Black-clad pilgrims pack Iraq's Karbala for Ashura

2016-10-12 18:24
Afghan Shi’ite Muslims attend the ritual self-flagellation as part of Ashura commemorations in Herat. (Aref Karimi, AFP)

Afghan Shi’ite Muslims attend the ritual self-flagellation as part of Ashura commemorations in Herat. (Aref Karimi, AFP)

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Karbala - Huge crowds of black-clad Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims thronged the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala on Wednesday, weeping and beating their chests in mourning for the seventh-century killing of the prophet's grandson.

Shiites around the world mark Ashura, but attacks on those commemorating bloodshed 1 300 years ago often result in more mourning and loss, including in Afghanistan, where at least 14 people were gunned down late on Tuesday.

The attack at the Karte Sakhi shrine in Kabul also wounded 36 people, the Afghan interior ministry said.

Shi'ites in Iraq too have come under frequent attack, mostly by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group who regard them as heretics.

About 30 000 security personnel were on the streets in and around Karbala to protect pilgrims, although attacks inside the city are rare.

The annual Ashura commemorations mark the killing of Imam Hussein by the forces of the Caliph Yazid in 680 AD - a formative event in Shi'ite Islam.

The pilgrimage draws huge numbers of faithful, with Haider al-Salami, spokesperson for the Imam Hussein shrine, saying that two million people took part in a ritual run from outside the city to the mausoleum.

Earlier in the day, black-clad pilgrims massed at the shrine to listen to a recitation of the story of Hussein's death, with some beating their chests or heads and weeping in mourning.

Then came the ritual run, followed by the burning of a tent representing Yazid's forces destroying Imam Hussein's camp - the last of the rituals.

"We will continue to commemorate the imam despite terrorist threats," said Saad Jassem, a 35-year-old from nearby Najaf, another Shi'ite shrine city.

Message to corrupt politicians

Fellow pilgrim, Karim Hussein, 40, from the southern port city of Basra, said taking part carried a message for corrupt Iraqi politicians, who have come under mounting fire over the past two years but have done little to reform.

It is "a message to the politicians to fix themselves, because he [Imam Hussein] rose up and revolted against corrupt rulers".

Hussein's death was part of a dispute over who should succeed the Prophet Muhammad, which eventually developed into a bitter schism between the Sunni and Shi'ite branches of Islam.

Some Muslims, who became known as Shi'ites, believed that a blood relative of the Prophet Muhammad should succeed him as the spiritual and temporal leader of Muslims, and backed his cousin and son-in-law Ali - Hussein's father - as successor.

Others, now known as Sunnis, insisted that relationship to the prophet by blood was not required - a position that carried the day for his three immediate successors before Imam Ali became the fourth.

Muawiyah, who founded the Umayyad dynasty, took power as caliph on Ali's death, and, according to Shi'ite tradition, named his son as successor in violation of an agreement under which Hussein should have succeeded.

According to Shi'ite belief, Hussein went knowingly to his death at the hands of Yazid's forces in what is now Iraq in a bid to expose the corruption and irreligiosity of his rule.

This ideal of self-sacrifice is a key tenet of Shi'ite Islam to this day, inspiring followers to give their lives for causes, including the war against ISIS.

Read more on:    afghanistan  |  religion

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