Devout Shiite Muslims are left covered in blood as they whip and cut themselves as part of religious rite

Devout Shiite pilgrims were left covered in blood as they struck themselves with swords and chains during the mourning procession to mark the day of Ashura in the holy city of Najaf.

Ashura, on the 10th day of the mourning month of Muharram, commemorates the killing of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD - the defining moment of Islam's confessional schism.

Typically, millions of Shiites from around the world flock to the golden-domed shrine where Hussein's remains are buried, to pray and cry, shoulder-to-shoulder. But with coronavirus numbers spiking across the globe, this year's commemoration is subdued.

Some followers took part in a self-flagellation ritual used duringk the public processions, with small groups of the mourners covered in blood in the city of Najaf. And thousands of tearful pilgrims wearing gloves and face masks flooded Iraq's holy city of Karbala.

Small clusters of pilgrims gathered in the vast courtyards outside the main mosque in Karbala, wearing the customary mourning colour of black and the new addition of medical masks and gloves.

Wading through the crowds were teams of shrine employees spraying disinfectant mist through long, thin hoses or distributing masks to any bare-faced visitor.

To be allowed into the shrine, people must first have their temperatures taken at grey gates that resemble metal detectors.

Inside, signs on the carpet floor indicate the proper distance that should be kept between worshippers as they pray.

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