Devout Muslims in India have mourned the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson with a solemn mass flagellation ceremony.

The ritual is known as Ashura, and is celebrated on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram (the first month of the lunar calendar).

It marks the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Holy prophet in 680 AD in Karbala, near Baghdad in Iraq. He was killed by political rivals alongside an army of 72 men. Hussein's body was then mutilated, leading to his martydom.

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A mosque floor runs red with blood as Indian Shia Muslims flagellate themselves for Ashura in New Delhi, India

As well as marking the occasion with self-flagellation - to emulate the suffering of Hussein - some Shia Muslims take part in processions which involve walking on coals and carrying a 'Tazia' - a replica of his coffin.

The death of Hussein is the event which led to the split in Islam between the two sects of the Shias and the Sunnis.

According to The Muslim Issue: "Some participants gather for ceremonial chest-beating as a display of their devotion in remembrance of his suffering and to preach that oppression will not last."

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It adds Shia regions of countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Lebanon and Bahrain, have named the day as a national holiday.

The BBC states: "Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood."

Afghanistan's second vice president Muhammad Karim Khalili issued a statement yesterday imploring Ashura mourners to do this.

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Khalili was joined by President Hamid Karzai in donating blood, Tolo News reported.

Khalili said: "I request those who mourn at Ashura time to donate their blood under the process of blood donation, instead of flagellating and losing their blood at mosques, Tekias, and on the roads, so that they could save a life of their people besides donating their blood for the love of Imam Hussein.

"By donating blood we could save the life of those who are threatened. There are many ill or sick people who are not able to buy blood and death threatens them. There should be blood donated for those people."

Ashura is also marked by a voluntary day of fasting commemorating the day Noah left the Ark and the day Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.

Flagellation is also carried out by some Catholics, although it is no longer a widespread practice.

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A Filipino man pounds his bleeding bare back with bamboo sticks dangling from ropes in a Catholic flagellation rite in the northern Philippines

The late Pope John Paul II would whip himself, according to a nun who used to care for him. Tobiana Sobodka, a nun from the Sacred Heart of Jesus order, reported hearing Karol Wojtyla flagellate himself with a trouser belt.

She said: "Several times he would put himself through bodily penance," The Telegraph reported.

Professor Michael Walsh, a Catholic historian told the BBC the act is carried out for symbolic purposes during penitential processions during Lent's Holy Week in Mediterranean countries as a reminder that Jesus Christ was whipped before the crucifixion.

In the Philippines devotees wearing crowns of twigs are nailed to crosses in a yearly rite which continues even though church leaders discourage the practice.

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  • Blood is seen on the floor of a mosque as Indian Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Blood is seen on the floor of a mosque as Indian Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • An Indian Shiite Muslim woman watches a Muharram procession marking Ashura in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: Water is sprayed onto Shiite Muslim men as they beat their chests as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. People mark the ritual by mourning the martyrdom. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: Water is sprayed onto Shiite Muslim men as they beat their chests, holding razor blades, as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: A Shiite boy readies himself, as he holds sharpened blades attached to chains, prior to taking part in a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: Shiite Muslims beat their chests, holding razor blades, as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: The back of a Shiite muslim man is covered in bloodied cuts after having self-flagellated during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: A Shiite boy rests after having self-flagellated during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: A Shiite boy takes part in a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: Shiite Muslims beat their chests as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: A Shiite Muslim man has water sprayed onto him after having cut himself as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: A Shiite muslim boy strikes himself with sharpened blades attached to chains as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: A Shiite Muslim self-flagellates during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: Shiite Muslims self-flagellate during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Muslims Mark Ashura In Delhi

    NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 25: Shiite boys strike themselves with sharpened blades attached to chains as part of a self-flagellation ritual during a religious procession marking Ashura on November 25, 2012 in New Delhi, India. The religious festival of Ashura, which involves a ten-day mourning period starting with the first day of Muharram on the Islamic calendar, commemorates and mourns the seventh-century martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

  • Blood is seen on the floor of a mosque as Indian Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Young Indian Shiite Muslim boys flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Blood is seen on the floor of a mosque as Indian Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Blood is seen on the floor of a mosque as an Indian Shiite Muslim flagellates himself during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Indian Shiite Muslims mourn after flagellating themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Indian Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Indian Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • Young Indian Shiite Muslim boys flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession marking Ashura, in New Delhi, India, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning for Shiite Muslims in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • An Indian Shiite Muslim cries during a Muharram procession marking Ashura in New Delhi, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Muharram is a month of mourning in remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)