Muslims have been slashing the foreheads of infants and children this week as part of an annual Islamic ritual that seeks to commemorate the death of the grandson of Mohammed.
Online photos that capture images of terrified children and babies provide a glimpse into Muslim traditions surrounding the Day of Ashura, which marks the death of Husyn ibn Ali approximately 1,300 years ago. He was the son of Fatimah, Mohammed’s daughter, and was beheaded during the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D.
To remember his death, many Shi’a Muslims observe the Day of Ashura each year, generally in October or November. In countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan, the observance is considered a national holiday, which to some also is a time when Muslims seeks to shed blood as a means to obtain forgiveness for sins.
In addition to cutting a gash in the forehead of children and babies, some children and adults voluntarily slash their bodies with knives or flagellate themselves with whips in order to reinact the death of Ali. One saying claims, “A single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins.” Participants are seen in some cities walking the streets with blood staining their clothing and dripping from their head, chest and back.
On Monday, Muslims in Kabul, Afghanistan gathered for a public Muharram ceremony, during which scores of observers whipped their backs with chains until they bled. The controversial practice has been discouraged in some countries, where Muslims are advised to rather donate blood rather than engage in self-flagellation activities.
The Associated Press reports that some fathers take a razor blade to their son’s forehead as a part of the Day of Ashura, despite their objections and screams.
“We’ve been doing this since we were kids. I started when I was three,” Mahmoud Jaber, 43, who brought his seven children for the observance, told the outlet. “It doesn’t hurt because the cry of pain goes away with the faith.”
Hajj Khodor said that he has cut children as young as one year old for the ritual, and has slashed the heads of those as old as 100.
“The child doesn’t understand what’s going on,” he stated. “The parents are faithful and believe by doing this, their children will be protected and will enjoy a long life.”
The site Alwababa also provides photographic images of the various ways that Muslims observe the Day of Ashura around the world, including walking on hot coals, covering their bodies in mud or dressing their infants to look like the slain Ali. Some women additionally participate in a march of mourning, chaining their wrists together like a prisoner.
The Day of Ashura began on Tuesday of this week, and although the blood-letting rituals were not a part of American observances this year, mosques are commemorating the holiday with special meals or public processions. Some consider the day to also mark when the Jews were freed from their slavery in Egypt.
Those opposed to the baby-slashing rituals of the Muslim holiday view it as child abuse.