A man beating his chest symbolically in alignment with the Shi’a ritual known as “Latam” or chest-beating. Such a practice is commonly re-enacted by the Shi’a in conjunction with oral Eelogies which re-enact and recount the tragic killing of Imam al-Husayn (a.s) at Karbala.
The tragedy of Karbala, in which the third holy Imam of the Shi’a namely al-Husayn b. ‘Ali (a.s) was martyred alongside one hundred men, women and children of the Ahlulbayt by an army of thirty thousand men from the army of the Caliph Yazid, is a tragedy which still resonates within the hearts and minds of the Shi’a community.
There can be no doubt that it forms a crucial part of Shi’a identity. It has become part and parcel of the religion of Shi’a Islam to annually organise gatherings in which al-Husayn’s martyrdom and circumstances surrounding how he was killed as well as the aftermath, are orally recited and recalled, in often graphic detail.
For two months of the Islamic year, starting with Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, the Shi'a gain proximity to God through the remembrance of the tragedy of Imam Husayn (a.s). Devout Shi'as will even abstain from celebrating occasions of joy.
It is also common for Shi’a Muslims during this period to embark on a pilgrimage to the city of Karbala in Iraq where the grave of al-Husayn (a.s) is. There they recite special supplications transmitted in the Shi’a collections of traditions.