In a tennis court-size hall, dozens of young men sway to the rhythms of a Shia eulogy singer. Red and blue lighting bathes their shirtless torsos and murals of Imam Hussain in purple, and ceiling fans don’t do enough to combat the 45-degree Celsius (113 F) heat of the night.
This communal Shia mourning ritual was banned under Saddam Hussein. But these rave-like self-flagellation sessions, during which Shia Muslims hit their backs, chests, and heads in a trance-like state for several hours, are now a nightly occurrence in Basra. The practice memorialises the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hussain, whose death galvanised the emergence of Shia Islam.
Those attending this Hussainiya are sober, but not all of Basra is this pious. For Ibrahim, the ritual is a way to escape the crushing reality of life in this sweltering, dangerous city – and to stay away from crystal meth, the other thing that used to help.