Bloody Durazis!

29 Dec, '09

Homies in Duraz wanted to exercise their inalienable right of self flagellation by way of swords, but others in the same village had a different idea.

Duraz, is a small village to the west of the capital Manama. Its population is in the thousands. It’s minute when compared with others in the world, but huge when you consider Bahrain’s size and constitution. It is said that it was once an ancient capital of Bahrain. More importantly, it’s current claim to fame is the fact that it counts the leading cleric in Bahrain – Shaikh Isa Qassim – as one of its residents.

Anyway, Haidar, as you will see from the picture below:

Photo credit: Mazin Mahdi via Flickr

is the act of slitting one’s head allowing a profuse flow of blood. Gory. Unhealthy. Gross. Unnecessary. But some people believe that it’s a legitimate way to express one’s abject grief for the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hussain bin Ali in Karbala, modern day Iraq in 680AD.

The slit is normally administered (in Bahrain at least) by a medic and the swords are really just for show (normally) where they are used to pound on that slit with their flat sides to keep the flow of blood and prevent it congealing, otherwise it will defeat the purpose. Obviously.

The Duraz-Haidar-Homies got slashed and started their precession within the village, shouting “HAIDAR” as they walked – a blood chilling war cry when you’re close, believe me – much to the chagrin of those who don’t believe in such a thing because their clerics think of the tradition as “haram”. It’s not a thing of health or even consideration for the martyr whose memory they want to preserve; it reads to me at least, as a power play between those who ally themselves with one cleric who condones haidar and other forms of flagellations against those who chose to follow another who doesn’t.

It is my understanding that Shaikh Isa Qassim doesn’t condone haidar and prefers a more sedate forms of expressions of grief. Being the religious supremo in the country as far as some of the Shi’a are concerned, and enjoying the following of the vast majority of Durzis, his opinion counts. Essentially then, this incident was down to religious political power interpretation first and foremost.

So a fight erupted! Hot-heads (some bleeding) started with a shouting match which escalated to hurled rocks, the use of sticks to beat each other with and some cars and other properties got damaged in the way.

Picture credit: Al-Wasat

Why they didn’t use their swords to hack each other with is surprising and confusing! Were they actually just some of those retractable rubber thingies? Or just didn’t work? Too blunt maybe? No idea. In any case, it’s a brave person who actually – basically – calls a bloody sword wielding man a chicken and engages him with sticks and stones! I wonder if anyone filmed the incident. It would be interesting to watch!

A couple of days after the incident, Al-Wasat carries a piece that the Shura Council member Ali Al-Asfoor who (I think) hails from the same village is now offering to compensate anyone who suffered damage due to the fracas! [arabic link]

Excuse me Ali, if you do that, how the hell are they going to take responsibility for their stupidity? Both in performing Haidar and for those involved in the fight and mayhem? Or is this a publicity stunt on your part to drag more people to your side of the fence? Are you (or your family/dynasty/whatever you want to call it) jealous of Qassim’s power in the village and country and you want to get some of it back? What’s the motive behind such a grand gesture then?

Anyway, this Haidar and self flagellation business is not going to go anywhere soon. My betting is that Haidar and the controversy and passions surrounding it will appear again next year, in the same villages, in the same occasions, and it – like a lot of other things taking over our lives in Bahrain – is more about politics and power than anything to do with religion or culture and tradition for that matter.

The good thing; however, is that some opposition to engrained customs and traditions is occurring. Maybe this is a sign of cultural progress. Who knows, maybe the next step could actually be the adoption of dialogue to resolve differences.

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Comments (42)

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  1. James McNulty says:


    I’m not involved in the political side of this. But to hear people attacking the act using the words “unhealthy” and “unnecessary” really proves the lack of research done into this act. It really is pushing the envelope too far.

    From my research this act brings not only spiritual benefits but also the health benefits which most people seem to be ignorant of. In fact all you have to do Google the words ‘cupping’ or ‘cupping on head’ to find the pros of this practise from both a medical approach and a ‘religious’ approach.

    Finally, it is evident that mourning religious respected figures is practised and approved of by many societies and religions and not only Islam. This out of many Muslim websites has some good information about it: .

  2. heraish says:

    If they want to do it they should be allowed and everyone else should stay out of the way. Maybe just distribute pamphlets or something at the most. This has nothing to do with cupping which is a traditional medical procedure that should be done in controlled hygienic conditions.

  3. Bu Yousef says:

    Yes… Pamphlets should do it!

  4. bahraini4eva says:

    To each his own. I personally do not believe in this, but I definitely believe that each person has the right to practice whatever he/she believes as long as it does not intrude upon others. As you have rightly said, a lot of the times, this ends up being more politically than religiously related. Anyways, hopefully people will wake up, and realize the difference between religious beliefs and political affiliations.

  5. heraish says:

    Its not only political its also emotional. People get really emotional at the injustices that happened in history. I think the more positive ways of expressing grief like blood donation etc is the correct way. But aggressively trying to stop a group from expressing their feelings is just going to backfire.

    • mahmood says:

      True. But carrying that emotion for over 1200 years without seeking closure is tiresome.

      The Imam Hussain experience has been used and abused for centuries. The great man went against a loaded and well equipped army of hundreds of thousands with a group of less than 80 committed individuals in certain knowledge of death to prove a point and set a precedent. He didn’t stand by for despotism, social injustices and corruption.

      How could acts of self flagellation translate his vision? I’m sure there are better ways of getting that message through more respectfully.

      I am glad to see that the precessions are now less brutal than when I was a child participating in some. “Decorum” now is the word that comes to mind when observing some of these precessions which are done without harming oneself. The observance of haidar and “sangal” and other forms of blood-letting dissipates most certainly do not qualify.

      We’re about to close the first decade of the 21st century. I am sure that we can honour Imam Hussain memory in better ways. Ways which invite people to explore his legacy and take sustenance from his principals rather than be the butt of jokes, disgust and incredulity the world over.

      • Bu Yousef says:

        There is so much elegance in an argument that puts the Imam Hussain fight in the light it deserves. He knew winning is not a real possibility but on the cross-road that our religion was at, this was a necessary action. This to me is where the focus should be. Sacrifice, when placed at the right juncture, is a beautiful thing – because it’s necessary.

        Processions are not for me… They do not reflect any of the above and sometimes paint a picture of a ‘victim’ which I’m not sure Imam Hussain would have wanted.

        I would love to see positive shift into a more respectful (and healthy) form… Dare I say it? Music and theatre feel to me to the perfect form of expression of such an amazing battle.

        • mahmood says:

          Yes it could be. There are plenty of plays, cultural activities and Islamic-type music in Bahrain not only during Ashoora but throughout the year.

          But, like you said, artistic endeavours are just one thing, the other is inculcating that Hussaini spirit in our daily lives: respect for human rights, social justice, sacrifice, charity, accountability, transparency are all facets of Al-Hussain. Those must be emphasized in the teachings both at school and the mosques and maatems. The latter are being used generally to wail at the moment, and the former completely ignores these issues.

  6. James McNulty says:

    Heraish, you misunderstood me. My argument was to tackle the point against it being “unhealthy” or “unnecessary”. Therefore cupping is a relevant example. Let’s approach this academically, the scholars in this field claim there has been no report of a severe unhealable case in the history of this act.

    Prior to performing this act, generally the instruments used are thoroughly cleansed before use and medics are present on stand-by. This means it is done under a controlled hygienic condition.

    Finally, the acts of ‘haidar’ and ‘blood donating’ are both rewarding acts in that religion, both of which do not contradict each other so there is no constraint in performing either one of them at any time.

    • mahmood says:

      To each his own. I respect personal choice and advocate it. It is also my opinion that this act is unnecessary and macabre. There are several other ways in which a person can show grief, or as the object of this “rite” is to propagate the memory of a great martyr, it should be done in a way in which to bring respect to the occasion and the memory, rather than – in my opinion – denigrate it with unhealthy and gruesome scenes like:

      Obviously your perception of health also differs from mine. Whenever one cuts oneself, the common medical wisdom is to clean the wound, bandage it and take some medicine to help in its healing. I can’t see how a gash in the head which is continuously thumped with a piece of unclean metal sword in the midst of a group of people doing the same, one or more of whom could have a bodily-fluid communicable disease – AIDS anyone? – could ever be termed “healthy”.

  7. James McNulty says:

    Mahmood, the objective of mourning is to express one’s love, restlessness and impatience over the tragedies that occurred to the grandson of the prophet of Islam. Indeed there are different ways to achieve this but this is also once of them. True the tragedy happened over 1000 years ago but his message and purpose still exists today as if he is ‘still alive’. History shows that had this tragedy not happened Islam would have faded away a long time ago due to a corrupt unjust ruler who would have corrupted Islam. Through his death people till today realise who was meant to be the true caliphate and who is he the unjust one. In fact the Scottish orientalist Sir William Muir states: “The tragedy of Karbala decided not only the fate of the Caliphate, but also of Mohammadan kingdoms long after the Caliphate had waned and disappeared.” So it isn’t a surprise that the followers of Islam are still commemorating and mourning his death till TODAY.
    Like they say “He who has no past has no future”. Let’s not forget, this figure is not just viewed to them as any other great human being. To them, this figure has great religious values.

    Indeed the Imam Hussain has many messages that we can all learn from and apply in our daily lives. But that is no argument against this act because applying his messages is one thing and expressing love and restlessness is also another. Both of which as i said earlier do not contradict each other so there is no constraint in performing either one of them at any time.
    I suggest you read this interview with the Christian scholar, Dr Paul al-Hilw, about this act: . It’s a good read.

    Like I’ve said generally the instruments used are thoroughly cleansed before use. Since when was ‘cleaning the wound’ done within the practise of cupping? Perhaps the release of scab onto the wound which is done automatically (by the body) does this? You can ask anyone who has performed this act and they will tell you it heals immediately. My assumption is that the skin on the head is not like any other skin on the rest of the body. But that’s just an assumption.

    And finally, your opinion is that it is unhealthy and gruesome while others have the same opinion about any act in any culture or religion. Some claim that the compulsion of women and little girls to wear the veil (hijab) is unhealthy, gruesome and oppressive like this:

    So who has the right to set the boundaries? Laymen (to the act) or the people who know its fixed meaning and purpose?

    • mahmood says:

      Thanks for this engagement James. I appreciate the conversation. But allow me to somewhat disagree with you.

      With all due respect, Tatbir (Haidar) is only condoned by the followers of Shirazi, the interview you offered in its defence was conducted by and posted on the main Shirazi website.

      It’s almost certain that the people who performed these rites in Bahrain are followers of the same doctrine. It’s also almost certain that those who stood in their path and opposed them do not follow the Shirazi doctrine and regard the Haidar act as haram.

      As for the health aspect of cutting one’s head, allowing blood to freely flow, encourage the wound not to heal by either slapping that wound with open palms or with the broadside of the sword, I still maintain that – logically and medically – it’s not healthy. At best it is an open invitation for germs, viruses, bacteria to enter the body. Worse, is that exchanging blood due to touching/splashing can encourage the distribution of disease to people within the vicinity is highly likely. It is akin to exchanging needles between drug addicts. Even though the needle might have been sterilised for the first user, it’s not for subsequent uses.

      I won’t argue with you regarding the merit of Azza in general, it is a vehicle of remembrance and reflection to be sure.

      As for the hijab, I am completely against it. It subjugates and marginalises women.

      • James McNulty says:

        When I gave you the link the purpose was for you to judge its content rather than the source. Besides, my point had nothing to do with shirazi.

        I am more than certain that the people that perform this act today in Bahrain are not just the followers of Shirazi, that’s incorrect. Of the top of my head they are the followers of Shirazi, Sistani, Kho’ie, AlRouhani, Tabrizi, late Shirazi, khorasani, majority of akhbaris and more!

        I have not denied that health precautions must be taken when performing this act. Similarly when performing other health acts such as body operations etc.

        As for hijab, you’ve totally missed my point. It was just an example. I suggest you re-read.

  8. bahraini4eva says:

    James, you make a compelling argument, and I for one completely respect this mourning practice as a belief that is held so dearly to Muslims hearts.

    I do not however second you on the following statement: “History shows that had this tragedy not happened Islam would have faded away a long time ago due to a corrupt unjust ruler who would have corrupted Islam. Through his death people till today realise who was meant to be the true caliphate and who is he the unjust one.”

    Islam could never have faded away as it is a religion, brought upon civilization by the Qur’an, the final words of Allah to mankind before Judgment day, and it will always go on, since after the Prophet’s death, the message has already spread to a vast amount of civilization. As far as the caliphates are concerned, I do not know much about that, and quite frankly, I do not care much about it either, except to understand that each Caliphate was unique in it’s own sense, and all spread the message of Islam as was required. To me, Islam is a simple religion, as it was intended to be, in order to bring all of civilization together; however, as the Qur’an warns, men will always fight wars and never form an everlasting peace, because evil will always exist until Judgment day.

    • James McNulty says:

      Thank you. From a historical point of view the role of the leader of Islam is to set an example to the rest of the Muslims. Now imagine this, a caliph, the leader of the religion Islam and an authority upon all Muslims. Surely this person must have fine values and a great responsibility. Anyone who has read the biography of the murderer of Imam Hussain, Yazid son of Muawiya, will understand that this person is far from a good pick for a caliph or a leader of Islam. An oppressor, a public drunkard, and a tyrant who wherever he went tried making the unlawful lawful and the lawful unlawful. So if it weren’t for the revolution of the Imam Hussain it wouldn’t be surprising if Yazid corrupted the Quran and the Muslims and destroyed Islam as a whole. Imam Hussain knew this and fought for his right as a ruler before things get out of hand in the long-run. He knew his fate yet still sacrificed all he had and said: “If the religion of Muhammad were not to stand except by my killing, then oh swords! Take me” Through his sacrifice people back then and now know who was the true caliph that was meant to be and which ‘school of thought’/‘way of life’ to follow, Hussain’s (Islam) or Yazid’s .

      Also from an Islamic point of view the caliph and successor of the prophet must be divinely chosen as stated by the book of Islam, the Quran “WE certainly have made you Caliph on earth”. The Shias believe that the caliph of Islam must be an infallible that has been chosen by God in this way and believe Imam Hussain was one of them. It stands to reason that a fallible would have made mistakes (let alone Yazid) and Islam would have slowly disappeared. You can never get pure water from impure water. Perhaps this point is just another Sunni-Shia clash.

      • mahmood says:

        All the more reason to separate religion from state. I’m sure that the Quran could be interpreted in this way. Marrying the two together, as proven time and again historically is a disaster.

        I don’t believe in any one person no matter who s/he is can be “divinely” chosen. And no person can ever be infallible. How can anyone prove that they were “chosen by god?” What proof could be put in place to affirm that supposition? A dream sequence? Leaders should be chosen by their people through elections, end of story.

        As for getting pure water from impure water, well, the water we drink (bottled or otherwise) was sourced originally from impure water which has been treated for impurities.

  9. Ali says:

    Very interesting piece Mahmood with some great pictures.

    I have no objections to people remembering the death of someone in whatever way they feel like, as long as their actions don’t (physically) impact other people.

    What I do object to, or at least cannot understand with the Shia following is this; if they regard remembering the death of Imam Hussain in such a way, why do they not remember the death of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) in a similar or more profound way? He was ‘the’ prophet after all and surely deserves to take the number one spot for remembrance activities?

    • James McNulty says:

      Perhaps one of their many narrations of Prophet: “Hussain is from me and i am from Hussain. Allah loves he who loves Hussain”
      answers your question? Both sunni and shia books narration this.

      When mourning Imam Hussain they are in fact mourning the Prophet himself.

      • Ali says:

        Hello James

        I still don’t get it.

        From what I understand, these few days of Ashura are specifically to commemorate the death of Imam Hussain. I spoke to my Shia friends just to make sure my understanding of the reason behind the processions is correct.

        So my question still stands, if one is remembering Imam Hussain’s death in such a way, then why not remember the Prophet’s in a similar way? Also, if I apply the same logic to the phrase ‘Hussain is from me and I am from Hussain’, then surely remembering the Prophet will also mean that you are remembering Hussain?

        • mahmood says:

          The manner of death is different.

          You find that the Shi’a commemorate Imam Hussain’s occasion in various forms as touched upon here; while they celebrate the Prophet’s birthday with equal gusto.

          I don’t think that any Shi’i would ever dare preferring Hussain or Ali to the Prophet. The hierarchy is never contested.

          I think the manner and circumstance of Hussain’s martyrdom and nobility of it compels people to go out and commemorate the occasion traditionally in this manner.

          • James McNulty says:

            Very well put Mahmood.

            Yes of course ali. Mourning the imam Hussain would be the same as mourning the Prophet and the other 11 imams. Not saying they are on the same level of ‘status’.

            The reason why they perform the act to that extent on Imam Hussain’s commemorational days rather than the prophets is because the greatest ‘tragedy’ is his. Read about the way he was killed.

  10. Steve the American says:

    You know, I drifted away from Catholicism because parochial school made me go to boring Mass too often. However, had I been forced to slash my head at Mass and slap myself on the noggin to keep the blood flowing, I would have jumped ship in the first grade and never looked back.

    • Ali says:

      I’m in agreement with you on this. I still don’t know where the practice started from. I don’t recall in Islam that you are taught to remember someone’s death in this way, otherwise every funeral would have medical staff on standby…

      You’ll find at most processions there are a few hardcore folks that cut, bleed and beat themselves – most others are happy to ‘lightly’ flagellate themselves as drawing blood doesn’t seem appealing.

    • mahmood says:

      Customs and peer-pressure are massive forces. Even if one thinks that it’s wrong to do one thing or another – especially if the lines are ill-defined and grey – s/he will go with the flow.

      It’s only in latter stage of life when one gains experience and becomes his/her own person do they question precepts. If they do so publicly, they might be ostracised within their societies at worst, or labelled a rebel at best.

  11. AJ says:

    At least it is now reported. I lived in Bahrain for 15 years before it was even acknowledged that the processions took place!! Eventually the custom and its heritage significance will even out as more people openly discuss it. It happens in all religions and other cultures and it doesn’t do that much harm.

  12. Khariq says:

    I really cannot see how the recollection of thousand year old atrocities in pornographic detail can be psychologically healthy.


    • mahmood says:

      You mean like these?

      • Khariq says:

        Yeah, that is equally unhealthy or perhaps worse. Jews are really into pornographic recollection of past atrocities too (burning of Haman’s effigy in Purim and of course the holocaust)

        • mahmood says:

          I think you mean “graphic” rather than “pornographic”. But with it repeated three times on this page, I hope Google won’t send us even more weirdos! 😉

          As to your Jewish information, I’m afraid I’m not qualified to comment as I don’t know anything about that particular event.

          • James McNulty says:

            Mahmood. Who are the people in the last pictues you posted? What ideology/religion do they follow?

  13. Anonny says:

    “I don’t think that any Shi’i would ever dare preferring Hussain or Ali to the Prophet. The hierarchy is never contested.”

    I’ve heard it said by one deluded soul that “the prophet was nothing without Ali.”

    !! This was a surprise to me.

    There are people who live in a world where men can be free of error and where angels make mistakes. It’s a terrible thing when the clash of ideologies can push somebody into exreme contradictory poses such as this.

    • James McNulty says:

      That is not true. From my many years of researching shiism i can tell you there is no evidence that it claims Imam Ali or Imam Hussain is preferred over the Prophet.
      I have realised that this is a rumour that has rooted from individuals in the Sunni sect.
      As is the case with many beliefs in shiism which individuals over the years have went to the very very extreme and resorted to taking texts/words out of context, misinterpretation, and FalsE bad portrayal (which has even happened on this page) with the aim to weaken the sect. Which is a shame.

      • mahmood says:

        What about the Alawis‘ beliefs?

        • Anonny says:


          I heard this ‘rumour’ out of the mouths of a couple of Bahraini Shiites. They believed what they were saying. I was surprised, as said. I have not talked to Sunnis about this.

          • James McNulty says:

            When i said shiism i meant mainstream shiism, the original shiism, twelver imamis. (Who in fact most believe Alawis are out of the fold of shiism. Some went to the level of saying they are out of the fold of Islam). Perhaps i should have phrased it differently. The rumours attributed to 12vers are incorrect and shameful which in a way really shows their true colour from the inside. This is ONE of the reasons why if ever i become Muslim, i will be a Shia. Like they say the truth is always oppressed.

            Perhaps you misinterpreted them the way many Sunnis do? “the prophet was nothing without Ali.” If ever this was part of Shia belief they would have meant it in the sense that if the Prophet had never introduced imam Ali as his successor (the day of Ghadir khum) then it would be as if he has done Nothing (as if he has not delivered the message). And they consider this verse from the Quran implying this:
            [5:67] O Messenger! deliver what bas been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people; surely Allah will not guide the unbelieving people.

            It has nothing to do with status. So going back to your quote it is possible and impossible depending on how you interpret it.

            Another possibility is they are ignorant shias who don’t know what shiism teaches? A bit like the “muslim” terrorists who don’t know what Islam teaches?

  14. mahmood says:

    James, click on each picture and it will lead you to its source.

    The first and second are Crucifixions, the third is a Hindu festival in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    • Anonny says:

      I should mention that these beliefs don’t appear to be shared by anywhere near the majority of Shia people I’ve met. In fact, I’m wishing I never mentioned it. Oh well, too late now.

  15. Meggie Whetstone says:

    Isn’t this something of a public health hazard though? It looks to me like an ideal way of promoting the spread of blood-borne diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis.

    In the days when these traditions first began, people did not understand these dangers. But nowadays we don’t have that excuse. It seems a shame to me that they can’t modify the ritual to make it safer. You could take a pinprick of blood from your finger, and smear it across your forehead. Or maybe use a safe red food colouring instead. Or even better, actually donate blood for some poor soul who needs a transfusion, instead of flinging it about.That would be a much safer option, and it would be a benefit to unfortunate people, given in the memory of their imam.

  16. ella says:

    It seems that first two photos are from Philippines and the rituals themselves are less than 100 years old. (I think they are connected with pagan beliefs and they are performed for tourists in search of “local flavour ” )
    As for slitting one’s head on Ashura I think that this particular Ashura ritual is prohibited in Iran and I will be glad if that gory tradition will also stop elsewhere.

  17. Roger Thomas says:

    Some thoughts on Ashura.

    (1) The Imam scored a great victory that day. Perhaps, if one is focused on the hayat ad-dunya it appears a loss, but if one is focused on what really matters it is not. 2:154

    (2) The central message of the Imam’s action at Karbala was not personal suffering or self-flagellation or death. It was a profound call to the Truth, to freedom and to justice.

    (3) The words “Every day is Ashura and every land Karbala” point out that the struggle for these three goals takes place in every aspect of our lives all the time and wherever we are.

    It seems then that Ashura is a special day to make an extra effort in that direction. One may remember the thirst of the Imam and his family. On that day one can be a modern day Abbas and bring food and drink to those who do not have it. One may remember the suffering of his family, including the small children and women. What are you doing to fix the situation that Ms. Zain commented about with her very powerful words “What we read in the Quran is not what we see practiced” in speaking about the shameful anti-Islamic treatment of women in Bahrain. One might look to heal wounds between people – members of families, members of communities and members of different communities. That I suspect is what the Imam himself would be doing.

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