Blood flows in Kabul as Afghan Shiites observe Ashoura
October 24, 2015
KABUL, Afghanistan — With a flurry of blades and chains and a shower of blood, some devout Shiite Muslims turned to self-flagellation as they observed the holy day of Ashoura on Saturday.
For Shiites, Ashoura is one of the holiest days of the year. It commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, and a key figure in the ancient dispute between Shiites and Sunnis over who should have succeeded Muhammad. This is the main divide between the sects.
Shiite residents of Kabul put up black, green and red banners around the city, while booths provided free drinks and candy as a symbol of helping those in need.
The most striking event of the day involves flagellation, during which men whip their bare backs with chains and blades to draw blood. Others used long knives to cut their scalps.
Worshippers alternated between frenzied flagellation and occasional bouts of sobbing.
The practice has become increasingly controversial, with some leaders in Afghanistan urging believers to donate blood instead.
Despite increased fears of sectarian violence, partly fueled by the rise of Sunni-dominated Islamic State factions, this year’s Ashoura observances in Kabul were largely peaceful.
Past days of Ashoura in Kabul have been marked by violence, notably in 2011, when an explosion killed 63 people at a shrine.