Religion gone bad: Shia Muslims engage in gory mourning rituals such as self-flagellation and self-mutilation in celebration of Ashura, one of the holiest days in Shia Islam.
For Shias, Ashura commemorates the killing of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in 680 CE.
Shias constitute Islam’s second-largest denomination (about 10-15 percent of the world Muslim population), and consider Hussein to be the one true heir of Muhammad’s legacy.
A minority of Shias mark the holiday with bloody self-flagellation rituals. One such ritual is called “tatbeer,” participants cut their heads with swords and spears in mourning for the fallen Imam Hussein.
Another Shia self-flagellation ritual involves the use of a zanjeer (a chain with blades). Participants wear black and march through the streets chanting and hitting themselves in the chest with whips and chains to ritually punish their bodies.
Particularly disturbing is the participation of minors in the Ashura rituals of self-mutilation.
Day of Ashura observances are carried out in countries with large Shia populations, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, India, and Bahrain.
Through the bloody rituals, Shia Muslims mourn Hussein’s death and express regret for the fact that they were not present at the battle to fight and save Hussein and his family
Not all Shias condone the bloodletting ritual, and the practice has been condemned by some Shia leaders. Ashura blood drives are often organized as a substitute for the bloody and self-destructive spectacle.
The Day of Ashura is on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Remembrance of Muharram.
Ashura is commemorated by Sunni Muslims (who refer to it as The Day of Atonement) as the day on which the Israelites were supposedly freed from the Pharaoh.
(Warning: Images may be NSFL – Not Safe For Life)