Monday, January 29, 2007


Shia flags and pillars erected in memory of Hussein ibn Ali

Gate commemorating Hussein in the Hazara neighborhood of Kart-e-Seh

Cars driving through Kabul were decorated in honor of Ashura. The flag on the minivan says "Ya Hussein," or "Oh! Hussein" in Arabic, and Farsi.

This gate was set up in front of a Shia mosque, being built by Iran, in Kart-e-Seh

Partially built mosque decorated for Ashura

Today is the 10th of Maharam, or Ashura (literally 10 in Arabic), a day of mourning for Shia Muslims. Shias believe that Hussein ibn Ali, the rightful successor of the prophet Mohammed (in their opinion), was martyred on this day in the 600s AC. Many Shia communities observe the day by dressing in black and retelling stories of Hussain's tragic and untimely death and how he was cheated from his rightful place as the leader of the Muslim community, or umma. Ashura is probably most famous for the images of Shia men, marching in streets beating their chests with their hands, chains and sometimes blades in mourning for Hussein.

When the Prophet Mohammed died, he did not leave a clear successor. At that time, it was common for leaders to be selected by the community - they did not inherit positions. However, some people claimed that the Prophet had in fact named Ali (Hussein's father and husband to the Prophet's wife) as his successor, while others said that the Prophet's father-in-law, Abu Bakr, was the one the Prophet intended to lead the Muslim people. In the end, Abu Bakr led both the Sunni and Shia communities. The name Shia, comes from Shia Ali, or the party of Ali (Hussein's father), and the split between Sunnis and Shias date back to this time.

Ashura tends to aggravate differences and tensions between Shia and Sunni communities. Extremist Sunnis believe celebrating Ashura is sacrilegious and have been known to attack Shias during their mourning processions. Saddam Hussein actually banned Ashura in Iraq for many years to avoid conflict.

In Afghanistan, the Hazara community is Shia, and they mourn the death of Hussein openly, despite their minority status. I live in a Hazara neighborhood, but I didn't get to see the procession because we were under 'lock down' today - just in case there was any trouble between the Sunni and Shia communities. The pictures above were taken two days before Ashura, and most of them are in my neighborhood in the south west part of the city, near the Parliament building.


Niroda said...

shame about being locked up for the day. Did they give you water and bread, hehe. I think you got the basics about ashura right, but there are more details than what you mentioned.

I'm not into differentiating between sunni/shia. The most interesting thing is though, is that it was the shia who first backed Ali , and then betrayed him. so the self beating is a form is self punishment as well as being a form of mourning.

I watched plays about the events of ashura. I liked the theatrics but only the ones on stage. I hated the fact that everyone is competing to be the most hurt or touched (understatment) in the procession. By the way, all the shia religious leaders tell the shia that spilling your own blood is harram, but does anyone listen?

:) nice blog

homeinkabul said...

Hey there, just wanted to add that my Panjsheri friends actually participated in ashura ceremonies, out of respect. which is a perfect example of respect for other's religions - i hope it comes back to afghanistan soon.

Anonymous said...

I think you should read your History. The events of Ashura was not a war between Yazeed and Hazrat Hussain. Hussain refused to give allegience to Yazid as a ruler, as he did not practice Islam. He openly drank alchol, abused women, gambled etc. There was only 72 people with Hussain at Kerbala compared to an army of upwards of 30,000 of Yazeeds army! History says, many times Prophet Mohammed (saw) said to the people that they were to follow Hazrat Ali after he passed away, but in his dying days, he was refused by certain people! to write it down. But if you read the history many times he mentions Ali, especially at the end, after the last haj. he stopped all the people at Ghadeer and then told them to follow Ali, after he said this the last Ayat was revealed. Now your religion is completed. Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, all of them one by one congradulated Ali. It was only a meeting of about 36 people who decided to put Abu Bakr as the first caliphate not all the people. I have not dispute between sunni and shia, but you should read history from both sides and take an impartial view, do not critise sunni or shia, learn to accept difference and muslims should unite!