NABATIYEH, Lebanon (AP) — Millions of Shiite Muslims from Lebanon to India commemorated on Tuesday the slaying of a revered figure, Imam Hussein, by weeping in mosques, hosting plays, recreating a bloody battle, and for a minority, also flagellating themselves.
Ashoura is the most impassioned day of the year for Shiites, as they recall how the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was slaughtered in a seventh century battle alongside his extended family in Karbala, in present day Iraq.
In Pakistan, men whipped themselves with knives attached to chains. In India, men cut themselves with large knives as women beat their own chests. In the Iranian capital Tehran, men chanted anti-American slogans.
Thousands of men and women of Lebanon's sizeable Shiite community thronged to the southern town of Nabatiyeh for commemorations while many more gathered in the Shiite Hezbollah group's strongholds in southern Beirut.
Some men and boys cut their heads with razors, alongside some women. They clutched large curved swords, whacking the blade on their cut heads to keep the blood flowing.
Nisrine Sabra, 24, snapped photos with her girlfriend, their faces encrusted with blood.
"We aren't just giving our blood, we are giving our souls," Sabra said.
The bloodletting is controversial among Shiites. Some religious leaders including Hezbollah's have disavowed the practice, but it's still key for a minority of Shiites as dramatic proof of their willingness to sacrifice for their faith.
In Lebanon, many men wore white to highlight their bloodied wounds. A mosque plaza was slick with red as men cut each other's heads.
Fadel Farran, 51, repeatedly cleaned his razor with alcohol, as men waited to have their heads cut.
"Go easy on me," one man whispered.
The Lebanese Red Cross pitched first aid tents and many boys were treated after their fathers cut them too hard.
"He cut me three times!" laughed one bleeding child as he was herded into a tent, referring to his father. The boy's brother, badly cut, flopped onto the ground where medics dressed his wound.
"That's what happens every year," said their chain-smoking mother, Najwa, 45.
But even as the Ashoura pageantry was meant to be a bloody, serious affair, it was also a time for posing.
Young Lebanese women unsteadily tottered in heels. Others wore headscarves and makeup. A few wore draping black cloaks. Some men coolly smoked cigarettes while still bleeding.
In Ashoura commemorations, Imam Hussein's death is recreated in plays featuring horses, camels and stern-faced actors.
In Lebanon, actors in the play solemnly marched toward the field where they would act out the last scenes of Imam Hussein's life, dressed in turbans and medieval tunics of orange and green.
Hussein Khalifeh, 39, and Abdullah Khalil, 19, were given roles in the hated army of Yazid who slays Imam Hussein's family.
The teenager Khalil, in a purple and gold turban, said he was happy for any role, but Khalifeh interjected.
"Of course I'm upset. We have to kill Hussein!" he snapped. Turning to the young man, he said, "How can you not be upset? Aren't you a Shiite?"
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