What is Ashura?
Ashura is a religious observance marked every year by Muslims on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. The word ashura literally means “10th” in Arabic. Ashura is an ancient day of remembrance for all Muslims, but it is now recognized for different reasons and in different ways by Sunni and Shia Muslims.
For Sunni Muslims, Ashura commemorates the day that God delivered the Israelites, led by the Prophet Musa (Moses), from the tyranny of Egypt’s Pharaoh by parting the Red Sea, thus allowing them to cross safely. The day is observed with fasting and special prayers in mosques, signifying its sacred nature. Some Sunni Muslims also revere Imam Hussein and take a negative view of Yazid I, who is often criticized for his impiety.
For Shia Muslims, the significance of the day also stems from it being the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, who is venerated as an Imam, or the rightful leader of the Muslim community. Imam Hussein was killed along with his followers during the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, after confronting the Umayyad forces loyal to the caliph, Yazid I. The Battle of Karbala became a significant factor in the later split between Shia and Sunni Muslims. For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a day of mourning, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his family. Shia communities engage in vibrant rites on this occasion, staging colorful plays that re-enact the events of the battle. Devotees passionately take on the roles of Imam Hussein and his followers, who are seen as symbols of resistance and justice.
How is Ashura observed?
The way that Ashura is observed varies from community to community. However, there are some common practices that are observed by Muslims around the world.
Fasting: Sunni Muslims fast on the 10th of Muharram. Shia Muslims may fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram, or on the 10th and 11th of Muharram.
Lamentation: Shia Muslims recite lamentations on the day of Ashura. These lamentations are poems and songs that recount the events of the Battle of Karbala.
Self-flagellation: Some Shia Muslims engage in self-flagellation on the day of Ashura. This is a practice that is discouraged by most scholars, but it is still practiced by some.
Charity: Muslims are encouraged to give charity on the day of Ashura. This is seen as a way of expiating sins and of showing solidarity with those who are less fortunate.
What is the purpose of Ashura?
The purpose of Ashura is to remember the important events in Islamic history and to reflect on the lessons that they teach us. Ashura is a day to celebrate the victories of Allah (SWT) and to mourn the losses of the Muslim community. It is also a day to reflect on the importance of justice, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
Why is Ashura important?
Ashura is important for Muslims because it reminds them of God’s mercy and power. It also teaches them about fasting as a form of worship and gratitude to God. For Shia Muslims, Ashura is especially important because it honors the sacrifice and courage of Imam Hussein and his companions, who stood up for their principles and faith against tyranny and injustice. It also inspires them to emulate Imam Hussein’s example and values in their own lives.
(With inputs from agencies)