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In the holy city of Karbala in Iraq, tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims pilgrims have celebrated the end of a 40-day period of mourning.

The religious festival of Arbaeen marks a pivotal event in Islamic history when the seventh century killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the Shiite Islam’s most revered saints, is remembered.

Despite tight security a car bomb struck Shiite pilgrims on the way to the city killing two.

In the Iranian capital of Tehran millions converged to mark the day. Many in a show of grief beat their chests. They believe such rituals connect them to the suffering and death of Imam Hussein.

“Imam Hussein is our adoration, he is loved by the religion, by the Quran and by Islam. We should keep his memory and his blood alive. We Iranians love Imam Hussein,” explained one pilgrim.

The martyr had led a revolt against the Damascus-based Sunni caliph who sent an army to crush his small band of fighters at Karbala. The stories run deep in Shiites’ consciousness.

Hussein’s death cemented the split in Islam between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

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