(CBS STORY): Afghan Shi'ite Muslims in Kabul on Saturday (November 24) beat themselves with steel-tipped flails to mark the tenth day of Muharram, equal to the religious festival of Ashura.
The event commemorates the death anniversary of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, who was killed during a battle in 680 A.D. in Kerbala, a city in modern-day Iraq.
“On this day Imam Hussian was martyred. So we beat ourselves with chains only because of the love we have for him and to mourn his martyrdom. We don't feel any pain in our bodies,” said Murtaza Najafi, an Afghan Shi'ite mourner who had beaten himself.
On the Ashura celebration last year a suicide attacker killed dozens of Shi'ite Muslims at a main shrine. Nearly 60 people were killed and 160 wounded in the worst sectarian violence Afghanistan has seen since the fall of the Taliban.
This year, Afghan forces have strengthened security outside the shrine in Kabul where it was attacked last year on the day of Ashura. Those attending the celebrations were searched before entering the shrine.
“These mourners who are gathered here today and paying with their blood are not scared of any suicide attack. Our enemies must understand that even if they carry out hundreds of suicide bombers to martyr our youths, the other Muslims children who are in the cradle will follow Imam Hussian's path (Prophet Mohammad's grandson) and continue marking Ashura,” said Habibullah, a Shi'ite mourner and organizer of Ashura in Kabul.
Ashura is the biggest event in the Shi'ite Muslim calendar, when large processions are vulnerable to militant attacks, including suicide bombings. Pakistan has deployed tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police during Ashura.
Shi'ite Muslims, which make up nearly 15 percent of the Islamic world, mourn for a month as part of the festival.
Ashura is observed in Iraq and in other countries with sizeable Shi'ite communities, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.