A number of Muslims in Afghanistan are commemorating the holy period of Ashoura by bloodying themselves with knives and whips.
Though few have written actual articles on the topic, the Associated Press has gruesome photos, and both Reuters and Russia Today have video.
Russia Today summarizes with its clip:
Shiite Muslims gathered in the Afghan capital Kabul to mark the holy day of Ashoura. Crowds of men whipped their backs to commemorate the 7th century death of Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. “He (Imam Hussein) sacrificed his life for all Muslims, not only for Shiites, it was for all Muslims, and today we honour the sacrifices that our beloved prophet’s family made for us and we mourn this day,” said Ghulam Sakhi, one of the Ashoura mourners.
The Shiite mourners congregated in front of the Abul Fazl shrine, where last year an attacker detonated a suicide vest among the crowd of mourners, killing at least 80 people. It was the country’s first major sectarian attack since the fall of the Taliban regime. Saturday’s commemoration events were held amid tight security, with thousands of Afghan security forces lining the streets.
Imam Hussein was said to have been brutally tortured before being killed, and according to the Telegraph, some express remorse for not saving him by inflicting a similar punishment on themselves.
“On this day Imam Hussian was martyred. So we beat ourselves with chains only because of the love we have for him and to mourn his martyrdom. We don’t feel any pain in our bodies,” Murtaza Najafi, an Afghan Shi’ite mourner who beat himself, reportedly explained.
Ashoura (also spelled “Ashura”) is observed by Shiites throughout the world, though not always in such a bloody way. There is typically a large gathering in the United Kingdom, and communities in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria hold ceremonies as well.
Here is Russia Today’s extremely graphic video from Afghanistan (content warning):
The stories of Ashoura are deeply engrained in Shiites’ consciousness, according to the Associated Press. The agonizing thirst of Hussein’s wife and children in the desert after the besieging enemy stopped their water supply. The heroic, doomed attempt to bring them water by Hussein’s half-brother al-Abbas, who – even after the enemy cut off his arms – rode gripping the water-skin in his teeth until he died in a hail of arrows. The killing of Hussein’s loyalists one by one until Hussein was alone, wounded and finally beheaded.
So strong are the passions that onlookers sometimes accidentally stone the actor playing Hussein’s killer, Shimr. At a Baghdad shrine on Saturday, the play’s “Shimr” broke character to weepingly ask the audience’s forgiveness, pleading that someone had to take the role.
And here are a few frightening photos of the commemorations around the world:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.