Ashura in Baku
Today, the Shi’a Muslims of Baku mark Ashura, the day of mourning for Imam Husayn. In earlier years, on the night of Ashura, the religious youth used to organize noisy marches from the surrounding villages to the major sanctuary- a tomb of the sister of the 8th Imam of Shi’a, in Nardaran village. However, after the developments in December last year (the Nardaran riot and its suppression), this time the faithful have been banned from making noise, a microphone in the mosque has been set to minimal volume. Everything has passed under the strict police control, in general.
The mourning ceremonies were also organized in the rest of the mosques throughout the city. Everyone, who wished, was treated with a cup of tea and snacks right in the street.
As for Ashura background, it all happened in 680 AD, amidst a struggle for power between the Hashemites and Umayyads in the Arab caliphate. Before that, a nominal Caliph was Ali ibn Abu Talib, the cousin and the son-in-law of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. However, after assassination of his forerunner, Caliph Uthman, the Head of the Ummayad House, Muawiyah, refused to recognize Ali’s authority. Soon Ali was killed. His son, Husayn ibn Ali, the Prophet’s grandson, laid claims to power. However, Muawiyah’s son, Yazid, took over the throne. Husayn built a group of 72 of his faithful supporters and set out against Yazid. They were encircled by the enemy in the place of Karbala (the present-day Iraq). For 10 days they suffered from thirst, but they didn’t surrender.
On the 10th day of Muharram their detachment was killed off. Husayn and his minor child, Ali al-Asghar, were martyred. Since that time, the Muslims have been split into two camps: the Shi’a and the Sunni. Shi’a Muslims annually commemorate that bloody event. Until now, many countries still practice the ‘Shahsey-Vahsey’ ceremony (Shah Husayn, Vah Husayn). The fanatics there self-flagellate with chains and blades until they bleed out. In Azerbaijan, as a rule, the clergy calls on the people ahead of Ashura to donate blood to hospitals rather than to engage in self-flagellation.
Officially, Ashura is a working and school day in Azerbaijan. But due to the Muslims’ night march to the mosques, the city infrastructure is always ‘tensed’ on that day. The majority of shops in the city center were operating in the ordinary mode, whereas in Baku outskirts all stores were closed until 2p.m. Only Valeh from New Surahanov didn’t follow the overall trend and managed to raise his monthly proceeds until 2 p.m..