Islamic mourning in Azerbaijan: blood donations replace self-flagellation
Ashura is the day when Shiite Muslims mourn the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers who were martyred in the 7th century. Ceremonies took place in most mosques throughout Azerbaijan today.
Until recently, many followers would perform acts of self-flagellation on this day, lashing themselves with chains as a sign of grief. In recent years, officials and religious leaders have called on the people to limit their fervour and not injure themselves. Instead, the believers are encouraged to donate blood. Blood donation centres are open in several hospitals and clinics, as well as in mosques around the country.
The battle was fought in 680 near Kerbala, a holy city for Muslims located in modern Iraq. There was a split into two branches in the Muslim world following Hussein’s ibn Ali’s death: Shiites – supporters of Hussein, and Sunnis – adherents of Yazid. The schism continues to this day, resulting in a multitude of wars and conflicts. Only Shiites consider Ashura a day of mourning.
Sunnis celebrate another occasion on this day. This day marks the creation of heaven, earth, angels and the first man according to the Qur’an. The apocalypse is also destined to happen on this day, according to the scripture.
Ashura affects the non-religious population of Azerbaijan as well, with many shops staying closed until noon. It is believed that you cannot dye your hair, get a manicure, or perform any other sort of beauty procedure on this day. Loud music or any other celebration is frowned upon even more. No weddings are scheduled for the entire month of Muharram in Azerbaijan.
Tea is offered free of charge in the streets on this day, adding to the spirit of a ‘wake’ for Hussein and his followers.