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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 22:54 GMT
Shia Muslims mark Ashura
Shia Muslims wound themselves in Lebanon
Some believers want to emulate the pain Hussein felt
Thousands of Shia Muslims - many bloodied from beating themselves - marched through Lebanon's cities on Sunday to commemorate the killing of one of their most revered figures, Imam Hussein.

Every year, Shia Muslims mourn the death of Hussein - the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who died rebelling against the Sunni Muslim authority in the year 670 AD - in a festival known as Ashura.

Sheikh Nasrallah
Sheikh Nasrallah denounced peace moves with Israel
The head of Lebanon's radical Hezbollah movement, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, used the occasion to denounce Saudi Arabia's Middle East peace plan, while calling for an intensification of the Palestinian uprising against Israel.

"The noble are those who dare to send arms to the Palestinians," Sheikh Nasrallah told a mass rally in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

"Recognition of Israel in the framework of a settlement or an Arab peace initiative means nothing for the [Arab] nation," he said.

The Saudi proposal is due to be presented at an Arab League summit in Beirut on Wednesday.

Shia tradition

Ashura was also marked in Bahrain on Sunday and will be commemorated in Iran on Monday

Traditionally, young men dressed in black parade through the streets of their town.

Shia woman cuts the head of a three-year-old boy
The blood-letting is opposed by Shia Muslims in Iran

They slap their chests in unison as they chant "Haidar, Haidar".

But in Lebanon, tradition sometimes goes a bit further.

In towns like Nabatiyyeh in the south of the country, some of the young men cut their foreheads and beat the wound to make the blood splash out as they march.

In Iran, the blood-letting is banned and many fatwas, or religious rulings, have been issued declaring the custom forbidden.

Hezbollah, one of the two main Shia parties in Lebanon, believes the blood-letting gives a backward image of Islam.

For several years now the group has been trying to encourage participants to donate blood - instead of spilling it on the streets.

Every year the organisation sets up blood donation tents in towns like Nabatiyyeh.

The number of blood donors increases every year, but traditions die hard.

See also:

24 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghans mark Muslim mourning
24 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Ashura ceremonies
12 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Lebanon
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