Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Perspective: Ashura holiday defines Shiites' past, future

The most important day in the Shia calendar is Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. On this day observant Shia men cut themselves or self-flagellate in remembrance.

BAGHDAD — As Shiite Arabs observe their most significant and distinctive holiday, they stand at a critical juncture, one marked by potential peril and once-unimaginable opportunity for their sect, its members long considered second-class citizens in the Sunni Arab-dominated Middle East.

Ashura, the hectic 10-day ceremony that culminates today and marks the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad, has leaped in importance in the Arab world since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Sunni regime.

From the LA Times