On the Day of Ashura, a small boy in the Indian state of Mumbai had a gash cut into his head as part of a Shiite Muslim ritual that commemorates the death of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson. This Muslim ritual, that involves adherents publicly whipping and cutting themselves with chains and knives, not only commemorates Hussein ibn Ali’s death but is also seen by some believers as an opportunity to wash away their own sins.
The Day of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, is declared a national holiday in most Muslim countries and some secular countries like India, where 20 to 25 percent of the Muslim population is comprised of Shiites. On this day that marks the peak of the Remembrance of Muharram, thousands of Muslims participate in hurting themselves in various ways so they can repent for all their sins.
While Sunni Muslims call this occasion the Day of Atonement, as Israelites attained freedom from the Pharoah of Egypt, Shiite Muslims believe the Day of Ashura marks a sorrowful event, as the Prophet’s grandson Hussein ibn Ali and his small group of companions were murdered at the Battle of Karbala 1,300 years ago.
Folklores suggest Hussein ibn Ali’s death was mourned immediately after the battle was over. At that point, only surviving relatives and supporters publicly mourned Ali’s death, but today, the occasion has garnered attention from a much larger population and thus, countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Lebanon, Turkey and Pakistan have had to declare it a national holiday.
While this Shiite child had his head gashed during a ritualistic procession in Mumbai, he is not the only one that has had to endure such pain. Similar self-imposed bloodbaths, preceded and succeeded by gruesome whipping and cutting, are a common sight in most Muslim countries.
Children and adults alike carry knives of various sizes as they march down the streets lamenting the death of Ali and repenting their own sins. Some individuals even choose not to inflict pain upon themselves and seek help from others, as they believe the act is least manipulated in that case.
Not all Shiite Muslims however condone such barbaric display, as they fear it adds to the negative image often associated with Islam. They discourage fellow Shiites from participating in such baseless ancient rituals of bloodletting and self-mutilation and encourage them to donate blood to healthcare establishments instead.