Ashura in Bahrain: Commemorating Hussein
Photo Blog by Matthew Cassel
During the first ten days of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Calender, Shias across Bahrain gather in and around hundreds of the country's ma'tams (Shia congregation halls also known as a Hussainia) to commemorate Ashura. The religious holiday marks the 680CE killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
On each night, worshippers sit and listen to a cleric recite the story of the killing of Hussein's followers, many weep. Recounting and re-enacting Hussein's death is saved for the final day of Ashura, the tenth day of the month.
In central Manama, streets are closed to car traffic, as people setup stands to play melodious dirges and offer food and tea to mourners each night. People engage in self-flagellation inside ma'tams or as they march through the streets.
Because Shia in other Arab countries, particularly the Gulf, are prevented from commemorating the holiday openly, many come to Bahrain. However, after the pro-democracy uprising and subsequent crackdown by the ruling family earlier this year, the mood at Ashura was apparently more tense than years gone by, with fewer outsiders expected.
These images are from A'ali village and Manama in Bahrain, taken on the second and third nights of Muharram.
Note: Women worshipers also commemorate the Ashura holiday, although less publicly than men. Being a man, this photographer did not have access to enter and photograph women's places of worship.