Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Afghans donate blood for Ashura

By Martin Vennard
BBC News, West Asia desk

Shia men beat themselves with chains and blades during Ashura celebrations in Kabul on 7 January
Some Shia clerics say self-flagellation has no place in modern Islam

Around 1,200 Shia Muslims have donated blood instead of flagellating themselves during religious ceremonies for Ashura, the Afghan government says.

The donations are part of a new programme supported by the government and some Shia clerics.

They are opposed to the practice of self-flagellation, during which people draw their own blood.

The government says the programme has been a success, with more than 500 litres of blood already donated.

"On average, everyone has given just under half a litre of blood. If you multiply that by 1,200, you get the total amount donated in the last four days," said Dr Farid Raeed, an official with the Afghan health ministry.

He said the programme was continuing for several more days.

The blood donation drive was launched by Shia clerics and Vice-President Karim Khalili, who is himself Shia. They believe self-flagellation has no place in modern Islam.

The practice resurfaced in Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taleban, who are mainly Sunni Muslims, in 2001.

And the parades, during which men and boys beat themselves with chains, sometimes with blades attached, have become bigger and more prominent in recent times.

One of the reasons is the return of Afghan refugees who experienced Shia ceremonies in neighbouring Iran.

The majority of Afghans are Sunni Muslims, but there are several million Shias in the country.

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