The Day of Ashura, is a day of mourning for Muslims and especially for Shiites.
As the BBC site explains:
For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a solemn day mourning the martyrdom of Hussein in 680 AD at Karbala in modern-day Iraq.
It is made up of mourning rituals and passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom.
Shia men and women dressed in black also parade through the streets slapping their chests and chanting.
Some Shia men seek to emulate the suffering of Hussein by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads until blood streams from their bodies.
Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood.
Muslim countries are not the only place where flagellation takes place. The picture below was not taken in Pakistan, Lebanon or Iraq, but rather in the Hague.
In Netherlands Shiites come together privately to commemorate Hussein. In the past it was mostly Pakistanis and they founded a Shiite mosque in The Hague in the seventies. Today many Iraqi Shiites lives there too. for years believers of various lands have celebrated the Ashura Festival in the mosque.
It's a nondescript building where during Ashura about 800 people gather together for ten evenings. The 10th day is the high point. Some people bring metal rods. On the side sit people who have just been cut. People make a small slice on the head, where they then continue to beat. Rhytmically. The result is rather bloody.
Not all the visitors to the mosque are pleased with this way of commemoration. A young visitor named Abbas thinks people would be better off donating blood to the bloodbank.
Mohammed, an Iraqi who immigrated to the Netherlands in 2002 sees self-flagellation as a valued cultural expression. "That's how we commemorate our imam Hussein. We do nobody wrong though? We want to bear the pain of Hussein. It is not dangerous and nobody gets injured." and, he adds "There's always first aid present to disinfect and close up the wounds."
The Pakistani Shiite community in The Hague decided this year to forbid self-injury. "In view of current public opinion we don't want to be offensive in respect to the ethnic, non-Muslim community," says a spokesman. "therefore the Ashura commemorations in the mosque toda ywill not be so dramatic and bloody as in years past."
Not everybody agrees. Since it is not allowed in the mosque, but the tradition is too strong to forbid, people were told this morning where they can take part in the Ashura ritual. Yesterday the spokesman did not want to divulge the place, afraid of angry neighbors and Wahhabi groups.
Sources: BBC (English), Trouw (Dutch)