An Afghan Shi'ite Muslim flagellates himself during an Ashura procession in Kabul November 14, 2013.
An Afghan Shi'ite Muslim flagellates himself during an Ashura procession in Kabul November 14, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

Shiite Muslims across the world practised ritual self-flagellation as they observed Ashura on 14 November.

Ashura, meaning 10, falls on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram (month of mourning). Muharram, which means Forbidden, is the first and one of the most sacred months in the Islamic calendar.

The Day of Ashura is a period of mourning for the martyrdom of the prophet Mohammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, who died in the battle of Kerbala in 680 AD.

Shia and Sunni Muslims commemorate Ashura differently and for different reasons.

For Shia Muslims, Ashura is all about mourning Hussein's death. They do so every year by punishing themselves with acts of self-flagellation.

This year Shia Muslims around the world took part in Ashura processions, flagellating themselves and walking over burning coals. Some chained themselves while others cut the skin on their foreheads and backs.

Shia Muslims, including women and young boys, have practised ritual self-harm for 1,300 years.

For Sunnis, on the other hand, Ashura marks the day in Islamic history on which the Israelites were freed from bondage under the Egyptian Pharaohs. They observe a day-long fast on the day of Ashura because the Israelites' religious leader Moses fasted on the day in appreciation of Egypt's atonement, a practice that was seen, appreciated and adopted by the prophet Mohammad.

The photos below show the mourning rituals observed during Ashura processions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey, India, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Afghans pray a procession held to mark Ashura in Kabul. (Photo: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
Afghans pray a procession held to mark Ashura in Kabul. (Photo: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
Ashura processions held in Delhi (Top) and Kolkata. (Photo: REUTERS)
Ashura processions held in Delhi (Top) and Kolkata. (Photo: REUTERS)
A Shi'ite Muslim woman marches with men, who are bleeding after tapping their foreheads with razors, during a Muharram procession. (Photo: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)
A Shi'ite Muslim woman marches with men, who are bleeding after tapping their foreheads with razors, during a Muharram procession. (Photo: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)
Iraq Shi'ite Muslim men bleed as they gash their foreheads with swords and beat themselves during the religious festival of Ashura in Najaf, 160km (100 miles) south of Baghdad. (Photo: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)
Iraq Shi'ite Muslim men bleed as they gash their foreheads with swords and beat themselves during the religious festival of Ashura in Najaf, 160km (100 miles) south of Baghdad. (Photo: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)
Pilgrims pray at the Imam al-Abbas shrine during Ashura in Kerbala, about 80 km southwest of Baghdad in Iraq. (Photo: REUTERS/Mushtaq Muhammed)
Pilgrims pray at the Imam al-Abbas shrine during Ashura in Kerbala, about 80 km southwest of Baghdad in Iraq. (Photo: REUTERS/Mushtaq Muhammed)
Local actors dressed as ancient warriors re-enact a scene from the 7th century battle of Kerbala in Baghdad's Sadr City. (Photo: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
Local actors dressed as ancient warriors re-enact a scene from the 7th century battle of Kerbala in Baghdad's Sadr City. (Photo: REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)
Turkish Shi'ite men beat their chests as they mourn during an Ashura procession in Istanbul. (Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Turkish Shi'ite men beat their chests as they mourn during an Ashura procession in Istanbul. (Photo: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Participants push a
Participants push a "tadjah", a multi-colored mausoleum model paraded as a float, during Ashura in Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo: REUTERS/Andrea De Silva)
Lebanese women cover their noses as a girl next to them takes pictures of a Muharram procession to mark Ashura in Beirut. (Photo: REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)
Lebanese women cover their noses as a girl next to them takes pictures of a Muharram procession to mark Ashura in Beirut. (Photo: REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)