Devout Muslim to be sentenced for child flogging

A devout Muslim who was found guilty of child cruelty after forcing two boys to beat themselves during a religious ceremony is due to be sentenced today.

Syed Mustafa Zaidi, 44, was found guilty of two counts of child cruelty in a British legal first last month.

The boys, aged 13 and 15, were forced to beat themselves with a zanjeer zani, an implement containing five curved blades, during a ceremony to commemorate the death of a Shia Muslim spiritual leader.

The boys both received multiple lacerations to their backs, mainly superficial, with several deeper cuts.

Zaidi, of Station Road, Eccles, Salford, also flogged himself during the ceremony at a community centre in Levenshulme, Manchester, on January 19.

The boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted they wanted to beat themselves, but not under duress and not using Zaidi's zanjeer zani.

Both boys also admitted they had flogged themselves with a smaller zanjeer zani from the age of six in Pakistan.

A 14-year-old boy, who was 13 at the time, said Zaidi told them both: "Start doing it, start doing it."

He told the jury: "We said 'we don't want to do it'."

The boy said he saw Zaidi flogging himself with the zanjeer zani before washing his blood from it and handing it to the 15-year-old boy.

He said Zaidi "kept pressuring him" and "make him do the knife thing".

A 20-minute film of the traditional Ashura ceremony, broadcast on satellite television, showed Zaidi flagellating himself until his back was bloody and cut.

Participants at the men-only event flogged themselves, while others chanted the name Husayn and beat their chests. Many cried openly.

The Ashura ceremony takes place during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and commemorates the death of Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and a central figure in the Shia faith.

Husayn was killed at the Battle of Karbala, alongside 72 members of his family, around 1,400 years ago.

Performing the matam - self-flagellation - brings out feelings of bereavement and grief at their deaths.

Zaidi, a warehouse supervisor, admitted he asked the boys if they wanted to beat themselves and that he allowed them to use his zanjeer zani.

The jury heard Zaidi attended a meeting two days before the ceremony, where it was made clear that under-16s were not permitted to flog themselves.

He will be sentenced at Manchester Crown Court at 3pm today.