Thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of women gather on the first Friday of the holy month of Muharram along with their infants to commemorate the martyrdom of Ali-el-Asghar, Imam Hussein’s youngest son.
Many black-clad women are seen cradling their infants or holding them up. The infants are usually dressed in green or white cloth and a forehead band. For those who are not aware of the story of Imam Hussein and his son Ali el-Asghar, otherwise referred to as Abdullah, the theatrics seem unnecessary. However, these Shiite Muslims believe that this ceremony is a symbolic act in which they can mourn Imam Hussein’s tragedy and exhibit their loyalty to the household of Prophet Mohammad.
At the same time, this particular gathering did not exist on such a scale until 2003 when Global Convent for Respect Ali-e-Asghar initiated the ceremonies commemorating the youngest victim of the ruthlessness of Yazid’s army.
After the infants are dressed in their garments, a recitation of the eventful day of Ashura takes place with particular emphasis on the slaughtering of Ali el-Asghar.
Six-months-old Abdullah was killed during the Battle of Karbala where his mother Rabab and sister Sukaina were also present in addition to the rest of his family.
When water was cut off from Imam Hussein’s camp, all attempts to reach the Euphrates and return with water were to no avail. Imam Hussein’s last resort was to beseech Yazid’s army for water for the women and children. Abdullah was extremely thirsty so Imam Hussein took him along, conceivably hoping they would show mercy at the sight of his suffering. However, Harmala, a member of Yazid’s army killed Ali el-Asghar with a three-headed arrow, according to Shiite tradition.
The first special ceremony of this kind was held in Tehran in 2003. Since then, the event has spread significantly, both within Iran and on the international level. As of 2014, the ceremony was held in 2500 locations in the Islamic Republic and hundreds of others took place in cities around the world including Bahrain, Turkey, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen Iraq, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Sudan, England, Germany and Italy.
The Global Convent for Respect Ali-e-Asghar is a non-governmental, non-political and non-profit organization which began its activities in 2003 on a national level in Iran. One year later, the organization opted for international undertakings. It believes that by narrating the events of Ashura, the memory of Imam Hussein is kept alive. Likewise, this unconventional way of involving mothers and their children in the ceremony aims to remind people of the role of women during the battle of Karbala, with values such as patience, family bonds, and the importance of raising children to remain on the right track emphasized as crucial for their faith and the continuation of Imam Hussein’s battle to protect Islam.