Stop bloody Ashura rituals: Lebanon Shiite leader

Says flaying and cutting are a disgrace to Islam


The leading Lebanese Shiite cleric and spiritual leader of Hezbollah, Ayatollah Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, has called on his followers and fellow clerics to refrain from traditional Ashura rituals that cause pain or injury to themselves.

According to Shiite tradition, the annual Ashura ceremony commemorates the killing in Karbala of the revered Imam Hussein -- a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed -- by armies of the Sunni caliph Yazid in 680.

To express remorse and guilt for not saving Hussein, Shiite volunteers wear a white burial shroud, then flay themselves with chains or slice their scalps during processions to the Karbala shrines– a practice called tatbir.

Fadlallah issued a fatwa several years ago ruling that self-injury is prohibited for two reasons -- first, it inflicts pain and damage on body and soul; and second, it tarnishes the image of Muslims, particularly Shiites.

And now, he is calling on Shiite clerics to stop the violent rituals, instead of encouraging them by inciting strong emotions that lead some to harm themselves in the name of Islam, the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan reported on Friday.

"It's a shame to be engaged in un-Islamic practices under the name of Al-Hussein. It's the preachers' responsibility because people listen to them," he said.

Fadlallah earlier called for Ashura to be an occasion commemorated by all Muslims, which would serve to enhance the unity of Muslims, instead of convey a violent image of Islam.

Fadlallah also said he is against lamenting events from the past or lingering on historical glories, while ignoring the present reality. He criticized the way Muslims occupy themselves with marginal issues and overlook their main responsibilities.

Fadlallah praised the efforts of early Muslims who suffered to uphold their religion and bequeath it to the coming generations: "I hope Muslims now can make the Prophet and his apostles their role model and will, accordingly, strive to unite under the banner of Islam."

"The image of Islam is entrusted to us, and we have to be up to this huge responsibility, and to work on protecting our religion and making disagreements a means of reformation, not disintegration. That is what will bring back to Islam its past strength," Fadlallah said.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and police have been deployed in the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf for the 10-day Ashura ceremony.

Up to a million pilgrims are expected to descend on Karbala in time for the climax of the annual rituals on January 20, many travelling on foot and exposed to attack by Sunni insurgents, who prey annually on the popular event.

Najaf, site of the shrine of Imam Ali and headquarters of revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is one of the main stopping points on the way.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).