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Worshippers march in a procession in Kabul to commemorate the day of Ashoura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

Worshippers march in a procession in Kabul to commemorate the day of Ashoura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

Worshippers march in a procession in Kabul to commemorate the day of Ashoura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

Worshippers march in a procession in Kabul to commemorate the day of Ashoura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A young boy flagellates himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan. The practice of self flagellation has become increasingly controversial, with some leaders in Afghanistan urging believers to donate blood instead.

A young boy flagellates himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan. The practice of self flagellation has become increasingly controversial, with some leaders in Afghanistan urging believers to donate blood instead. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A blood-soaked worshipper cries after flagellating himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. The day is one of the holiest holidays for Shiite Muslims, who mourn the death of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

A blood-soaked worshipper cries after flagellating himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. The day is one of the holiest holidays for Shiite Muslims, who mourn the death of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A crowd of Shiite worshippers whip themselves with blades and chains during a frenzy of self-flagellation at an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

A crowd of Shiite worshippers whip themselves with blades and chains during a frenzy of self-flagellation at an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

An Afghan man holds blades attached to chains that are used for self-flagellation ceremonies during the Shiite holiday of Ashoura, Satuday, Oct. 24, 2015.

An Afghan man holds blades attached to chains that are used for self-flagellation ceremonies during the Shiite holiday of Ashoura, Satuday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A man walks through a puddle of blood after an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Shiite worshippers flagellate themselves during the ceremony, leaving blood pooled in the streets.

A man walks through a puddle of blood after an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Shiite worshippers flagellate themselves during the ceremony, leaving blood pooled in the streets. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

Boys cry after flagellating themselves with chains and blades as a crowd looks on at an Ashoura day procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

Boys cry after flagellating themselves with chains and blades as a crowd looks on at an Ashoura day procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

Worshippers march in a procession in Kabul to commemorate Ashoura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

Worshippers march in a procession in Kabul to commemorate Ashoura, one of the holiest days for Shiite Muslims, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A man ritually cuts his head during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A man ritually cuts his head during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

Shiite worshippers flagellates themselves during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Shiite worshippers flagellates themselves during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A man's head bleeds after he intentionally cut himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. The practice of self-flagellation is controversial in the country, where some religious leaders encourage worshippers to donate blood to medical facilities instead.

A man's head bleeds after he intentionally cut himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. The practice of self-flagellation is controversial in the country, where some religious leaders encourage worshippers to donate blood to medical facilities instead. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A man drapes a scarf over the bleeding back of a Shiite worshipper who had flagellated himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Volunteers often stopped worshippers who were especially enthusiastic about the self flagellation.

A man drapes a scarf over the bleeding back of a Shiite worshipper who had flagellated himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Volunteers often stopped worshippers who were especially enthusiastic about the self flagellation. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A Shiite worshipper flagellates himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A Shiite worshipper flagellates himself during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

A young man flagellates himself at an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Satuday, Oct. 24, 2015. For Shiites, Ashoura is one of the holiest days of the year.

A young man flagellates himself at an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Satuday, Oct. 24, 2015. For Shiites, Ashoura is one of the holiest days of the year. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

Shiite worshippers flagellate themselves during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Shiite worshippers flagellate themselves during an Ashoura procession in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Ashoura is a day of mourning to mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — With a flurry of blades and chains and a shower of blood, some devout Shiite Muslims turned to self-flagellation as they observed the holy day of Ashoura on Saturday.

For Shiites, Ashoura is one of the holiest days of the year. It commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, and a key figure in the ancient dispute between Shiites and Sunnis over who should have succeeded Muhammad. This is the main divide between the sects.

Shiite residents of Kabul put up black, green and red banners around the city, while booths provided free drinks and candy as a symbol of helping those in need.

The most striking event of the day involves flagellation, during which men whip their bare backs with chains and blades to draw blood. Others used long knives to cut their scalps.

Worshippers alternated between frenzied flagellation and occasional bouts of sobbing.

The practice has become increasingly controversial, with some leaders in Afghanistan urging believers to donate blood instead.

Despite increased fears of sectarian violence, partly fueled by the rise of Sunni-dominated Islamic State factions, this year’s Ashoura observances in Kabul were largely peaceful.

Past days of Ashoura in Kabul have been marked by violence, notably in 2011, when an explosion killed 63 people at a shrine.

smith.josh@stripes.com Twitter: @joshjonsmith


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