Shi'ite Muslims mark holy day

Across the Muslim world, Shi'ites celebrate the holy day of Ashura.

November 25, 2012 18:31
1 minute read.
Shi'ite Muslim people take part procession

Ashura 390. (photo credit: REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed)


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Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims stream through a mosque in the Iraqi city of Kerbala.

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They are celebrating one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar - Ashura.

It marks the death over 1,300 years ago of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed at the battle of Kerbala in Iraq in 680, in the culmination of a power struggle that ushered in the Sunni-Shi'ite divide which still shapes the Middle East's political map.

That led to the division of Islam into two sects - Sunni and Shi'ite - a schism that continues to plague the Islamic world.

Shi'ites across the Middle East consider Ashura a day of mourning.

In Lebanon, worshipers cut their heads and slap their wounds, a sign of solidarity with Hussein's suffering.

The ritual self-flagellation, though, is considered controversial.

Shi'ites across the country hold rallies during Ashura but Nabatiyeh is one of the few places where Shi'ites observe the tradition of drawing blood by self-flagellation.

In Bangladesh it's a day of celebration for the majority Sunni Muslims - a celebration of a victory for Islam through Imam Hussein's sacrifice.

But for Shi'ites it is a sad affair where, like in Afghanistan, they whip themselves in mourning until their backs bleed.

In the Iraq capital too, these Shi'ites have cut their heads with swords so they can relive the pain Hussein experienced in the fateful Battle of Karbala.

Shi'ites make up only 15 percent of the world's Muslims, and traditionally mourn for one month as part of the Ashura festival.

Ashura is also observed in many other countries with sizeable Shi'ite populations, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.

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