By Akanimo Sampson
The bloody Islamic festival, Ashura, has allegedly claimed the lives of 15 Shi’ites, the defiant Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) said they were killed across the country by the Police while observing the Ashura procession.
The Shi’ites claimed that their members were killed during the procession in Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Sokoto and Katsina states.
Ashura is however, a religious observance for Muslims all over the world. It literally means tenth, and it is celebrated on the 10th day of Muharram, first month on the Islamic calendar. It is celebrated by both Sunnis and Shi’a Muslims, for different reasons.
Islamic historians say the three days of the Ashura festival started long ago when the prophet Muhammad with his followers found the Medina community of Jews fasting for the Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. When Muhammad asked the Jews why they were fasting, they answered that they were fasting to remember the day when Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.
And so thought Muhammad that they, as Muslims should also do the same, as Moses is a prophet for the Islamic faith. So it was declared that they should fast in the tenth day of the month of Muharram. As the Islamic faith grew, Muslims and Jews did not get along, and Muhammad decided to make Ramadan the fasting month for Muslims. Ashura was left as fasting voluntary observance. Still, Muslims followed the fasting on this day. After the death of Muhammad, a big schism happened in the Muslim community to whom should succeed Muhammad, and it originated the split between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.
For the Shi’a Muslims this day of Ashura earned a new meaning after the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad and the third Shia Imam. Ashura for Shi’a Muslims is the mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali in the battle of Karbala in 680. they believe that the battle of Karbala was a battle between good and evil, and that the stand of Husayn ibn Ali, even if he died, allowed the Islamic faith to continue living. This also originates two differences in the celebration of Ashura, for Sunnis it is a time for joy since it celebrates the victory of Allah through Moses against the Egyptians, but for Shi’a Muslims it is a day of sorrow.
For Shi’a Muslims the Ashura is a day to make pilgrimages, for those who can, to a shrine in Karbala, the Mashhad al-Husayn, where the tomb of Husayn ibn Ali is. Shi’a Muslims wear mourning clothes and there is no sign of joy, no music, no dance and no earthly enjoyment. It is prohibited to plan any wedding or parties for this day, or near it. There is crying as poems are read out loud recalling the battle in Karbala and the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali.
The only sound heard is the sound of the voice who reads the marsiya, noha, latmiya and soaz in memory of Husayn ibn Ali and a drum. These events are held in Imambargah and Hussainia, which are congregation halls for Shi’a ritual ceremonies, and it is not the same as a mosque and it is mostly only used on this day of Ashura.
There are processions when people beat their chests in signal of grief and sorrow. And there are cities where they organise the reenactment of the battle of Karbala, with actors portraying the events of that day. Even though many of the Shi’a spiritual authorities have prohibited and discouraged the practice of self flagellation, there are many believers that still follow the practices of zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam, zani and matam are chains. It is common for people to donate food for all those who attend the rituals, these meals are called niazz.
For Sunni Muslims the Ashura is a day of joy and celebration with family and friends of the victories of Allah through His prophets like Moses. It is a day of joy that contrasts in great with the Shi’a Ashura.
Because of this, and their historical rivalry, it is common that on this day, and especially in countries with strong communities of both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims to have deadly attacks on each other communities as they celebrate the Ashura.
In the mean time, President of the IMN Media Forum, Ibrahim Musa, explained in a statement that three Shi’ites were allegedly killed in Kaduna and 10 injured, while three others were killed in Azare, Bauchi State. ‘’At least, three people were confirmed killed by the police in Kaduna and 10 others injured, some fatally, when thousands of Muslim brothers and sisters trooped out in the early hours of Tuesday commemorating the tragic events of Ashura’’, he said.
Continuing, he said ‘’in Bauchi, three persons were killed during the Ashura procession when the police attacked the mourners. Likewise, three others were killed by the police in Azare, also in Bauchi State. Another three persons were killed by the police in Gombe, Gombe State’’, pointing out that one person was allegedly killed in Illela, while another individual was killed in Goronyo, both in Sokoto State.
While adding that a Shi’ite was also allegedly murdered in Malumfashi, Katsina State, he noted that several people sustained bullet wounds when the police allegedly shot the mourners, ‘’not only during the procession, but afterwards as the well armed policemen attempted to forcibly make their way into the Islamic centre of the movement.’’
According to the Islamic sect, the figures could rise due to the fatal gunshot wounds sustained by some mourners, claiming that the procession was peaceful in Abuja, Jos, Kebbi, Minna, Lafia, Yola, Gusau, Zaria, Kano, Jalingo, Damaturu, Hadejia and Potiskum.
While The Punch reported that Spokesman for the Nigeria Police, Frank Mba, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) declined to comment, saying inquiries about the alleged attacks should be directed to the spokespersons of the respective commands where the incidents occurred, Musa however argued that since the mourning procession ended peacefully in places not attacked by the police, ‘’it is clear who the instigators of violence are whenever we are carrying out our legitimate religious duties.’’