Some Shiites Shed Blood to Mark Ashura While Others Opt to Donate It for Gaza

January 9, 2009

Author: Andrew Wander

Source: The Daily Star

Thousands of Shiite Muslims gathered in central Nabatieh on Wednesday to take part in a centuries-old blood-letting ritual to mark the climax of Ashura. The ceremony commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and one of Shiite Islam's most revered figures. Every year, devotees cut themselves on the head in a symbolic gesture of sorrow at Hussein's death.

The event is held on the 10th day of a period of mourning for Hussein, at the beginning of the Islamic year. The bloodshed is a symbolic sacrifice aimed at acknowledging Hussein's suffering before he was killed.

But the practice has been frowned upon by some Shiite religious authorities, who say it portrays followers in a bad light and that they should instead donate blood for medical use.

Both Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah and Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah have urged their followers not to take part in the bloodletting, and as the streets of the town filled with black-clad devotees Wednesday, health workers manned mobile donation stations on the route of the march. "We are hoping to collect maybe 100 units of blood today," said Shamoun Assaf from the Red Cross.

But many chose to shed their blood in the traditional way, by nicking their head with a razor and beating it with an open hand as they marched on a predetermined route around the town.

"We're representing our love for Imam Hussein. We want to show the world that Hussein has not died," said 18-year-old Mohammad Sleiman, a student who had travelled from Dahiyeh in Beirut to take part in the event.

Many who took part said they were thinking of people trapped in Gaza, where an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants has left over 600 people dead. Officials said some of the blood donated may be sent to Gaza to help alleviate hospitals there that have completely run out of many basic requirements.