BBC News, September 24, 2008
A devout Shia Muslim has been given a suspended prison sentence for forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony.
A jury at Manchester Crown Court found Syed Mustafa Zaidi, 44, guilty of two counts of child cruelty last month.
The boys, aged 13 and 15, were forced to beat themselves with a zanjeer whip, with five curved blades.
Zaidi, of Station Road, Eccles, was given a 26-week sentence, suspended for 12 months.
A second order which will also last for 12 months means that if Zaidi is found to have allowed or encouraged anyone under the age of 16 to beat themselves he could be returned to court for sentencing.
Judge Robert Atherton, at Manchester Crown Court, said: “I reject the suggestion that they were forced to participate, although I consider it likely that the fervour of events is also likely to have affected their wish to participate.”
The boys both received multiple lacerations to their backs, mainly superficial, with several deeper cuts caused by the bladed whip.
They admitted they wanted to beat themselves, but not under duress and not using Zaidi’s zanjeer.
Zaidi also flogged himself during the Ashura ceremony, which commemorates the death of Husayn—a central figure in the Shia faith—in January this year.
He admitted he allowed the boys to use the bladed whip, but denied his actions were wrong, saying: “This is a part of our religion.”
Judge Atherton said that the jury’s verdict was “not a comment” on the Ashura ceremony.
“No-one should misinterpret it as being such,” he said.
“You must realise that the law recognises that children and young persons may wish to take part in some activities which it considers they should not.
“It is sometimes expressed as protecting themselves from themselves.
“Your wrongful act was providing the means by which they were able to participate.”
The boys both suffered cuts from the zanjeer
He said Zaidi ignored a decision by mosque elders that under-16s could not participate in the ceremony.
Supt Paul Savill, of Greater Manchester Police, said: “This man not only abused the vulnerability of these children but also went against the wishes of his own community, as well as knowingly breaking the law.
“The sensitivities this case raised are significant and we have been working closely with community leaders throughout.”
A code of conduct for adults about involving children in the self-flagellation ritual has been drawn up since Zaidi was convicted, Supt Savill said.
Local Muslim leader Safdar Zia said the ceremony could not be eliminated.
“We can and will work to a code of practice so that the children don’t get hurt, the law isn’t broken, and the people who do want to take part don’t get prosecuted,” he said.
“But we are not above the law and we never will be and working with the authorities is the best chance we’ve got to prevent any harm being brought against any children.”
The case was unprecedented—the first of its kind to be prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales.