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Afghan Shias attend Ashura services Thursday in the main mosque of Bamiyan, a stronghold of Afghanistan's Shia Hazara minority in the center of the country. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad
Afghan Shias attend Ashura services Thursday in the main mosque of Bamiyan, a stronghold of Afghanistan's Shia Hazara minority in the center of the country. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan Shias attend Ashura services Thursday in the main mosque of Bamiyan, a stronghold of Afghanistan's Shia Hazara minority in the center of the country. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad
Afghan Shias attend Ashura services Thursday in the main mosque of Bamiyan, a stronghold of Afghanistan's Shia Hazara minority in the center of the country. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
An imam gives an Ashura sermon Thursday at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Observances of the day are more tame in Afghanistan than in parts of the Middle East, where Shias will sometimes flog themselves bloody.
An imam gives an Ashura sermon Thursday at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Observances of the day are more tame in Afghanistan than in parts of the Middle East, where Shias will sometimes flog themselves bloody. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Volunteers prepare food for hundreds of faithful who gathered for Ashura serivices in Bamiyan, a city high in the mountains of central Afghanistan and a stronghold of the country's Shia Hazara minority. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.
Volunteers prepare food for hundreds of faithful who gathered for Ashura serivices in Bamiyan, a city high in the mountains of central Afghanistan and a stronghold of the country's Shia Hazara minority. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Volunteers prepare food for hundreds of faithful who gathered for Ashura services in Bamiyan, a city high in the mountains of central Afghanistan and a stronghold of the country's Shia Hazara minority. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.
Volunteers prepare food for hundreds of faithful who gathered for Ashura services in Bamiyan, a city high in the mountains of central Afghanistan and a stronghold of the country's Shia Hazara minority. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Afghans rush a van full of food to be handed out to the poor Thursday in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in accordance with Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims.
Afghans rush a van full of food to be handed out to the poor Thursday in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in accordance with Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Children dressed up for Ashura services Thursday in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Ashura is one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims, and Bamiyan, high in the mountains of central Afghanistan, is a stronghold of the country's Shia Hazara minority.
Children dressed up for Ashura services Thursday in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Ashura is one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims, and Bamiyan, high in the mountains of central Afghanistan, is a stronghold of the country's Shia Hazara minority. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Shia Muslims in Bamiyan, Afghanistan sit down to a meal in a mosque after Ashura services Thursday. Ashura is one of the holiest days of the year for Shias.
Shia Muslims in Bamiyan, Afghanistan sit down to a meal in a mosque after Ashura services Thursday. Ashura is one of the holiest days of the year for Shias. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Afghans wait to donate blood in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Thursday before services for Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. While some Shias whip themselves bloody for the holiday, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, the governor of Bamiyan province encouraged the faithful to donate blood instead.
Afghans wait to donate blood in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Thursday before services for Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. While some Shias whip themselves bloody for the holiday, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, the governor of Bamiyan province encouraged the faithful to donate blood instead. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A man donates blood in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Thursday before services for Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. While some Shias whip themselves bloody for the holiday, the governor of Bamiyan province encouraged the faithful to donate blood instead.
A man donates blood in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Thursday before services for Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. While some Shias whip themselves bloody for the holiday, the governor of Bamiyan province encouraged the faithful to donate blood instead. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Afghans pour sweet hot milk to worshippers leaving Ashura services Thursday in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad.
Afghans pour sweet hot milk to worshippers leaving Ashura services Thursday in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Ashura is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A man hands out hot, sweet milk to children Thursday after Ashura services at the central mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
A man hands out hot, sweet milk to children Thursday after Ashura services at the central mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Worshipers at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan beat their chests to mourn the killing of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The ritual is part of Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims.
Worshipers at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan beat their chests to mourn the killing of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The ritual is part of Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Worshipers at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan whip themselves with metal chains and beat their chests to mourn the killing of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The ritual is part of Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims.
Worshipers at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan whip themselves with metal chains and beat their chests to mourn the killing of Hussein Ibn Ali, grandson of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The ritual is part of Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Worshipers gather at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, observe Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims.
Worshipers gather at a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, observe Ashura, one of the holiest days of the year for Shia Muslims. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan — Most Afghans are Sunni Muslims, but a sizable minority are Shiites, mostly part of the Hazara ethnic group, whose Asiatic features denote their Mongolian roots and set them apart from other Afghans.

For Shiites, Ashoura, which fell on Thursday, 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).

Unlike in parts of the Middle East, where the faithful often whip themselves bloody in dramatic large-scale street marches, Afghan Shiites tend to have more low-key Ashoura observances since twin bombings killed nearly 60 people during Ashoura observances in 2011. On Thursday, Ashoura services in Afghanistan included retelling of the story of Ali’s martyrdom and ritualistic chest beating to represent Ali’s sacrifice. In lieu of the ritualistic public bloodletting, some Afghan Shiites chose to donate blood. In Kabul, a ceremonial car and foot parade flowed through the streets after the gathering at the mosque. Shiites waved flags and chanted prayers as they drove through the predominantly Hazara neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi. Alex Pena contributed to this report.

druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes

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