ATLANTA — Video footage has surfaced online of Muslim men in Lilburn, Georgia—along with children and teens—beating themselves bloody as part of an Islamic ritual that seeks to commemorate the death of the grandson of Mohammad.
As previously reported, last week, Muslims around the world observed the Day of Ashura, which marks the death of Husyn ibn Ali approximately 1,300 years ago. He was the son of Fatimah, Mohammad’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 seek to shed blood as a means to obtain forgiveness for sins.
Some expressed horror when photos and video surfaced last week of Muslim men slicing the forehead of their infant children with knives as part of the annual ritual. But the blood-letting practice has apparently been around for years.
“We’ve been doing this since we were kids. I started when I was three,” Mahmoud Jaber, 43, told the Associated Press in 2007. “It doesn’t hurt because the cry of pain goes away with the faith.”
Muslims in Kabul, Afghanistan and Mumbai, India were also captured on video last week as they 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 Eastern countries, where Muslims are advised to rather donate blood rather than engage in self-flagellation activities.
But while the practice is considered to be largely observed by Middle-Eastern nations, video has now surfaced of Muslims in Atlanta, Georgia also beating themselves bloody with flails, knives, and Zanzeers, which consist of five knives attached by a chain to a stick. According to reports, the event was held outside of a mosque in Lilburn, Georgia, and children were encouraged to participate.
At least two videos appear on YouTube, capturing the event as shirtless men chant Islamic sayings, slap their chests and vigorously whip their backs until they bleed. One video shows several young boys participating in the gathering, whipping their back just like their elders. Other children can be seen looking on as spectators, while the men and women that encircle those flogging themselves hold their hands to their heart. The ritual continues for at least fifteen minutes—that is, until the video clip ends.
Writer Onan Coca, who learned of the observance within America’s own borders, expressed his concern about the matter in a recent article.
“[T]his is a Department of Justice and American Civil Liberties Union sanctioned mosque,” he wrote. “The imam encouraged them to bring the whole family. The children were encouraged to participate and even handed the standard flail.”
“What about the children who are forced to view and encouraged to participate in this violence?” Coca continued. “If this were happening in the home of an Atlanta resident, the department of child services would take the child from that home as quick as they could. If a family in Atlanta were encouraging their child to beat themselves or cut themselves… the state would not allow it!”
“Yet, because Islam has strangely become some kind of protected cult in our society, we allow these children to be abused right in front of us— in view of the public and even our legal authorities,” he said. “It’s abhorrent.”