Young British Muslims are being urged to mark the holy month of Muharram by giving blood in Manchester.
Muharram is a period of mourning to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.
In an extreme demonstration of their faith, devout Shi’a Muslims makes themselves bleed on the festival day of Ashura.
But the Islamic Unity Society is appealing for young Muslims to back its blood donor campaign instead.
The climax of Muharram is the tenth day when many Shi’a Muslims around the world mark the festival of Ashura (16 December this year) by ritually cutting themselves.
Some even take part in flagellation ceremonies in which men beat themselves with a bladed whip until they bleed.
But the Islamic Unity Society (IUS) a national organisation for Muslim students and young professionals, is encouraging Muslims to give blood instead.
Four years ago, it launched the National Imam Hussain Blood Donation campaign in Manchester.
Its founder Dr Marwan Al-Dawoud said donating blood was a way for Muslims to show their devotion as well as saving lives.
“If people want to self-flagellate, it’s up to them,” he said.
“What we’re saying is that this is a time when we feel that Imam Hussein gave something of himself.
“Use that message and give blood because it’s something that is good for society.
“It’s saving life at the end of the day and there is no greater gift from God.”
Only 4% of the UK population gives blood on a regular basis.
That figure is even lower among British Muslims, with many believing wrongly that is against the teachings of Islam.
In 2009, 230 people came forward at special sessions across the UK.
In an effort to encourage new donors, Dr Al-Dawoud said the campaign had the backing of senior Muslim clerics.
“The Islamic community, they’re not sure if it’s OK to give blood,” he said.
“So what we’ve done as part of this campaign is we’ve asked the scholars – we’re trying to get people to give blood – do you back it or not?
“And we’ve got a lot of the major scholars around the world saying, ‘this is a fantastic campaign!’
“So, not only is it Islamically OK to give blood, but they’re behind it 100%,” he added.
Theo Clarke, donor relations manager for the NHS Blood & Transfusion Service (NHSBT) welcomed the campaign saying it was important to have blood stocks that reflected the wider population.
“Often, rare blood groups are more common within certain ethnic groups, so encouraging people with rarer blood types to donate is a constant challenge.”
- The IUS blood donor session is in Manchester on Monday 20 December. To sign up, call the National Blood Service on 0300 123 23 23 and state that you wish to donate with the Islamic Unity Society.