Millions of Muslims worldwide wearing gloves and face masks marked the martyrdom anniversary of the third Imam of Shia Muslims on Ashura amid restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.
While observing health protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, the mourners held processions in different countries to mark Ashura, one of the largest Muslim gatherings since the virus pandemic started.
Ashura is the culmination of a 10-day annual mourning period in the lunar calendar month of Muharram for Imam Hussein (PBUH), a grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The third Shia Imam and his 72 companions were martyred in the Battle of Karbala in southern Iraq in 680 AD after fighting courageously for justice against the much larger army of the Umayyad caliph, Yazid I.
On the eve of Ashura, known as Tasu’a, the faithful remember Abbas ibn Ali, Imam Hussein’s half-brother, who was martyred shortly before the Imam as he tried to bring water to women and children in Imam’s camp and had no water to drink for days due to a siege by the enemy forces.
The Muharram processions symbolize the eternal and unwavering stance of truth against falsehood and humanity’s struggle against injustice, tyranny and oppression, the cause for which Imam Hussein was martyred.
Each year on Ashura, Shia Muslims, dressed in black, march in mass mourning processions and listen to elegies, with benefactors distributing votive food.
Shia Muslims commemorate Ashura in several countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
This year, however, ceremonies were different as large gatherings were banned due to the coronavirus pandemic and people were advised to take part in outdoor events while observing social distancing rules.
Iran, the worst-hit country from the virus in the West Asia, banned the usual Ashura marches and indoor ceremonies were held instead broadcasting the various religious rituals on state television.
Even Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei prayed alone, according to images published by his office.
In Iraq, where typically millions of people from around the world flock to Karbala, thousands of tearful pilgrims flooded the golden-domed shrine Sunday but with coronavirus numbers spiking across the globe, this year's commemoration was subdued.
Iraq has the second-highest regional toll with close to 7,000 deaths.
Small clusters of pilgrims gathered in the vast courtyards outside the main mosque, wearing the customary mourning color of black and the new addition of medical masks and gloves.
Teams of shrine employees sprayed disinfectant mist through long, thin hoses or distributed masks to any bare-faced visitor.
In Lebanon, which has seen a severe coronavirus spike this month, Hezbollah and Amal movements scrapped large Ashura processions. They asked the faithful to follow sermons online and through media channels.
There were notably fewer pilgrims this year as authorities in Shia-majority countries and the United Nations urged people to mark the holiday at home.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, many have opted for scaled-down family gatherings but some processions leading up to Ashura saw thousands turn out.
Press TV and AFP contributed to this story.