The day of Ashura is for Shia Muslims a major religious commemoration and a solemn day of mourning the martyrdom of Hussein (grandson of the Prophet Muhammad) who was killed by the forces of the first Umayyad Caliph, Yazid near Karbala in modern-day Iraq in 680 AD. Worldwide, Shia Muslims commemorate the sacred day respectively on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The killing of Hussein was an event that led to the schism/split in Islam into two main sects – Sunnis and Shias. Today, Shias comprise about 15% of the total worldwide Muslim population. Ashura is at its core a day of mourning against injustice, giving raise to the sense of betrayal and struggle against oppression and tyranny.
In Piraeus port near Athens in Greece, Ashura festival for commemoration of Shiites’ spiritual leader Imam Hussein is in full flow every year since 1978. Shia men dressed in black pray, slap their chests, chant and roam, while during the holy day of Ashura they seek to emulate the suffering of Hussein by flagellating themselves with chains, huge knives and over-sized razorblades until blood streams from their bodies. In the atmosphere you can smell hot and fresh blood, as a man sprays with perfume their bloodied backs using a special machine. On the other side, women with young boys and girls sit in a specially designed room hosted inside the basement rented by the Shia Muslim Community of Greece, where they watch men’s prayer and lamentation via television and closed circuit monitoring.