All Muslims observe the day of Ashura, but for Shia Muslims, it is a significant religious remembrance of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson martyrdom,’s at Karbala.
It occurs on Muharram 10, the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims observe a voluntary day of fasting to commemorate Noah’s departure from the Ark and Moses’ deliverance from the Egyptians by God.
Ashura is a somber day of sorrow for Shia Muslims commemorating Hussein’s martyrdom in 680 AD at Karbala in modern-day Iraq. Memorial services observe it, and passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom.
Shia men and women clad in black, thumping their chests and yelling, marching through the streets. Certain Shia males attempt to replicate Hussein’s agony by chaining themselves or cutting their foreheads till the blood runs from their bodies.
Certain Shia leaders and organizations oppose the bloodshed, claiming that it fosters Shia Muslims’ backward and terrible image. These leaders promote blood donation.
The assassination of Hussein precipitated the division of Islam into two major sects: Sunnis and Shias.
In early Islamic history, the Shia were a political group (dubbed the “party of Ali”) that backed Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, and the Muslim community’s fourth Caliph (temporal and spiritual ruler).
The major division between Sunnis and Shias happened when Imam Ali failed to replace the Prophet as head of the Islamic world. Ali was assassinated in AD 661, and his major adversary Muawiya was crowned as Caliph.
Muawiya’s son Yazid succeeded him as Caliph, but Ali’s son Hussein refused to recognize his legitimacy, resulting in warfare between the two. Hussein and his supporters were slaughtered at the battle of Karbala.
Both Ali and Hussein’s assassinations spawned the Shia martyrs cult and a feeling of betrayal and resistance to injustice, persecution, and tyranny. Shias now account for around 15% of the world’s Muslim population.
It is well-documented in early Islamic history that a struggle erupted after the Prophet’s death about who would replace him. Some backed Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s fourth Caliph and cousin and son-in-law. They felt the Caliphate should remain within the Prophet’s family. These adherents were dubbed Shias.
However, Ali was assassinated by Muawiya bin Abi Sufiyan, who subsequently seized his post. Muawiya eventually abdicated the Caliphate in favor of his son Yazid. Hussain, Ali’s son, refused to accept this. He met Yazid’s army in Karbala, along with a few warriors. Hussain and his companions were assassinated during the Karbala Battle.
The day is regarded as somber among Shia Muslims in particular. On this day, Shias observe public sorrow and processions. Some Sunni Muslims observe Ashura by fasting. This day’s observances are intended to reflect the agony that Imam Hussain underwent just before his death.
Ashura is further commemorated as the day Noah descended from his ark and the day God delivered Prophet Moses from the Pharaoh of Egypt.
After Muhammad’s death, the Islamic Empire reverted to ancient customs. Hussain saw the Caliph Yazid eroding his grandfather’s beliefs. Slowly, the moral fabric of society deteriorated as Yazid reigned in his self-interest.
Hussain was a well-regarded member of society, and his support would carry considerable weight. Yazid needs a guy like Hussain to adhere to his authority in order to legitimize his corrupt regime. However, Hussain was a decent guy who fought for social justice. Hussain could not support Yazid and come out against him, despite the danger to his life.
Hussain made the supreme sacrifice for social justice. He made the decision to leave his hometown with his family and a few friends. When news of Hussain’s position reached Yazid, he sent a 30,000-strong army to compel Hussain to submit to his reign.
Yazid was well acquainted that Hussain had significant power and that what started as a modest stance among his family and associates might grow to include tens of thousands of people. Thus, Yazid issued an ultimatum to Hussain. Either submit to him or perish.
Hussain desired neither violence nor death, but seeing that he could not sit and follow Yazid, he opted to stand for his ideals. Yazid ordered his troops to assassinate Hussain on the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic calendar when he refused to obey him (Muharram). So, this day is referred to as Ashura.
The name Ashura is derived from the Arabic word for “ten.” As is the case with many other aspects of Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim practice, each sect observes the month of Muharram or the day of Ashura differently.
For Muslims, Ashura commemorates the day God liberated the Israelites, headed by the Prophet Musa (Moses), from Egypt’s Pharaohs oppression by dividing the Red Sea and allowing them to cross safely. In Sunni communities, the day is marked with fast and religious festivities, including speeches and community meals.
The two primary meanings are celebrating the day God delivered Moses and the Hebrews from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s tyranny and honoring Husayn’s martyrdom at Karbala.
On the day of Ashura, Muslims generally fast. Some people fast twice a week, on Wednesday and Thursday, or Thursday and Friday.
Now that you know everything about Ashura, it’s time to get ready to celebrate this festival with a lot of pomp and love! For more blogs about popular festivals, keep reading Seema!