Shia Muslims have come from across the world to Damascus to celebrate one of the most important events of the year.
It is the end of forty days of mourning for the death of the Imam Hussein – he was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, and Shias consider him to have been martyred. Every year, they mourn for forty days, as if he had died all over again.
They beat their chest, in sympathy with his pain.
The Imam Hussein was killed in Karbala, in Iraq – the scene of many, many more killings over the past four murderous years. And Shias would normally make a pilgrimage to Karbala.
But because of the violence and occupation, they have chosen to come to Damascus. To the Umayid Mosque.
The Umayid Mosque is a symbol of modern-day tolerance at the heart of one of the most religiously open cities in the Arab World. The Umayid Mosque is a site of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and for Christians too (there is a shrine to John the Baptist inside the huge main prayer hall – where his head is kept). And you know what, I’ve seen a few non-belivers in there too, making a cultural pilgrimage.
Damascus’s best photographer, John Wreford, has captured these incredible images of Shia from across the world streaming through Souq Al-Hamidiyah towards the Umayid Mosque.
In a sign of the tolerance of this city, Christian children and adults celebrated the Feast of the Cross just meters away from where these pictures were taken a few weeks ago (in Bab Touma). Where else in the Arab World could these two events happen so freely.