Iraqi Shiites commemorate Ashura with masks, without visitors

Baghdad, Aug 30 (efe-epa).- Shiite Iraqis on Sunday marked Ashura Day that commemorates the death of Hussein, the grandchild of the prophet Mohamed, with bloody, mournful rituals.

The ancient tradition was held this year amid strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has been severely hitting the country.

In addition to masks, gloves and social distancing, this year’s rituals were only observed by locals, as millions of foreign visitors were banned, mainly from the neighboring Iran, from visiting Karbala where Hussein was killed in 680.

Despite pleas from officials to stay at home instead of marking the occasion on the streets to curb the spread of the virus, but the streets near Hussein’s shrine have been filled with people over the first 10 days of Muharam, the first month in the Islamic calendar, to mark the occasion with rituals that include the “tatbir”, form of ritual bloodletting using long blades.

“We have felt a great commitment from visitors towards the guidelines of the highest religious authority and sanitary measures for physical distancing and wearing masks and gloves,” Fadel Auz, in charge of maintaining order in Hussein’s shrine told Efe.

Iraq’s top Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani issued several guidelines for the celebrations.

“There are many methods that can be used to express grief on this painful occasion” such as broadcasting the memorial meetings live through television channels and internet applications.

He also recommended the home gatherings to be held at specific times of the day and night and the participants to follow health precautions, including social distancing.

Banners have been hung between the two sacred mosques to ensure social distancing and electronic gates equipped with thermal cameras to detect possible coronavirus cases.

On 15 August, the Supreme Committee for Heath and National Safety decided to ban foreigners from entering the country.

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