Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims marked the Ashura religious commemoration in mass rallies Tuesday, mourning the beheading of the grandson of Islam's Prophet Muhammad 13 centuries ago. At a march in Beirut’s southern suburbs, mourners said this year they came out in huge numbers in defiance of Sunni militant groups that seek to slaughter them.
Crowds in this predominantly Shi’ite area wear black as they sit outside in a soft rain, praying and weeping.
Hussain Ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, died more than 1,300 years ago, but the sorrow here is visible. Many people cry into handkerchiefs. Others let tears stream down their faces.
Rizk Obeid, an electrician, said mourners weep, not just for Hussain Ibn Ali, but for the injustice that continues today from what he calls “takfiris” towards Shi’ite Muslims.
Takfiri is an Arabic term that has recently become popular, generally referring to Islamist militant groups, like Islamic State and al-Qaida that target other Muslims who don't share their specific beliefs. A takfiri is literally someone who declares someone else a rejecter of God.
After prayers, mourners march by the thousands chanting “At Your Service O’ Hussain,” beating their chests. Many carry posters of young men that recently died fighting in Hezbollah's ranks in Syria.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite political party and powerful militia, hosts the Ashura march in Beirut and security is tight, with hundreds - or even thousands - of men guarding every street corner and organizing marchers.
Mohammed al-Mouktar owns a sandwich and juice shop just off the main road where the people march. He said they came out in large numbers to defy terrorism and oppression.
The terrorists and oppressors, he said, are the self-proclaimed Sunni militant groups that have declared all Shi’ites non-believers, suitable to be killed. Oppressors also include their supporters, he said, expressing his belief that these supporters include countries like the United States and Israel.
On Monday, Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for an attack in Karbala, Iraq that killed 23 people. Karbala is where Hussain Ibn Ali died in battle with forces of the Umayyad caliph those centuries ago, and it draws hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims each year on Ashura.
In Karbala, and Shi'ite-populated regions through the Middle East to South Asia, Ashura marchers ritually beat themselves with knives and chains to show grief and suffer with Hussain Ibn Ali.
But there was little blood in Beirut at the event’s climax when Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah began to speak.
In his fiery speech, Nasrallah declares victory over the Islamic State group, which has taken over vast regions in Syria and Iraq but has failed, as Nasrallah says, to control all of Syria. He also declares his continued support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and warns that Hezbollah has enough rockets to reach all of Israel.
Lebanese people are deeply divided in their opinion of both Nasrallah and Assad, but even rival groups are nearly united against the Islamic State.
As the march draws to a close, mourners say they are glad the event was safe and secure, but even if a bomb had gone off, they would not have stayed home this Ashura.