Ashura

By Alisha Purakayastha and Iris Zhao

Upcoming Date of Ashura

October 23, 2015.

What is Ashura?

Ashura is an important Muslim holiday commonly celebrated amongst the Shi'ite Islam. This holiday takes place on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month on the Muslim calendar. In 2015, Ashura will take place on October 23. This holiday was designated in 622 AD by Muhammad as a day of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Among the Sunnis, the Ashura fast is a voluntary observance. Among the Shi'ites (or Shi'a), Ashura is a major festival commemorating the death of Hussain, grandson of the holy prophet Muhammad. When Muhammad died, Sunnis did not believe he appointed a successor, but Shi'ites believed he appointed his son-in-law. The split of Sunni and Shi'ite arose in result of conflict over succession.


There is a great history behind how and why this celebration began. On the 10th day of Muharram, an event took place in Karbala, Iraq. A large army lead by Hussain and mobilized by the Umayyad regime surrounded a group of less than 100 people and pressured them into paying loyalty and commitment to the “Caliph” (the chief Muslim civil or religious leader of the time), and submit to all of his authority. The small group resisted and in result, a severe battle occurred. All 100 men part of the small group were killed. Hussain was and still is known as the "leader of the martyrs." He is the son of Ali bin Abi Talib (his father) and Fatima (his mother). Yazid, whose father (Muawiya) and grandfather (Abu Sufyan--arch enemy of Prophet Muhammad) always tried to sabotage the Holy Prophet’s mission. Yazid was a drunkard, a killer of innocent people, and one who involves himself in iniquitous acts. The revolution of Hussain was an Islamic movement lead by one of Islam’s significant leaders. When leaving Medina, Hussain said, “I am not rising (against Yazid) as an insolent or an arrogant person, or a mischief-monger or tyrant. I have risen (against Yazid) as I seek to warn the Ummah of my grandfather. I wish the bid the good and forbid the evil.”He was killed on a battlefield as he did Sajdah (a part of daily Islamic prayers). His head was removed from his body on the plains of Karbala, mounted on a spear, and paraded through villages and towns as it was taken to Damascus and presented at the feet of Yazid.

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Sajdah is an Islamic practice that is part of a Muslim's daily prayers.

Ashura Rituals

Shi'ite Muslims participate in a number of grieving rituals for Ashura such as self-flagellation (self-harming) and reenactments of the battle. Most people wear black and stride through the streets chanting and hitting themselves on the chest. Knives are commonly used to harm oneself, but some use whips and chains to cut their foreheads. Shi'ites believe that by harming themselves on Ashura, their rituals will be fulfilled. Ashura blood drives are often organized by Shi'ite leaders who disapprove of this practice. Many go on a pilgrimage to Karbala, Iraq, where Hussain was killed for this holiday.
Women mourning - Muharram
On Ashura, women do not participate in self bashing and bloodshed. In this video, women mourn by beating their chests, chanting, and singing just as men do.

DId You Know?

The Jews of Medina fasted on the 10th of Muharram in remembrance of deliverance from Egypt’s Pharaoh. The prophet Muhammad promised he would fast for two days to honor this event, but he died before he could fulfill his promise. To this day, Muslims remember Ashura by fasting and meditation. The main fast on Ashura is normally followed by another day of fasting to honor the wishes of Muhammad.

Works Cited

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"Women Mourning - Muharram." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 02 Dec. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl6GuDVxwl0>.