until he reaches the number one. Then he says:  Whoever is reminded of al-Husayn (a) and a tear comes out of his eye that is the size of the wing of a fly, his reward is with Allah and Allah will not be pleased with anything less than Paradise for him.

4) Tears in seeking proximity to Allah ‘azza wajall. In an Islamic worldview, man’s ultimate perfection lies in his proximity to Allah. One of the causes of attaining this proximity that is mentioned in narrations and is seen in the practice of pious individuals is that of crying. At times such tears could be an act of humility and out of fear, for example when God’s servant admits to their faults and cries during prayer. At other times it could be simply out of a recognition that one is cut off from the higher levels of perfection. When the Prophet (s) passed away, an eminent companion who had taken care of him as a child by the name of Umm Ayman was seen crying. When she was asked why she replied that she cried because the revelation from the heavens was cut off.

It is about this fourth type of crying that Rumi refers to in some beautiful lines of poetry, also referencing the verse from Sūrat al-Tawbah mentioned above:

Till the cloud weeps, how should the garden smile?

Till the baby cries, how should the milk begin to flow?

The one-day-old baby knows the way: “I will cry, that the kind nurse may come.”

Do not you know that the Nurse of all nurses gives no milk gratis without crying?

He (God) hath said, “Let them weep much.” Give ear,

that the bounty of the Creator may pour forth the milk.

We pray to Allah to give us the purity and softness of heart that we can cry on the tragedy that befell Imam al-Husayn and his family. We also pray that he gives us the opportunity to shed tears seeking proximity to Him during prayer and that such tears are the cause of our rectification and salvation.

Sources: ‘Allamah Tabātabā’ī, Tafsir al-Mizan. Mahdi Pishvā’ī, Maqtal-e Jāmi‘; Shaykh al-Sadūq, ‘Uyūn al-akhbār al-Ridā, Ibn Qūlawayh, Kāmil al-Ziyārat; Muslim bin Hajjāj, Sahīh Muslim.