Devout Shiite pilgrims were left covered in blood as they struck themselves with swords and chains during the mourning procession to mark the day of Ashura in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq.
Ashura, on the 10th day of the mourning month of Muharram, commemorates the killing of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD – the defining moment of Islam’s confessional schism.
Typically, millions of Shiites from around the world flock to the golden-domed shrine where Hussein’s remains are buried, to pray and cry, shoulder-to-shoulder.
Small clusters of pilgrims gathered in the vast courtyards outside the main mosque in Karbala, wearing the customary mourning colour of black and the new addition of medical masks and gloves.
Huge rolls of nylon sheets prevent people from kissing the walls, a habitual sign of reverence. But in the enclave where Imam Hussein is buried, pilgrims press their unmasked faces up against the ornate grille separating them from the mausoleum.
There were notably fewer pilgrims this year as authorities in Iraq, other Shiite-majority countries and the United Nations urged people to mark the holiday at home.