NABATIEH, Lebanon: Thousands marched through the streets of Nabatieh, south Lebanon, Sunday as part of Ashoura amid tightened security measures.
Security forces, on a heightened state of alert after reports of a possible attack on mourners, prevented vehicles from entering the city, where throngs of Shiite worshipers took part in Ashoura rituals.
Five Syrians were caught Saturday in the city setting up explosives in a an apparent bomb plot aimed at the faithful there, security sources told The Daily Star.
With blood streaming down their faces, men, some women and children, listened intently as a preacher known by his first name as Ahmad recounted the story of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who tradition holds was killed in 680 AD by the armies of the Caliph Yazid.
Millions of Shiite pilgrims flocked Sunday to Karbala, Iraq, where the revered imam is buried.
Prior to the march that began at 7 a.m., all eyes were turned to a stage set up in Nabatieh where performers reenacted Imam Hussein’s battle and his final hours.
The worshipers were keen to dispel any misinterpretation of the rituals, some of which include lacerations to the head.
“The media portrays us as criminals but we want to clarify that this mourning we do is for the love of the community,” said worshiper Khalil Hammoush while carrying his crying son who also had an incision to the head.
Shallow cuts to the forehead are often undergone as a sign of mourning for Imam Hussein.
Khodr Kamal, known in the city as “the cutter” and who has taken part in the annual ritual for over 30 years, said he took all the precautions to make sure the incisions he made didn’t lead to infections.
“I always use alcohol to clean the sword after each person and I am especially careful when it comes to young mourners,” he said.
“I am extremely gentle with the children,” he added.
Some women also lacerate themselves as part of the rituals.
Seen as a religious duty by some, others in the city discourage the practice and urge that the event serve instead as an opportunity for blood donations, something that Hezbollah has encouraged over the years.
Among the crowds, members of the Hezbollah’s Health Committee dot back and forth to draw blood from volunteers for hospitals.
On the sidelines, some women distribute juices to bleeding men while medical staff keep a close eye out for any medical emergency.
Other similar marches took place Sunday in Beirut's southern suburbs as well as in Tyre and Bint Jbeil, south Lebanon, most of which were organized by Hezbollah.