SHAFAQNA – The martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson is being commemorated by devout Shiite Muslims with rituals that include mourning ceremonies, acts of giving and candlelit vigils.
Ashura is marked on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram (the first month of the lunar calendar, which can vary depending on the sighting of the moon).
It marks the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Holy prophet in 680 AD in Karbala, near Baghdad in Iraq. He was killed fighting the armies of Ummayid Caliph Yazid, alongside 72 men of his own men.
His body was then mutilated, leading to his martyrdom.
Many travel to Karbala in Iraq, where Hussein was killed, as a pilgrimage on Ashura. Most observers wear black and march through the streets chanting and hitting themselves in the chest.
While some Shiite Muslims mark Ashura with rituals of self-flagellation, many Shiite leaders have discouraged such bloodletting, warning it creates a negative image and instead encourage people to donate blood.
The campaigns were launched by Shia clerics who believe self flagellation has no place in modern Islam.
Sunni Muslims consider Ashura a fast day because Muhammad fasted then and Moses fasted in appreciation of the successful Exodus for Egypt.
Many believe the death of Hussein was a decisive event in the split in Islam between Shiites and the Sunnis.
Shiites, who constitute Islam’s second-largest denomination (between 10-15 per cent of the Muslim population) consider Hussein to be one of the true heirs of Muhammad’s legacy.
Flagellation is also carried out by some Catholics, although it is no longer a widespread practice. The late Pope John Paul II would whip himself, according to a nun who used to care for him.