Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Today is Ashura

This year January 7 is the day of Ashura, marked by Muslims as a whole, but for Shia Muslims it is a major religious festival which commemorates the martyrdom at Karbala of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

It falls on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims as a whole celebrate Ashura with a voluntary day of fasting which commemorates the day Noah left the Ark, and the day that Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.

For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a solemn day mourning the martyrdom of Hussein in 680 C.E. at Karbala in modern-day Iraq. It is made up of mourning rituals and passion plays re-enacting his martyrdom. Shia men and women dressed in black parade through the streets slapping their chests and chanting. Some Shia men seek to emulate the suffering of Hussein by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads until blood streams from their bodies.

Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, because it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims and instead encourage people to donate blood as an alternative.

The killing of Hussein led to the split of Islam into two main sects - Sunnis and Shias. In early Islamic history the Shia were a political faction -- the "party of Ali" -- that supported Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the fourth caliph of the Muslim community.

Ali was murdered in 661 C.E. and his chief opponent, Muawiya, became caliph. The great schism between Sunnis and Shias occurred when Imam Ali did not succeed as leader of the Islamic community at the death of the Prophet. Caliph Muawiya was later succeeded by his son Yazid, but Ali's son Hussein refused to accept his legitimacy and fighting between the two ensued. Hussein and his followers were massacred in battle near Karbala in 680 C.E. Both Ali's and Hussein's deaths gave rise to the Shia cult of martyrdom, their sense of betrayal and struggle against injustice, oppression and tyranny.

Today, the Shias make up about 15% of the total worldwide Muslim population. In Afghanistan, they make up about 25% of the population with the vast majority of those being Hazara.

When the Taliban were in power, the Shia were not allowed to openly commemorate Ashura. This week Kabul, Sunni mullahs and political leaders joined with Shia in prayer, fasting and alms for the poor to commemorate Ashura. Today is an official holiday, so stores are closed and Afghans are not working. This open tolerance for religious difference is the more traditional Afghan attitude toward religion. The intolerant version of Islam that the Taliban introduced was alien to traditional Afghan culture and custom.

Winter wonderland.
Unless you don't have enough warm clothes,
or firewood, or shelter, or food.
Winter is a bad time for many Afghans.

Baby it's cold outside!

The next three pictures show how individuals with vehicles let you know they are Shia.

And then there are the larger preparations.

One of the 13 members of Parliament killed in the suicide bombing
on 7 November 2007 in Baghlan province was Shia.
He's a new Shia hero/martyr, so they will have a ceremony at the gravesite.

You find these set up all over town.
They were offereing hot drinks and sweets in tent in the foreground.

This in a predominantly Tajik neighborhood.
Most Tajiks are Sunni.

The Hazara go all out!
All along this road special stands are offering hot drinks and sweets.

Cut off at the donkey crossing!
Attempting to get the water back up the hill,
these boys got cut off by the heavy traffic.
Note the smile.
Afghans seem to find a smile even when things aren't quite working out.

Speaking of smiles and alms at Ashura, pop on over here and help our blogging buddy Travis Erwin. His house burned to the ground on
4 January. What a crappy New Year. Help make it a better one!

Let's use the power of the blogoshpere to generate something more than hot air!


Barbara Martin said...

JL, thanks for posting about Ashura and it's background. Its interesting to note that Christians, Moslems and Jews are all connected through Abraham. We should be able to all get along with each other.

Vodka Mom said...

That was incredible.

I love that you are informing us and giving us a tour at the same time. Please, be safe.........


Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC POST!!! As always. And I like the way you take pictures. Very informative, and "real".

HoodChick said...

I love your photos, they are so real and some so sad. Intolerant people suck.

Sheila said...

Beautiful images and words. Thank you. Be safe.

Travis Erwin said...

I wanted to stop by and say thanks for all you have done to help me and my family this past week. Your support along with others has made this tough week easier to bear. Stay safe over there and know that you're kindness is greatly appreciated.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear J.L. Krueger,

Interesting posting on Ashura.

I, with Junosmom, am keeping a mirror MTM site to hand back to Travis when all is better and he wants them back. I want to keep it alive and well for Travis.

If you are going to post an MTM, let me know by dropping a line on the most recent MTM so I can add you to the mirror and keep it going for Travis.


Sunny said...

We celebrate the birth of jesus here at this time. i just love all different ways of interpreting the old book.

Ello said...

You know I've been told about the split by others but your explanation was the clearest. But perhaps because it was always by impassioned Muslims who made it far too difficult to understand the differences that are so clear to them. I understood it had to do with the rightful heir and murder - but the why escaped me. NOw I understand. how fascinating!

And as always I love the pictures! Especially the donkey one!

The Muse said...

Very interesting information J.L. It seems the day must have been full of chaos as you have not posted since. I've been out of the loop myself and I'm trying to catch up.

Watching the news there is so much going on. I hope Ashura came off without a hitch. I can't imagine slashing my forehead for any reason or cause...I guess I lack the cultural understanding--actually understanding of much more than that. Thanks to you I'm gaining a little of that knowledge.

Take care of yourself and be safe.

Vodka Mom said...

Just checking on you!!!

The Muse said...

J.L., I hope everything is okay with you. I can't help but notice you have not posted or responded to your comments per your usual format.

I checked your other blog and noticed it hasn't been updated recently either.

I'm sure you're just extremely busy. I can't really say much about updates because I've gotten lax myself.

Do give us a note so we know all is well.

Take care.

J. L. Krueger said...

As I pointed out on my other blog, the differences that divide us are no larger than a line in the sand.

Vodka Mom,
I just want folks to see that these people aren't all the crazies the media makes them to be.

Thanks, I try to keep the shots candid.

It only takes a few intolerant people to make a mess of things.


It was my pleasure to lend a hand.

Sepiru Chris,
Thanks for the heads up and for stopping by.

Obviously you are back from you vacation!

Of course you should hear the story from the Sunni perspective and the Shiite perspective. Totally different views. I tried to "neutralize" the story.

Ashura was peaceful and calm in the city. A bit of a surprise since the bad guys like to hit during such times.

I'm fine! I'm in Scotland on R&R and have been on the go quite a bit. I'll put up a wee post later today...I hope!

The Muse said...

I'm glad you got some R&R!


alex keto said...

Sadly, most of my knowledge of Afghanistan comes from reading Kipling and watching old movies. But my understanding is that Afghanistan was very tolerant under its former king who go kicked out by the Russians.Interesting post.

J. L. Krueger said...

Actually, the king was deposed by his cousin, who was in turn murdered by another rival and replaced by the Communists. The Soviets came in using the pretext of a Treaty of Friendship dating to 1922 in order to support that tottering regime.

And the rest is history.