Although the Shiites were considered a minority in most of the Islamic world, they were the majority in countries like Iran and Iraq. Shiites who venerate Ali and his son Husayn or Hussein commemorate their death in the hands of the Sunni's in the 7th century battle in Karbala. Karbala is located in Iraq (Associated Press). The other holy site located in Iraq is Najaf. Shiites in Iraq comprised sixty percent of the Iraqi population but the most oppressed and marginalized during the regime of Saddam Hussein. There is a basic difference between Shiite Muslims in Iran and Iraq. Primarily, Iran's ethnic origin was Persian while Iraq's is recognized as Arab.
The most significant festival for Shiites all over the world is the observance of Ashura, a ten-day commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussein. Its observance followed the Shiite calendar usually on the tenth day of the first month of the lunar year or Muharram (Rauf). The Shiites observed it as a day of mourning when Hussein and his kinsmen were killed in 680 AD or 61 AH (Shiite calendar) ("Everyday is Ashura and Every land is Karbala", Rauf). Shiites observe the day with public display of mourning, self-flagellation or wounding to commemorate the sacrifices of Hussein. Hussein opposed against the corrupt rule of Yazid, a Muslim caliph and he and his family paid for it with their lives.
Unlike the Shiites in Iran where they enjoyed majority rule and political power, the Shiites of Iraq underwent severe oppression and misfortune for decades under Saddam Hussein despite outnumbering Sunni's by 2 to 1. Many of the Shiites in Iraq sought refuge in Iran. The Shiites of Iraq had to celebrate and practice their beliefs with restraint. It was not until Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003 could they openly commemorate Ashura. In Iran, however, Shiism was the recognized Islamic denomination and therefore everyone could observe customs and traditions freely.
The Origins of the Shiite Branch of Islam
Conflict ensued concerning succession after Prophet Muhammad died in 632 AD between the Sunni and Shiites. According to the Shiites, succession should come from the bloodlines of Prophet Muhammad. The Sunni's believed otherwise. For them, the selection of a successor should be a consensus among community members, on political ascendancy and individual merit. (Armanios CRS-2). However, the closest companion of the Prophet, Abu Bakr was elected by majority of the community as caliph. Although majority would accept this decision, some felt that Ali ibn Abi Talib, a cousin and the Prophet's son-in-law and husband to the Prophet's daughter Fatima was bypassed. Several members of the community supported Ali's ascension as caliph (Armanios CRS-1).
The Shiites would later consider Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman as usurpers and illegitimate successors. Shiites considered Ali as the one deserving the recognition as successor. Ali would later be assassinated in 661 AD and his sons, Hassan and Hussein would die in the hands of the Sunnis (Armanios CRS-2). Those that supported Ali's leadership