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!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Not Quite as Rude Today

I roll over and look at the clock. It’s 03:42. I need to make that first morning trip and I’m close to my normal wake-up anyway, but I really don't want to get up. What to do?

Then a voice asks, “Are you awake now?”

“Hmm, I suppose so, but I was thinking about lying here just a little longer.”

“But you are awake, right?”

“Yes, I’m awake. Why?”

“Because I wouldn’t want you telling the world that I’m being rude again!”

It’s 03:43. The jolt - sharper than yesterday - my furniture creaks this time and the house makes a few extra noises. This time the duration was a bit shorter and it tapered off quickly as the seconds passed.

Ok, so now that I’m really awake I won’t stay in bed any longer. No snow today, but it’s a brisk -9°C outside.

This one was 5.8 within about 10 miles of yesterday’s earthshake and about 40km shallower.

Prayers for blogging buddy Travis Erwin whose family lost their home in a fire yesterday. Happily the family is safe.

Sometimes Mother Nature's Rude!

Sometimes Mother Nature can be so rude. You know, like when she decides to "shake things up a bit" in the middle of the night. There I was, sound asleep and having a really nice dream. Then this voice says, “Will you quit shaking me?”

Um…well…it was my voice. My head bounced against the wall as I opened my eyes to my bed shaking. I lay there in the shaking house thinking how I really didn’t want to go out into the snow at 00:53 in the morning. Well, maybe it will stop soon. About a minute later with a final shudder, the quake was over. Ok, now that I’m up I’ll go outside into the snow to go to the “necessary.” Yes, to get to mine I have to go outside and down the walkway in the courtyard about 25 feet.

It was still snowing, but since the ground temperature has been so warm, it was a very wet snow on the ground and the snow wasn’t sticking to the walkway. Once back in bed I wondered about where the epicenter had been. I already had the feeling that it was a deep quake, they are most common around here and not really that bad…as long as you aren’t at the epicenter…as long as you aren’t in the mountains where avalanches are a real possibility...as long as you don't live in mud-brick house clinging to the side of a mountain.

We probably won’t know about casualties for some time since the epicenter was in a very remote part of Badakhshan province in the northeastern part of the country. The region has almost no roads and the mountains are high and rugged (to put it mildly). On the plus side, it is also very sparsely populated.

According to the USGS, the quake was 5.9 and 220.8 km deep. It was felt in all three capitols shown on the map below.

Several of the Afghans I work with live in the "cliff houses" I've shown here from time to time. For them the event was a tad more exciting than for those of us on the valley floor.