The Land Between The Shrines

September 2019


In the Iraqi city of Karbala, hundreds of thousands of Shi'a Muslims mark the holy and mournful day of Ashura in commemoration of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his companions, who were martyred in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.


Ashura is on the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and is mourned globally by Shia's and Sunnis alike. Traditionally, Muslims travel to Imam Hussain's Shrine in Karbala to connect with Hussain's suffering, martyrdom, and message of peace and tolerance.


Imam Hussain is remembered as a universal messenger of peace and a man who stood up and fought against oppression.


This series is dedicated to Muhammad Shiaa.

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Pakistani pilgrims stand in the land between the two shrines of Imam Hussain and Abbas, the sons of Imam Ali in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq. This was the evening of the ninth of Muharram as the city awaits Ashura. Hundreds of thousands of Shi’a Muslims mark the holy and mournful day of Ashura in commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

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Pakistani pilgrims stand in the land between the two shrines of Imam Hussain and Abbas, the sons of Imam Ali in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq. This was the evening of the ninth of Muharram as the city awaits Ashura. Hundreds of thousands of Shi’a Muslims mark the holy and mournful day of Ashura in commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

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Between the Holy shrines of Imam Hussain and his brother, Abbas, mourning pilgrims carry knives while raising alam, one of the most important objects used at mourning rituals. Alam is a flag banner that symbolises truth and bravery.

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Between the Holy shrines of Imam Hussain and his brother, Abbas, mourning pilgrims carry knives while raising alam, one of the most important objects used at mourning rituals. Alam is a flag banner that symbolises truth and bravery.

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Women publicly mourn and weep to reflect their condolences to Imam Hussain's mother and his family. Imam Hussain, and his companions, were martyred in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. 

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Women publicly mourn and weep to reflect their condolences to Imam Hussain's mother and his family. Imam Hussain, and his companions, were martyred in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. 

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A mother fans her daughter from the midday heat under the canopy between the two shrines of Imam Hussain and Abbas, the sons of Imam Ali in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq.

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A mother fans her daughter from the midday heat under the canopy between the two shrines of Imam Hussain and Abbas, the sons of Imam Ali in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq.

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Pilgrims sharpen swords before Ashura in Karbala. The practice of Tatbir includes striking oneself with a form of a talwar "sword" on the head, causing blood to flow in remembrance of Imam Hussain's martyrdom. Up to 100,000 men and women perform tatbir in Karbala on the day of Ashura.

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Pilgrims sharpen swords before Ashura in Karbala. The practice of Tatbir includes striking oneself with a form of a talwar "sword" on the head, causing blood to flow in remembrance of Imam Hussain's martyrdom. Up to 100,000 men and women perform tatbir in Karbala on the day of Ashura.

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Pilgrims stand together after performing tatbir. The practice of tatbir includes striking oneself with a form of a talwar "sword" on the head, causing blood to flow in remembrance of Imam Hussain's martyrdom. Up to 100,000 men and women perform tatbir in Karbala on the day of Ashura.

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Pilgrims stand together after performing tatbir. The practice of tatbir includes striking oneself with a form of a talwar "sword" on the head, causing blood to flow in remembrance of Imam Hussain's martyrdom. Up to 100,000 men and women perform tatbir in Karbala on the day of Ashura.

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Vials of blood from pilgrim blood donors. Increasingly, blood donation is being encouraged over the practice of tatbir. 

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Vials of blood from pilgrim blood donors. Increasingly, blood donation is being encouraged over the practice of tatbir. 

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Women medics stand beside a flag of Imam Hussain inside a medical tent. Thousands of medics serve pilgrims in need of medical attention, particularly those who participate in tatbir, the religious ritual of self flagellation.

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Women medics stand beside a flag of Imam Hussain inside a medical tent. Thousands of medics serve pilgrims in need of medical attention, particularly those who participate in tatbir, the religious ritual of self flagellation.

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Men pray for Imam Hussain, and those martyred during the Battle of Karbala, inside Imam Hussain Shrine on the night of Ashura.

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Men pray for Imam Hussain, and those martyred during the Battle of Karbala, inside Imam Hussain Shrine on the night of Ashura.

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Imam Hussain shrine the night before Ashura. The shrine is lit red, the colour of martyrdom.

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Imam Hussain shrine the night before Ashura. The shrine is lit red, the colour of martyrdom.

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Family members hold a blessing ceremony for their deceased relative during Ashura at the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala.

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Family members hold a blessing ceremony for their deceased relative during Ashura at the Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala.

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Lanterns are lit between the first and ninth of Muharram, before Ashura. They symbolise the Ahlulbayt [a phrase denoting The Prophet Muhammad and his closest family] coming to Karbala.  

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Lanterns are lit between the first and ninth of Muharram, before Ashura. They symbolise the Ahlulbayt [a phrase denoting The Prophet Muhammad and his closest family] coming to Karbala.  

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A poster of Ayatollah Sistani in Karbala.

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A poster of Ayatollah Sistani in Karbala.

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A butcher's shop in Karbala on the eve of Ashura.

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A butcher's shop in Karbala on the eve of Ashura.

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Crowds gather to photograph illustrations of beheaded Yazid soldiers.

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Crowds gather to photograph illustrations of beheaded Yazid soldiers.

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Pilgrims watch volunteers dressed as Yazid horsemen recreate the 7th Century Battle of Karbala in which the Yazid army set fire to the tents of Imam Hussain’s family and companions. This form of mourning, where the Battle of Karbala is enacted is known as taziya.

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Pilgrims watch volunteers dressed as Yazid horsemen recreate the 7th Century Battle of Karbala in which the Yazid army set fire to the tents of Imam Hussain’s family and companions. This form of mourning, where the Battle of Karbala is enacted is known as taziya.

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Men privately mourn and perform ceremonial chest beating [matam] as a display of their devotion to Imam Hussain inside a Hussainiya, used for commemoration ceremonies.

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Men privately mourn and perform ceremonial chest beating [matam] as a display of their devotion to Imam Hussain inside a Hussainiya, used for commemoration ceremonies.

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A group of Iraqi pilgrims gather inside the women’s quarter of Imam Hussain Shrine during Ashura. 

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A group of Iraqi pilgrims gather inside the women’s quarter of Imam Hussain Shrine during Ashura. 

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An Indian pilgrim family from the Dawoodi Bohara sect of Shi'a Islam inside Imam Hussain Shrine on the night of Ashura.


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An Indian pilgrim family from the Dawoodi Bohara sect of Shi'a Islam inside Imam Hussain Shrine on the night of Ashura.


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A child pushes to the front of the crowd on the eve of Ashura, known as the ninth of Muharram, to watch men 

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A child pushes to the front of the crowd on the eve of Ashura, known as the ninth of Muharram, to watch men 

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A young Iraqi pilgrim and her mother light candles outside a small shrine in the holy city of Karbala during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar

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A young Iraqi pilgrim and her mother light candles outside a small shrine in the holy city of Karbala during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar

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