BAGHDAD (Dispatches) – Muslims in Iraq and Lebanon chanted, paraded and beat their chests on Tuesday as they marked Ashura, one of the most important dates on the religious calendar, commemorating the 7th century martyrdom of the third Shia Imam and the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein (peace be upon him).
The symbols of piety and penitence blanketed major cities in Iraq, where Imam Hussein was martyred at the battle of Karbala, south of Baghdad, in 680 AD.
Imam Hussein lies entombed in a golden-domed mausoleum in Karbala. His mausoleum is linked to that of his brother Abbas, who was also martyred in the battle.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people converge on Karbala, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, to observe the solemn holy day.
Shias see Imam Hussein and his descendants as the rightful heirs to the prophet.
Security forces were on high alert to foil any act of violence by terrorists.
Processions of men and boys expressed extreme fervor in the Ashura rituals on Tuesday. They beat their heads and chests in unison and whipped themselves with chains.
“We inherited this from our fathers and grandfathers,” said participant Hamza Abdul-Jalil. “God willing, we will continue on this path.”
In Lebanon, processions shut down mourning areas across the country and Beirut’s biggest suburb.
A day earlier, tens of millions of Muslims — from Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan — marked Ashura.
Security forces, particularly in Taliban-run Afghanistan, were on high alert for any violence. In the past, bloody attacks have marred the ceremonies across in the Middle East, as takfiri terrorists seize on the holy day to target large gatherings of mourners.
Crowds of mourners thronged the streets in Kabul, where the country’s Shia Muslims have suffered a wave of terrorist attacks by the local Daesh affiliate, which has tried to undermine the new Taliban government. Repeated bombings have rattled Afghanistan’s ethnic minority Hazaras, who previously experienced persecution under the Taliban and fear their new rulers — who seized power a year ago, as U.S. and NATO troops withdrew — will let violence continue against their community.
In Iran, millions of men and women shrouded in black thronged the streets of Tehran.
“Somehow, I feel like I must go to mourning, because Imam Hussein was brutally and unfairly treated,” said Nasrin Bahami, a 65-year-old participant in the Tehran procession. “I love his pride, his bravery. He is a symbol, a role model.”
In Yemen, hundreds of thousands of mourners pledged harsh response to any act of aggression by the Saudi coalition against the country as they marked Ashura.