Shia Muslims in Bangladesh observe muted Ashura in pandemic

Shia Muslims in Dhaka have observed Ashura in a subdued manner, performing the mourning rituals in remembrance of the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussain under tight restrictions amid the pandemic.

Russell Sarker, Dhaka University
Published : 30 August 2020, 01:31 PM
Updated : 30 August 2020, 01:41 PM

Devotees were not allowed to bring the main procession, known as Tazia or a replica of the mausoleum of Imam Hussain, out onto the streets as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

People in the procession walked barefooted around Old Dhaka's Hussaini Dalan Imambara area where they gathered on Sunday morning carrying red, black and green flags amid traditional Ashura chants.

Every year, the Tazia procession is taken out of Imambara to parade along different streets of Dhaka before coming to a halt at the symbolic Karbala ground in Dhanmondi.

Ashura is observed on the 10th day of the lunar month Muharram in the Islamic calendar. It marks the climax of the remembrance of Muharram when Shia Muslims commemorate the slaying of Imam Hussein ibn Ali in 680 AD in the Battle of Kerbala in modern-day Iraq.

The day marks sacrifice and mourning in the Muslim community all over the world. Muslims in Bangladesh, especially the Shia Muslims, observe the day with religious rituals.

Small groups of 10-20 pilgrims walked in circles and detailed the events that took place at the Kerbala while others were seen praying in front of the graves inside Imambara.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police had placed prohibitions on public gatherings in open spaces and asked people to follow health directives while observing the Ashura with their families.

Despite the strict regulations, pilgrims showed little inclination to follow the health protocols as many attended the gathering without masks while failing to maintain safe distancing norms.

A lot of pushing and shoving was noticeable as the pilgrims tried to show respect to the symbolic horses of Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain.

Earlier, the young men were seen carrying sharp weapons and flogging themselves with it in passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom in the Tazia procession, which was banned after a militant attack during the preparation of a Tazia procession in 2015.

Since the attack, Dhaka Metropolitan Police have banned carrying and showing stunts with sharp weapons, fire and sticks in the procession this year too. Creating loud sounds with drums is barred as well.

People had to go through two layers of security to enter the Imambara this year as well.

Many pilgrims said they had come to pray for an end to the coronavirus crisis.

“The pandemic has affected Ashura. The mourning rituals have been scaled down this year in line with the government's directives,” the caretaker of Imambara told

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher