Devout Shiite Muslims are left covered in blood as they flagellate themselves and gash their heads with swords to mark holy day of Ashura in Iraq and India

  • GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: Shiite Muslims cut and whipped themselves as part of Ashura bloodletting
  • Blood drenched their white robes and soaked the streets as part of the important religious festival
  • The holy day commemorates the seventh century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein

Devout Shiite Muslims in the Middle East have flagellated themselves with chains and swords, leaving the streets soaked in blood as part of the holy day of Ashura.

In major cities across the region, believers commemorated the seventh century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein by drawing blood from their own bodies.

The ritual bloodletting carried out by men and boys is said to wash away sins and act as a symbol of mourning for Hussein who was killed along with his children at the battle of Karbala, south of Baghdad, in 680AD.

IRAQ: Shiite Muslims take part in the ‘Tatbir’ bloodletting ritual as an act of mourning marking Ashura, a 10-day period commemorating the seventh century killing of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein

INDIA: A man’s back is torn to shreds as he repeatedly whips himself as part of the annual religious celebration for Shiite Muslims

LEBANON: Shiite Muslims bleed after gashing their foreheads during a religious procession to mark Ashura in Nabatieh

PAKISTAN: Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during Ashura Day procession in Peshawar during the holy month of Muharram

Devout Shiite Muslims in the Middle East have flagellated themselves with chains and swords, leaving the streets soaked in blood as part of the holy day of Ashura

Today, revellers paraded and beat their chests on one of the most important dates on the religious calendar, as symbols of Shiite piety and penitence blanketed cities.

Across India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other countries with Shiite populations, devotees saw their pristine white robes turn red as blood poured from their heads after cutting themselves with ceremonial knives.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people converge on Karbala, some 50 miles south of Baghdad, to observe the solemn holy day.

Shiites see Hussein and his descendants as the rightful heirs to the prophet. 

Devotees saw their pristine white robes turn red as blood poured from their heads after cutting themselves with ceremonial knives

A boy slashes his back using blades attached to chains as onlookers wearing black stand around during the ritual

Shiite Muslims watch mourners flagellating themselves during a procession on the tenth day of Ashura during the Islamic month of Muharram in New Delhi

In the holy city of Najaf in Iraq, a man’s head is bandaged after he drew blood with a sharp knife. Najaf is one of the spiritual capitals of Shiite Muslims

A supporter of Iraqi populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr gashes his head during a ceremony marking Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi’ite Muslim calendar

The ritual bloodletting carried out by men and boys is said to wash away sins and act as a symbol of mourning for Hussein

His killing at the hands of a rival Muslim faction embodies the rift between the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam and continues to shape the identity of the minority branch of Islam today.

The public rituals of Ashura often fuel sectarian tensions in places like Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan where Islam’s two main sects both reside.

Security forces were on high alert for any violence, as Sunni extremist groups that consider the Shiites heretics have seized on the occasion to mount attacks in years past.

In Iraq, the powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has used the emotional religious occasion to stir up support for his movement, deepening the country’s inter-Shiite divisions. 

Unable to form a government, Iraq descended further into political chaos last week when thousands of al-Sadr’s supporters stormed and occupied the parliament building. 

Hussein’s killing at the hands of a rival Muslim faction embodies the rift between the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam and continues to shape the identity of the minority branch of Islam today 

The public rituals of Ashura often fuel sectarian tensions in places like Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan where Islam’s two main sects both reside

In Iraq (pictured), the powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has used the emotional religious occasion to stir up support for his movement, deepening the country’s inter-Shiite divisions

Hezbollah supporters shout slogans as they march during Ashura Day procession in the southern suburb of Beirut today

A young supporter of Shiite Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr takes part in the ‘Tatbir’ bloodletting ritual as an act of mourning

Thousands of Iraqi Shia Muslims gather to attend mourning procession marking the day of Ashura in Karbala

Their sit-in continues outside the assembly, making it impossible for lawmakers to convene and raising the spectre of civil strife.

In the Shiite-dominated Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, al-Sadr’s portrait hangs from nearly every door. 

‘We inherited this from our fathers and grandfathers,’ said participant Hamza Abdul-Jalil. ‘God willing, we will continue on this path.’

In Lebanon, where Shiites make up about a third of the Mediterranean nation’s 5 million people, processions shut down areas across the country and Beirut’s biggest suburb in the south, the stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children shrouded in black marched through the streets, waving yellow Hezbollah flags. The chants of mourners and thunder of men beating their chests echoed in the air.

‘At your service, oh Hussein,’ they cried.

A man dripping in blood applies a cut to another’s head as religious believers gathered as part of the holy day

An Iraqi Shiite worshipper carries torches during a procession of Ashura day at Kifah district in central Baghdad

In major cities across the region, believers commemorated the seventh-century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein by drawing blood from their own bodies

The celebration commemorates the seventh century killing of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein

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