- Shiite Muslims took part in a self-flagellation ritual during Ashura
Saturday marks the Islamic holy day of Ashura, when Shiite Muslims mourn the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson at the hands of Umayyad troops in 680AD.
Hussein ibn Ali is regarded as a martyr by Shiites. Devotees weep and beat their chests during processions through the streets on the anniversary of his death, the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram.
This year Ashura falls on Saturday, Nov. 24. Shiite Muslims in India and elsewhere commemorate the day with fasting and self-flagellation. Some use chains and swords to self-inflict wounds in an expression of grief and a representation of the martyrdom of Hussein, who died holding his infant son.
The killing of Hussein in Karbala, which is in modern day Iraq, was part of an ongoing struggle between the two main Muslim sects — Sunni and Shiite — over the leadership of the ummah or Islamic community after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
Shiites believe the descendants of Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib are the rightful leaders of the ummah.
Sunnis say the leadership should be a political appointment and that it was right that Abu Bakr, a close companion of Prophet Muhammad, became the first caliph of the Islamic community.
Hussein ibn Ali was Ali ibn Abi Talib’s second son. He was killed when he tried to cease power from Yasid I, the second Umayyad caliph.
Outside Iran the largest populations of Shiites live in Pakistan, Iraq and India.
Around one in 10 of India’s 161 million Muslims are Shiites, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
In Delhi, Shiite Muslims proceed from Kashmere Gate to Karbala, the Shia burial ground near Jor Bagh, chanting “Ya Hussein,” this account of last year’s gathering states.
Ashura is also the day on which all Muslims, both Sunni and Shiite, commemorate Nur (Noah) leaving the ark after the flood and the parting of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.