In Pakistan, self-flagellation is typically an essential part of Ashura mourning. But in neighboring Iran, where Shia is the official religion, the government forbade blood to be shed during the festival, and suggested the devotees to replace self-flagellation with blood donation.
Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan 21 March 2006 (Chehlum)
Ashura, literally the “tenth”, refers to the 10th date of the Islamic month of Muharram, is the holiest days in Shia Islam. In this occasion, the Shiites all over the world remember the martyrdom of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The martyrdom took place in the 10 Muharram 61 Hijri calendar (680 CE), when Imam Hussain with only 72 men faced 4000 soldiers of Ummayyad army led by Yazid. Hussein, his family, and all of his soldiers were massacred in the battle of Karbala (in present-day Iraq).
Pakistan has about 20 percent of Shia population, but the day of Ashura and Chehlum (40th day after the Ashura as the end of the mourning period) are observed as national holidays. Both of the remembrance festivals are not exclusively for Shiites, as Pakistani Sunnis also flock to the mosques to listen to majlis (sermons), in which the tragedy and the spirit of Hussain is being recounted to the mass. The honesty of Ali and the martyrdom of Hussain to fight against injustice are the main spirit of the Ashura. The commemoration of Ashura and Chehlum in Pakistan typically includes self-beating and self-flagellation ritual.
Related blog posts:
Lahore – Ya Hussain
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