Devout Muslims slice open their heads with swords during annual ritual

Muslims across the world shed their own blood in public yesterday to mark the annual Ashura festival.

The ceremony is an important event on the religious calendar for Shia worshippers and commemorates the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Husayn ibn Ali.

People cut themselves with knives and swords during the festivities, with many believing the practice cleanses them of their sins.

It is also seen as a way of showing respect and grief for Husayn ibn Ali and his family, who were killed alongside him.

The bloodletting ritual is known as Tatbir and is controversial with some Shia Muslims, who claim it is self-harm and therefore forbidden.

The Ashura festival is a national holiday in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon.

The event marks Husayn ibn Ali's death at the Battle of Karbala in 680, when the Prophet's grandson lost in his battle with Yazid I.

Shia worshippers believe Husayn ibn Ali went willingly to his death in an act of self-sacrifice.

The clash was caused by a dispute over who the rightful successor to Mohammed was.

A re-enactment of the battle took place in Baghdad yesterday, with hundreds of actors in traditional costumes fighting each other.

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