Shi'ites across the Middle East on Thursday marked Ashoura, an annual commemoration mourning the 7th century death of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints.
For Shi'ites, who represent more than 10 percent of the world's 1.8 billion Muslims, the remembrance of Hussein is an emotional event that sees many believers weep over his death at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. Some beat their backs with chains, flagellating themselves in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.
But the commemorations can prove tempting targets for Sunni extremist groups, who view Shi'ites as heretics.
Moment to fuel defiance
In Iran, the Mideast's Shi'ite power, groups of men beat their backs with chains in Tehran. Other mourners beat their chests while carrying black, green and red flags. State television showed similar mourning ceremonies across the country.
For Iranians, this Ashoura comes as the United States is re-imposing sanctions on Iran previously lifted by its nuclear deal with world powers, despite Tehran's compliance with the accord. While Iran's national currency, the rial, plummets, Ashoura provides a moment to fuel mourners' defiance with its message of sacrifice and dignity in the face of coercion.
Source: Voice of America