Central London was brought to a complete standstill on Wednesday after Shia Muslims held a segregated religious march down London’s main shopping street.
The event was segregated by gender, with men leading the way down Oxford Street with a sea of veiled women following behind.
It was held to mark Ashura day, part of the month of Muharram – the second holiest time in the Islamic calendar when the violent death of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad is remembered.
Commemorations usually involve re-enactments of the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD and include public professions of intense collective grief, where participants frequently self-harm and flagellate.
Across the Middle East, Muslims beat their chests and maim themselves with whips, chains, knives, and swords until they are covered in blood.
Thousands of Muslims walking Oxford street rn in an Anti Terrorism march but I see no news coverage cos I guess that wouldn't fit the agenda pic.twitter.com/6JGeujTudp
— Ryan (@ifhdttm) October 12, 2016
— Erin Marie Saltman (@ErinSaltman) October 12, 2016
The event also frequently attracts sectarian violence in the Muslim world, with 14 Shiites killed this Wednesday in a blast at a mosque in Afghanistan, set by suspected Sunni militants.
However, the event in London was described as a protest “against terrorism” by some observers as a few on the march held signs reading: “No to terrorism. No to injustice. No to racism.”
According to the Evening Standard, other placards read, “Terrorism has no religion” and “men and women are equal in Islam”.
People on the march held banners, waved flags, and chanted loudly. Roads in and out of what is London’s busiest shopping street were completely closed off, causing traffic and significant delays.
Despite self-harm and self-flagellation rituals being largely shunned and outlawed in the UK, they are thought to have taken place in Manchester and Luton this year.
Blood, sweat and suffering:
Shia Muslims flog themselves on Holy Day of Ashora in MANCHESTER pic.twitter.com/o6zhwVRfwR
— IN THE NOW (@IntheNow_tweet) October 10, 2016
Bedfordshire Police were called to the Masjid-e-Ali mosque in Beechwood Road, Luton, on Tuesday night following reports of a self-flagellation ceremony.
A member of the public, who saw officers at the mosque, told Luton Today: “I am very concerned, there has been a lot of police at the mosque since Tuesday night.
“Men have been turning up with knives for this self-flagellation and they have been there all day today [Wednesday]. Children should not have to see that.”