Images taken in Iraq, Pakistan and Bahrain show the self-flagellation ritual, which some Shiite Muslims take part in to mourn the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. Bladed chains and swords are used during the public processions, with many of the mourners appearing badly injured. In one image, a bloodied man is carried away on a stretcher after fainting. Another shows men beating their chests raw inside a mosque. Muslims around the world mark Ashura every year, which falls during the first month of the Islamic calendar.
Ashura is commemorated more by Shiites, who believe the Prophet’s son-in-law Ali is their first imam – a divinely-appointed leader. Husayn ibn Ali, Ali’s youngest son, was killed in the Battle of Karbala, in modern-day Iraq, in 680AD. Few take part in self-flagellation, which is seen by those who take part as a way of washing away sins. The controversial practice divides Shiite Muslims, some of whom instead choose to give blood. For Sunni Muslims, Ashura also marks the day Musa (Moses) fasted in gratitude for God’s liberation of the Israelites.