Ashura around the world

The ‘tenth day', or Ashura, is an important event in the Muslim calendar, commemorating the death of Imam Hussein and celebrated all over the world by followers of Islam. Some of the festival-goers slash their backs and chests with knives and whips to show that they share the pain of their martyr. Here are some videos of ceremonies all over the world, from Bangladesh to Washington, with comments and photos from our Observer Nasim in Afghanistan, who attends the event in Kabul each year.


Throughout the Middle East last week, Shia Muslims were dancing in the streets chanting ‘ô Hussein' in commemoration of the martyr Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who died in 680 AD. During the ceremony, many participants had blood seeping from their backs and chests as they cut themselves with knives, whips and chains in order to share the pain of their martyr, killed in the battle of Karbala together with 72 of his family members. During the battle, said to be one of the most important in Muslim history, Hussein was defeated by the military force of Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph.

A predominantly Shia event, but also celebrated by Sunni Muslims, the festival aggravated tensions between the two sides and caused violent outbreaks in Iraq. However, the celebration of mourning went ahead as usual elsewhere- even in Washington and London- although not with quite the same flamboyance as in Middle Eastern countries. See the videos and commentary below.

Videos of ceremonies in Pakistan and Bangladesh

Kharadar, Pakistan

Video posted on YouTube by ‘mfk840', 20 January 2008

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Video posted on YouTube by ‘banglamotor', 20 January 2008


Washington, United States

Video posted on YouTube by ‘watah06', 20 January 2008


Tooting, London, United Kingdom

Video posted on YouTube by ‘lehalvi’, 20 January 2008


Kabul, Afghanistan

Commentary and photos from our Observer in Kabul, Nasim, who attends the event in Kabul each year without participating.


A woman taking her children to the ceremony.


A man celebrating Ashura beats himself with chains that have sharp knives attached to them.


School boys also participate in the ceremony.

The people make themselves bleed to show their feelings for Hussein's martyrdom. Although self-harm is banned by Shia Muslim leaders, it still goes on in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Palestinian territories and Iran.

Last year I had the opportunity to ask people a few questions. Why they were beating and injuring themselves? One young man said: "I have wishes to fulfil." When I asked him what these wishes were, he said to me, "I want to get married, I don't have any money." Some people believe the use of chains with sharp knives during the ceremony is more about being naked and showing off your body than mourning Hussein.

See Nasim's blog.


Ashura doesn't have to be only about sacrifice. Here in Tehran, participants have adopted a slightly more 'cool' attitude towards the affair.

Photos posted 19 January 2008