Masks and tears: Shiites mark Ashura at Iraq shrines despite virus

Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslim pilgrims, some in masks and gloves, flooded Iraq’s Karbala on Sunday to mark Ashura, in one of the largest religious gatherings of the coronavirus era.

Ashura, on the 10th day of the mourning month of Muharram, commemorates the killing of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD — the defining moment of Islam’s confessional schism.

Typically, millions of Shiites from around the world flock to the holy city’s golden-domed shrine where Hussein’s remains are buried, to pray and cry, shoulder-to-shoulder.

But with coronavirus numbers spiking across the globe, this year’s commemoration has been subdued.

“Honestly, this year is nothing like the millions-strong commemorations of other years,” said Fadel Hakim, who was out early in the streets around the shrine, a blue medical mask cupping his chin.

“It stands out because there are so few people.”

Small clusters of pilgrims gathered in the vast courtyards outside the shrine, wearing the customary black mourning clothes along with less traditional masks and gloves.

To be allowed in, people had their temperatures taken at grey gates resembling metal detectors.

Inside, signs indicated the required distance between worshippers as they pray and nylon sheets prevented people from kissing the walls, a traditional sign of reverence. (AFP)

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