On my way to school this morning I noticed way more people out and about than normal, particularly for such a cold day. People were dressed in black, which, although it is the normal color of choice for clothing, seemed to indicate that there was some sort of national mourning going on. I assumed it had to do with a dark day in Azerbaijan’s history, but when I talked to my counterpart, I realized that today was the Day of Ashura.
Such a wide observance of the day of mourning for Imam Hussein seems to be somewhat at odds with a conversation I had last night about how secular it seems to be here. The best answer I can give is that here, like in America, everyone is different when it comes to religion. I have had enough different experiences with enough different people here in Azerbaijan to understand that, while this place can easily be classified as a Muslim country, the degree of participation depends heavily on the individual.
Update: I came across a Slate Explainer article about the self-mutilation that is associated with the Day of Ashura. There’s some pretty crazy stuff going on out there, none of which I saw here. Not that it necessarily means that it didn’t happen, but I would be really, really surprised if it did.
Also, a Global Voices Online post discusses some observations of Azerbaijan made online (including mine) during Ashura.