How a Shia Ritual Ended in Court

August 27, 2008

Author: Caroline Cheetham

Source: BBC News

A Muslim has been found guilty of child cruelty after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony. The practice has caused controversy in Britain, but this is the first case of its kind to be brought before a UK court.

Husayn - the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad - and members of his family were slaughtered during the battle of Karbala in Iraq 1,400 years ago.

Ever since that day devout Shia Muslims have commemorated the tragedy with a month-long period of mourning called Muharram.

On the 10th day of Muharram, believers relive the tragedy through the Ashura ceremony.

Millions take part in prayers and processions, and some participate in a traditional flagellation ceremony called "zanjeer zani".

Using a long-bladed whip called a zanjeer, men beat themselves on the back until they bleed.

The ritual is not obligatory, but many believe it expresses their grief and helps them to re-enact the pain suffered by Husayn and his relatives.

Like many devout Shia Muslims brought up in Pakistan, Syed Zaidi has self-flagellated during Ashura since he was a young boy.

He told Manchester Crown Court that children as young as seven flogged themselves with the zanjeer during the ceremony in his homeland.

Children 'protected'

In January this year Zaidi took part in "zanjeer zani" at a centre in Levenshulme, but he then allowed two brothers aged 13 and 15 to do the same.

In the UK the law states that children under the age of 16 should be protected from harm by adults.