In many parts of the world, particularly in the Islamic community, Ashura is a day of great significance and remembrance. This solemn occasion holds deep historical and religious importance, especially for Shia Muslims. In this blog, we will explore the history of Ashura and its practices on this special day.
What is Ashura?
Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram. It is the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The term "Ashura" means "tenth" in Arabic. This day holds different meanings for different Muslim communities. Its significance primarily lies in the remembrance of important historical events.
History of Ashura
The Martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS)
One of the key events commemorated on Ashura is the tragic martyrdom of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (AS). He is the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This was the year 680 CE. During the Battle of Karbala, Imam Hussain, his family and a small group of loyal companions, faced a large opposing force.
In present-day, this place is Iraq. Despite being less in number and surrounded, Imam Hussain refused to pledge allegiance to the oppressive ruler of his time. He fought for justice. It highlights the sacrifice for standing against injustice.
A Day of Atonement
For Sunni Muslims, Ashura also holds significance. It marks the day when the Prophet Moses (Musa, AS) and the Israelites had protection from the tyranny of Pharaoh as they crossed the Red Sea. It is famous that Moses and his followers observed a fast on this day. It is to express gratitude to Allah for their deliverance.
Activities on Ashura
On Ashura, various activities take place, especially among Muslim communities. It is to commemorate the historical events associated with this significant day. The specific activities can differ depending on cultural traditions and religious beliefs. Here are some everyday activities observed on Ashura:
Fasting is one of the most common practices in Ashura. Sunni and Shia Muslims may fast on this day as a sign of respect and remembrance. Some may fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram, while others may fast only on the 10th day.
Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, gather in mosques and Hussainiyahs (religious centres). These gatherings involve recitations of elegies (called Noha in Urdu and Persian) and sermons (Majlis). It is storytelling about the events of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions.
In some regions, processions are on the streets to remember the tragedy of Karbala. Participants may walk while chanting and beating their chests to express grief for Imam Hussain's suffering.
In some regions, particularly among Shia communities, they organize blood donation drives. It is to honour the memory of Karbala's bloodshed and save lives by donating blood to those in need.
Avoiding Celebratory Activities
Many Muslims observe Ashura with solemnity and refrain from engaging in joyous or celebratory activities out of respect for the tragic events of this day.
Ashura Around the Globe
Muslims observe Ashura from different backgrounds and communities. It depends upon cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and the size of the Muslim population in a particular region. Here are some ways in which Ashura is in various parts of the world:
Ashura in Middle East and South Asia
- Processions and Majlis
They hold processions and Majlis countries like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India, and Lebanon. These processions may involve people marching in the streets while chanting religious slogans. They carry banners and symbols representing the tragedy of Karbala.
In some communities, particularly in parts of SouthAsia and the Middle East, some individuals perform self-flagellation acts. It happens with chains or sharp objects as a symbolic gesture of mourning. It's essential to note that all Islamic scholars do not endorse this practice. It is often controversial within the Muslim community.
- Blood Donation
Blood donation drives in some regions, especially in Iran, to honour the memory of the bloodshed at Karbala and help save lives.
Ashura in Southeast Asia
- Charity and Acts of Kindness
In countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslims often focus on acts of charity, helping the poor and providing food to those in need.
- Special Prayers and Supplications
Extra prayers and recitation of specific supplications are common in Southeast Asian countries.
Ashura in Africa
- Mourning Gatherings
Muslims participate in gatherings in countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya. They listen to sermons and stories about the events of Karbala, Imam Hussain's sacrifice and compassion.
- Acts of Charity
Like in other regions, Ashura is a time for charity and helping the less fortunate.
Ashura in Europe and North America
- Commemorative Gatherings
Ashura is often marked with gatherings at mosques, community centres, or private homes. These gatherings include lectures, discussions, and prayers.
- Educational Events
Some Muslim organizations may host educational events to raise awareness. It is about the significance of Ashura and its historical context.
It is important to remember that Ashura is a day of remembrance. It is also essential to approach it with sensitivity and respect. The observance of Ashura should promote understanding, empathy, and the pursuit of justice.
It serves as a reminder of the sacrifice made by Imam Hussain for justice and righteousness. Through fasting, gatherings, and acts of charity, Muslims commemorate the values of compassion. It Ashura teaches selflessness and standing up against oppression. Regardless of one's religious beliefs, the lessons of Ashura can resonate with all. It promotes understanding, empathy, and the pursuit of justice in our lives.