Festivals of Penance: Ashura in Gilgit

Festivals of Penance: Ashura in Gilgit

Festival Essentials

Where: Gilgit, Northern Pakistan
Depending on Islamic calendar, currently falling around March
What Happens: 
Shias flagellate themselves using knives

In the mountain town of Gilgit in northern Pakistan, the minority Muslim Shia sect celebrates Ashura each year to commemorate the death of Hussain, the last descendant of Mohammed. Hussein’s tragic death marked the end of the divine blood line, and the festival begins 40 days of mourning.

The Shias gather in the town centre, chanting passionately and beating their chests. The climactic ritual is for the men to flagellate themselves with sharpened blades, slashing themselves repeatedly as the blood pours down their back and only stopping when they are completely exhausted.

What’s the History?

Ashura remembers the events in Islamic History of 680AD when a great battle took place in Kerbala on the banks of the river Euphrates (what is now modern day Iraq). The Umayyad army conquered a small army of followers of the prophet Muhammad, led by his grandson, Imam Husain, who were all brutally slaughtered. The prophet Hussain is regarded as the “leader of the martyrs” for standing up to the oppressive regime in his time, and the actions of his followers reflecting the oppression and courage of the whole Islamic nation. Ashura remembers the sacrifice and suffering of Abi Talib’s army and the many who came after him.

The festival of Ashura is an important time in the Islamic calendar. By praying to Allah and showing generosity to other men less wealthy, God will be plentiful to you for the rest of the year. By making a personal sacrifice and going without luxuries you will be rewarded with being richly fed in a spiritual paradise.

The core purpose of the commemoration for muslims is to remember and recognize that as the descendants of the prophet and leader of Islam, Imam Husain showed the world that Islam does not accept injustice, oppression, and other immoral behaviour which was practiced by regime that brutally killed him.

More Information

Article on the history of Ashura and Hussain.

By Susi O’Neill


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