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Shi’ite Muslims across the world have commemorated the seventh-century killing of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson by drawing blood.
Ashura marks the killing of Imam Hussein in a battle with Caliph Yazid’s forces in 680.
Starting at sunrise, devout Shi’ite Muslims listen to recitations of the story of the Imam’s death with many crying and beating themselves with closed fists. Some also lacerate their heads or flagellate themselves with knives.
Each year, some adults will give their children a quick tap on the head with a knife or razor blade to include them in the ceremony.
The mourning holiday occurs on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month and the month of mourning in the Islamic calendar.
Many countries observe the holiday, particularly in areas of the world with a significant Shi’ite population, such as Iraq, India, Lebanon Afghanistan and Bahrain.
The reason for the blood letting is to show solidarity with the family of Hussein and to express remorse that the mourner could not be there to fight for the prophet’s grandson.
They also seek to express the emotions of grief and repulsion against what Hussein’s killer Yazid stood for.
Hussein’s death is where the schism between the Islamic community began and is one of the defining events between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam.
Hussain’s tomb is located in the holy city of Kerbala in southern Iraq.
During this year’s commemoration in the Hezbollah stronghold southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon,the struggle of Imam Hussein – who Shi’ites say went knowingly to his death at the hands of Yazid’s forces – drew parallels to the ‘self-sacrifice’ many followers were willing to go through to defeat Israel.
‘We have taught Israel that our people are not weak,’ the men cried during the procession, beating their chests in unison.
Though the scenes of Ashura are gory, very few Shi’ite Muslims observe with a blood donation through flailing.
In some areas, blood drives from donation charities replace the traditional blood-letting.
During this year’s holiday, at least 31 people died and another 100 were wounded on Tuesday during the process in Iraq’s southern holy city of Kerbala, in what an official at its Imam Hussein shrine described as a stampede.
The death toll released by the Iraqi Health Ministry was expected to rise, with at least 10 people in critical condition.
The ministry did not disclose how they had been killed but the shrine official told Reuters the stampede took place at the entrance to the ornate building.
Stampedes have occurred during processions in the past.
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