Photographs document Shia Muslims marking Ashura with violent self flagellation

Photographs of devout Muslims mourning the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein, with a solemn mass flagellation ceremony have been released online. Mark Roche of The Daily Shift reports…

A young child whips himself with sharp blades

- Links to nsfw photographs below -

The ritual, known as Ashura is celebrated on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram (the first month of the lunar calendar). Ashura marks the death of the grandson of the Holy prophet, Muhammad in 680 AD at the battle of Karbala, near Baghdad in Iraq; killed by political rivals along with 72 companions, Imam’s body was then mutilated, leading to his martyrdom.

Part of the traditional mourning emulates the suffering of Hussein through self-flagellation, known as ‘the flowing of blood’ accompanied by walking on hot coals and carrying a ‘Tazia’ - a replica of Hussein’s coffin. Furthermore, it is a time of sorrow and solemn contemplative thought and self-reflection; music is refrained from and weddings, parties or any celebration are never scheduled for this time. The death of Hussein split Islam between two sects, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims; in the past the event has highlighted the schism and provoked violence from extremists, in 2011 a suicide attack killed 63 people, critically wounding 160 at a shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan.

BBC reported: “Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood.”

The Huffington Post disclosed that Afghanistan’s second vice president, Muhammad Karim Khalili issued a statement yesterday imploring Ashura mourners to donate blood known as “Quame Zani”; the vice president was joined by current President, Hamid Karzai in this moderated ritual.

“I request those who mourn at Ashura time to donate their blood under the process of blood donation, instead of flagellating and losing their blood at mosques, Tekias, and on the roads, so that they could save a life of their people besides donating their blood for the love of Imam Hussein.” – Muhammad Karim Khalili – Huffington Post

While this event can be seen as a gruesome act of self-harm, it is conducted through respect and can be seen by Shia as an absolution of sin; “a single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins”. Children as young as nine-years old can be seen whipping themselves with razor blades and sharp knives attached to chains (“Talwar Zani”); more shocking are the photographs of incisions made to tearful babies which may ask questions of how extreme the mourning ceremony must be to mark respect. The participation of mature adults is perhaps understandable however, the agony thrust upon an innocent body in the name of an imperceptible notion thus far seems to have led to criticism of the practice.

Such displays of devotion are not uncommon in other religions; flagellation is also carried out by some Catholics, although it is no longer as widespread. Pope John Paul II was known to whip himself, as a form of penance. In a similar release, photographs of Filipino men crucifying themselves were posted online earlier this week; the photo’s depict a man nailed through the palm, to a crucifix in an effort to ‘prove his faith’. Church leaders have discouraged this, however, the practice remains a yearly rite.

In one of the most controversial happenings of the 20th century, a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death during busy traffic in Saigon, in an act of self-immolation in order to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the Southern Vietnamese government led by Ngo Dinh Diem. This was not an unprecedented act and although it differs as an act of protest, the martyrdom and self-mutilation in the name of a greater power remains the same.

In many other world religions rituals such as scarification, blood initiation, lashes, ‘land diving’ and even dental chiseling are considered to be a mark of respect and have been documented extensively.

Such vivid photography has perhaps provoked a reaction unworthy of the event; to condemn any religion would be a wrongdoing and the simple documentation of an ancient ritual is not an inherently bad thing. Those depicted have been referred to as heretics, conducting barbaric or fierce acts; sociologically, one would have to remove themselves from their cultural context to find an objective conclusion. The documentation of The Mourning of Muharram is simply that and is to be appreciated as such; an indiscriminate insight documenting a ritual far predating the technology which allows the uneducated to pass judgement.

NSFW: Images of The Mourning of Muharram

*All images courtesy of DaliDan/Reddit
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About Mark Roche

After realising at age 12 I would never be the next R.L Stine, I donated most of my time to Music, Gaming, Film and TV. Since then, I have collected an extensive knowledge and eclectic taste in all things entertainment.

2 comments on “Photographs document Shia Muslims marking Ashura with violent self flagellation

  1. [...] by Mark Roche on November 26, 2012 in [...]

  2. I disagree completely. To condemn any religion would not be a wrong doing. I understand respect for tradition but this kind of forced child mutilation is exactly the thing we should be condemning regardless of whether it is religious or not. Religion may have an undeservedly respected place among society but it is not free from criticism and those who wish to condemn it have just as much right to do so as those that propel it.

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