Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Seeing Red

I’m trying to understand the significance of Ashura, but I can’t see past the blood. Why the self-flagellation? Why the bloody backs? How does this commemorate the death of the Prophet’s beloved grandson, Hussein? And is it common for Shi’a Muslims to hurt themselves while in mourning, or is this a minority practice?

I am rather embarrassed to admit that I do not know any Shi’a Muslims personally. I would like to understand, however, and I hope to encounter someone who can provide answers and engage in sincere discussion with me about the real meaning and historical significance of Ashura and other rituals that Shi’a Muslims partake in.


  • At 2/24/2005 08:26:00 p.m., Anonymous ck said…

    OK. This is strange. You're getting this info from a Jew...

    Ashura is meant to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain ibn Ali, Mohamed's Grandson, at Kerbala.

    Refusing to pledge allegiance to the Ummayad Caliph Yazid, he and his men were killed and he was beheaded, his head placed on a spike and paraded through towns and villages until it was placed at the feet of Yazid. This happenned around 680 CE.

    By all accounts Hussain ibn Ali's death and beheading were cruel and bloody. Some (not all) Shiite men, in an attempt to emulate Hussain ibn Ali's suffering, flagellate themselves with chains or cut their foreheads until bloody. Other Shiite leaders and groups instead urge their followers to donate blood.

    Husain's death also marked a split in Islam between the Shiites and the Sunnis. The Sunnis dispute the above account.

    Ashurah is marked by most Muslims as a vluntary fast day commemorating the day Noah left the Ark, and the day that Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.

    Shiites only represent %15 of the Muslim population, yet even I know a few Shiites! We've designed and host sites for a number of both Shiite and Sunni Mosques and educational organizations so I've had my fair share of exposure to the history and culture. I just hope my answer is accurate and doesn't like... offend anyone!

  • At 2/24/2005 11:09:00 p.m., Blogger Salacious Samosa said…

    Now you know one and we are not 'hurting ourselves' nor are we 'beating ourselves up', as my dear friend had once asked me. We are emulating a physical act that was undertaken by the womenfolk of the Prophet's faily in grief over the calamity that had descended upon them during the 10 days of muharram and the battle of kerbala.

    Although i am sure you won't find my website very itneresting, since it's not religiously inclined. I can answer any questions you have. I'm currently planning my Master's thesis on Shai Narratives.

    Good job CK! Although he is looking at Mataam-Chest beating and Zanjeer Ka Maatam-Chest beating with chains from an alternative perpective...there are many different takes on Maatam, but it is universally understood that Mataam is a physical act of emulation to honour the suffering of Imam Hussein, his family and his followers .

    All the best,

  • At 2/24/2005 11:17:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Getting this from a Jew...that is just plain weird. Nah...doesn't offend me. But then I'm hard to offend;)

    Maybe I should clarify though. Most of my friends are Sunni Muslims. I have a few Shi'a Muslim acquaintances, but I've never really spoken to them about these issues. Unfortunately, there's not enough dialogue happening between Sunnis and Shiites.

    I have learned some things about Shi'a Muslims - and I do know the history of the split - but I'm curious to hear from Shi'a Muslims themselves to get the inside scoop, so to speak. I want to know their perspective. And in particular, I want to know about the self-flagellation and the blood and gore. How do Shi'a Muslims feel about this? I'd like to discuss these issues with a Shi'a Muslim, so if anyone knows of a person who's open and willing to deal with my questions, do send them my way!

    Thanks for dropping by, ck. Feel free to comment on anything.

  • At 2/24/2005 11:33:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Salaam Sahar,

    Wow, that's amazing! Just as I asked. I didn't notice your post earlier, but perhaps you might be able to respond to the questions I asked in my last comment?

    I actually found your blog (esp the pics) very interesting. I enjoy reading stuff that's very different from my own.

    I notice you're at UofT too. More opportunities to talk!

  • At 2/28/2005 09:19:00 p.m., Blogger Salacious Samosa said…

    Hey and Salam,
    This might help you (paste it into your browser)

    All the best,

  • At 3/05/2005 11:13:00 p.m., Anonymous ck said…

    Phew. I'm just glad I didn't offend anyone. My knowledge of Islam is definitely from an outsider's perspective. Not being a Muslim, I obviously do not have the nuanced knowledge that a believer would have. That's why I approached my answer with trepidation. I'm glad I didn't make a total idiot of myself or piss anyone off.


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