Thousands of Shia Muslims in Lebanon have commemorated the Day of Ashura, a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
They travelled to the southern town of Nabatiyeh, gathering there to remember Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680AD.
Men, women and children met together in mosques at 6:00am on Sunday, to listen to preachers recounting the story of Imam Hussain and the suffering he went through before his death.
There were also theatrical performances reciting the battle.
“Just when the preachers narrating the story reached the moment of his death, many people began beating their heads and inflicting pain upon themselves,” a local journalist told Al Jazeera.
“Some people, including youngsters, injured their heads using razors and swords, as they chanted ‘Haidar’ [an alternate name of Hussian’s father, Ali]. There was blood everywhere.”
The controversial acts of self-flagellation are an expression of remorse and guilt for not having saved Hussein.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s largest Shia party, has denounced the ritual of self-harm and urged people to donate their blood instead. The late Ayatollah Fadlallah, a celebrated Shia scholar, also condemned the practice. In 1994, Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a fatwa banning self-harm, deeming it “irreligious”.
Nabatiyeh, however, remains one of the few towns in Lebanon that sees Shia Muslims taking part in these bloody rituals.
The practice is especially popular among supporters of the Amal Movement, another Shia political party. On Sunday, party members staffed checkpoints leading to the areas where the event was taking place and oversaw the security in the town.
Red Cross ambulances deployed near the event and makeshift medical centres were set up to tend to the wounded and those who lost consciousness as a result of the severe blood loss endured. The seriously injured were transferred to nearby hospitals.