By Dan Collyns
BBC News Online
As Iraq's southern cities saw a brief reprieve from violence for the festival of Arbaeen, Shia Muslims in the UK also marched to commemorate the holy day.
Shia worshippers beat their chests as an expression of sorrow
Thousands of Shia from more than ten nations gathered in London's Marble Arch to mark the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, who was killed along with his family in 681, by the Muslim ruler of Arabia, Yazid.
The day is the most solemn in the Shia calendar and the funereal procession was accompanied by plaintive prayers and chants.
Grief was expressed in many different ways, by Shia wearing predominantly black clothing, their heads bowed, and carrying banners in the traditional Shia colours of dark green and black.
Young men beat their chests rhythmically and with increasing fervour as an expression of their sorrow as they recited eulogies to Imam Hussein.
Their spiritual leader, for them, embodies sacrifice in the face of oppression and persecution.
The women walked separately uttering prayers as chants were heard in Urdu, Farsi, Arabic and even Kurdish.
Models of two of the most holy Shia sites - the golden-domed mosque, which marks the spot where the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali is buried, and the shrine of his son, Imam Hussein, who is buried in the Iraqi city of Karbala, were carried reverently through the procession.
The march had no outward political messages, there were no placards about the war in Iraq and the marchers seemed focused purely on the religious significance of what they call the tragedy of Karbala.
Arbaeen ends 40 days of mourning for Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohamed
It follows Ashura, which commemorates his slaying by Muslim rivals in 680
Imam Hussein's shrine is at Karbala
Shias were discouraged from visiting during Saddam Hussein's rule
More than 100 pilgrims were killed in Karbala last month in a suicide bombing as they marked the holy Ashura event.
Zulqarnain Hussein, from Rochdale, said the march commemorated not only the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and 72 of his companions and family more than 1,300 years ago, but it also mourned any act of terrorism.
"Today we remember any and every injustice committed against innocent people," he said.
"Some of my friends here are New Yorkers, they are mourning the 11 September attacks.
"We are against any act of terror.
"Imam Hussein taught that we must cherish and safeguard freedom and liberty at all costs for generations to come.
"It is the duty of Shia to protect the freedom and liberty of any country in which we have been given the freedom to practise our religion.
Female worshippers also marched
"Our spiritual leader died because a brutal dictator was allowed to rule. He sacrificed himself and his family in order that this evil rule would collapse."
He went on to draw parallels between the regime of Saddam Hussein and the tyranny of Yazid - both of whom were Muslim rulers.
Indeed for so many of those marching on Sunday this Arbaeen, which follows 40 days of the festival Ashura, was a very special commemoration.
For almost 30 years commemorating Arbaeen in Karbala and throughout Iraq was prohibited.
One of the organiser of the march, Waqar Haider said:"The last Arbaeen we were allowed to celebrate in Iraq was in 1977.
"After that Saddam brought in the army and there was massive slaughter.
"I was in Karbala last month for the festival of Ashura. I witnessed the terrible explosions with my own eyes."
Many of those attending were in traditional dress
Armed supporters of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, who control the city, and US commanders have suggested they will stop fighting during Arbaeen.
US officials have warned the event could be a target for terror attacks.
But Muslims were gathering in and around Karbala in far smaller numbers than expected, Reuters news agency reported on Saturday.
Few of those on the march fitted the negative stereotype of young British Muslims resentful of the government, or attracted by militants.
Mohsin Abbas, from Manchester, said: "I want to... say how indebted we are to this government, as you know in many countries processions like this are not allowed."
But one of the organisers of the procession, Said Jafri, was adamant in his support for the coalition's tactics in Iraq.
"We respect what Tony Blair has done and the war on terror.
"The actions of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are not part of Islam. We are against what the Taleban did in Afghanistan, they killed 8,000 Shias.
"But Britain and the US need to tackle the root of terrorism not trim the leaves. Saudi Arabia is where the most militant elements come from.
"The UK is too soft on those who burn the Union Jack outside mosques and clerics like Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza - they should be deported.
"The Sunni and Shia communities are peaceful."