State Dept issues Travel Alert ahead of often violent Islamic Day of Ashura

Ashura, 2012 – Bahrain.

While many in the federal government normally decry any formal recognition of any religious personage for fear of giving an air of official acceptance, the founder of Islam apparently gets a pass. In two quite divergent reports, descriptions of the Islamic Day of Ashura commemoration very well could explain why the American Department of State issued an official security warning for US citizens in the Persian Gulf region.

As reported by Heather Clark of the Christian News Network, and also the staff of the Iranian-based Tasnim news agency, both on Oct. 25, 2015, the Day of Ashura is cited as a day of mourning for the beheading of one of the early leaders of Shiite Muslims, Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the founder of Islam, Mohammed. Shocking to most Westerners, the Day of Ashura is often commemorated by Muslim men and boys by flagellating themselves with chains or purposefully slashing themselves on their heads and backs with razor sharp knives and swords.

In a less sanguine re-enactment of the beheading of Ali during the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D., some Shiite males beat themselves with their own fists or slapping their bare chests with open-palms. With a singular or even handful of slaps being no more than a mereashura1 annoyance, it’s common for those commemorating Ashura often so deepened in religious fervor they slap their bare skin to the point of raising bloody welts.

With conceivably millions of Shiite men and boys from Lebanon to Southeast Asia to the Islamic Community Center of Potomac located just outside of Washington, DC (as cited above by Tasnim news agency) whipping themselves into what has been described as a blood frenzy, the US State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) has issued an official Travel Alert for Americans either residing in or visiting the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain. As noted on the official website of OSAC, the founder of Islam is quite plainly referenced as “the Prophet Muhammad” as well as the standard Islamic practice of placing in parenthesis the initials of “PBUH” meaning “Peace Be Upon Him” which is reserved only for the most esteemed historical and theological individuals in the history of Mohammedanism.

ashuras3Specifically, OSAC began the advisory by stating “The day of Ashura is a major religious commemoration of the martyrdom at Karbala of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).” By comparison, the State Department’s 2014 Christmas Security Messages for US citizens in Jakarta, Indonesia as well as the same alert for Americans in Manila, Philippines waned against terrorists and pick-pockets, respectively. In both messages there was no mention of the holiday in question celebrated to mark the birth of Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.

The same Jesus Christ has also been referred to as The Prince of Peace, and in more theologically conservative circles, The Word Incarnate. Any of the aforementioned titles would be deemed as acceptable by the vast majority of Christians in reference to Jesus Christ.

As the State Department warned most recently, Bahrain would be abuzz with numerous and well attended marches, “These activities are associated with mourning, remembrance and atonement and have been traditionally characterized by peaceful devotion and penance.” Curiously, despite the assurances of peaceful devotions, State also warned, “People in such areas should ensure they have adequate means of communication and a travel plan to depart the venue in the case of unforeseen emergencies.”