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Muharram in Pakistan: Daring to observe Ashura

Muslims attend a ceremony during the ashura mourning period in Faisalabad city on September 9, 2019. Photo by author. Used with permission.

The first day of Muharram, a sacred month for all Muslims, marks the beginning of Islamic New year. Ashura, or the tenth day of Muharram, is a period of mourning when the Shia Muslim community commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the son of Hazrat Ali and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

Shia Muslims make up 15-20% of Pakistan's population; the rest of the population is Sunni. Sectarian violence against Shias and Shia Hazara communities are common. Despite this, each year people come out in their numbers to observe Muharram, amidst tight security.

This year, over 70,000 police officers were deployed in various parts of Pakistan, and mobile phone services were partially blocked.

Policemen stand guard at a roadblock during ashura mourning period in Faisalabad, Pakistan on September 9, 2019. Photo by author. Used with permission.

The history of Muharram

Ashura marks the day 14 centuries ago when the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussain, and his young son were killed by the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I in the Battle of Karbala. The Mourning of Muharram is a set of rites observed mainly by Shia Muslims, and Ashura is a major holiday in several countries in the Muslim world.

The month of Muharram is extremely holy for all Muslims, and particularly mournful one for Shia Muslims, who, in commemorating the death of Imam Hussein and his family, refrain from partcipating in joyous events. Rituals include the wearing of black clothing, observing abstinence, fasting, public self-flagellation with chains, cutting the skin with knives and sharp objects, and holding mournful public processions.

The photos in this post showcase the people, places and rituals of Muharram as captured by the author in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

A man lighting oil lamps during the ashura mourning period in Faisalabad city on September 9, 2019. Photo by author. Used with permission.

Ali Hassan (L) and his friends pose for a photograph on 9th of Muharram in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Photo by author. Used with permission.

A vendor sells ritual objects on 9th of Muharram in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Photo by author. Used with permission.

A roadside vendor awaits for customers during the ashura morning period in Faisalabad on September 9, 2019. Photo by author. Used with permission.

Lighting oil lamps on 9th of Muharram in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Photo by author. Used with permission.

A woman devotee praying. Photo by Anas Saleem. Used with permission.

People shopping for ashura ceremony from a roadside stall in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Photo by author. Used with permission.

A boy selects a ring from a roadside stall on 9th of Muharram in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Photo by author. Used with permission.

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