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Day of Ashura
Muharram procession 2, Manama, Bahrain (Feb 2005)
Shi'a Muslims in Bahrain strike their chests during the mourning
Official name Arabic: عاشوراء (ʻĀshūrā’)
Also called Hosay, Tabuik, Tabot
Observed by Shi'a Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Caribbeans
Type Islamic and national (In some countries such as Iran and Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica )
Significance Shi'a Muslims: marks the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali; In addition Sunni: Liberation of Moses and Israelites from Pharaoh
Date 10 Muharram
Observances Mourn and derive messages from Husayn's Sacrifice; In addition Sunni: Prayer, Fasting
Related to Remembrance of Muharram, which encompasses the first ten days of Muharram and Ashura

A series of articles on

Husayn callig
Imam of Islam

Family tree · Battle of Karbala

Maqtal Al-Husayn · Mourning of Muharram · Day of Ashura · Arba'een · Imam Husayn Shrine · Hussainia · Majlis-e-Aza · Marsia · Noha · Soaz · Ta'zieh · Tabuik · Hosay

The Twelve Imams · The Fourteen Infallibles

The Day of Ashura (عاشوراء (Template:ArTranslit, Ashura, Ashoura, and other spellings) is on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Remembrance of Muharram.

It is commemorated by the Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 AD[1]). Sunni Muslims believe that Moses fasted on that day to express gratitude to God for liberation of Israelites from Egypt. According to Sunni Muslim tradition, Muhammad fasted on this day and asked other people to fast.[2][3]

In some countries and regions such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Bahrain and Jamaica, Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and most ethnic and religious communities participate in it.

Etymology of Ashura

The word ashura means simply tenth in Arabic language; hence the name of the remembrance, literally translated, means "the tenth day". The day is indeed the tenth day of the month, although some Islamic scholars offer up different etymologies. In his book Ghuniyatut Talibin, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani writes that the Islamic scholars have a difference of opinion as to why this day is known as Ashura. The consensus is that the day is the tenth day of the month of Muharram. Some scholars, however, suggest that this day is the tenth most important day that God has blessed Muslims with; hence the name Ashura.

Commemoration of the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali

Template:Mourning of Muharram

History of the commemoration

This day is well-known because of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali A.S the grandson of Muhammad and the third Shia Imam, along with members of his family and close friends at the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 AH (AD 680). Yazid I was in power then and wanted the Bay'ah (allegiance) of Husayn ibn Ali. Many Muslims believe Yazid was openly going against the teachings of Islam in public and changing the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad.[4][5][6]

Husayn in his path toward Kufa encountered the army of Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa. On October 10 680(Muharram 10, 61 AH), he and his small group of companions and family members, who were between 72 and 100 men of Husayn ibn Ali (the grandson of Muhammad).[7][8] fought with a large army of perhaps more than 100,000 men under the command of Umar ibn Sa'ad, son of the founder of Kufa. Husayn and all of his men were killed. Some of the bodies of the dead, including that of Husayn, were then mutilated.[1]

Commemoration for Husayn ibn Ali began after Battle of Karbala. After the massacre, the Umayyad army looted Husayn's camp and set off with his women and children for the court of Ibn Ziyad. A moving oration delivered by Zaynab in Kufa is recorded in some sources. The prisoners were next sent to the court of Yazid, Umayyad caliph, in Damascus, where one of his Syrian followers asked for Husayn's daughter Faṭimah al-Kubra, and once again it was Zaynab who came to the rescue and protected her honour. The family remained in Yazid's prison for a time. The first assembly (majlis) of Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali is said to have been held by Zaynab in prison. In Damascus, too, she is reported to have delivered a poignant oration. The prison sentence ended when Hussain's 4 year old daughter died in captivity, a young girl who would stand at the window of the prison and tell the ladies who would gather outside about the tragedy that befell her family. Her death caused an uproar in the city, and Yazid - fearful of a revolution that may have begun as a result - freed the captives.[9]

"Zaynab bint Ali quoted as she passed the prostrate body of her brother, Husayn. " O Muhammad! O Muhammad! May the angels of heaven bless you. Here is Husayn in the open, stained with blood and with limbs torn off. O Muhammad! Your daughters are prisoners, your progeny are killed, and the east wind blows dust over them." By God! She made every enemy and friend weep."
Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, Volume XIX The Caliphate of Yazid.[10]

Just few years after Husayn's death his grave became a pilgrimage site among Shi'a. A tradition of pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine and the other Karbala martyrs quickly developed, which is renown as Ziarat Ashura.[11] The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs tried to prevent construction of the shrines and discouraged pilgrimage to the sites.[12] The tomb and its annexes were destroyed by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 850-851 and Shi'a pilgrimage was prohibited, but shrines in Karbala and Najaf were built by the Buwayhid emir 'Adud al-Daula in 979-80.[13]

It did not take long for public rites of remembrance for Husayn's martyrdom to develop from the early pilgrimages. Under the Buyid dynasty, Mu'izz ad-Dawla officiated at public commemoration of Ashura in Baghdad. These commemorations were also encouraged in Egypt by the Fatimid caliph al-'Aziz. From Seljuq times, Ashura rituals began to attract many participants from a variety of backgrounds, including Sunnis. With the recognition of Twelvers as the official religion by the Safavids, Mourning of Muharram extended throughout the first ten days of Muharram.[11]

Significance of Ashura for Shi'a Muslims

This day is of particular significance to Shi'a Muslims, who consider Hussein (the grandson of the Prophet) Ahl al-Bayt the third Imam and the rightful successor of Muhammad. Many Shi'as make pilgrimages on Ashura to the Mashhad al-Husayn, the shrine in Karbala, Iraq that is traditionally held to be Imam Hussein's tomb. On this day Shi'a are in remembrance, and mourning attire is worn. They refrain from music, since customarily in Islam when death has occurred music is considered impolite. It is a time for sorrow and respect of the person's passing, and it is also a time for self-reflection, when one commits oneself to the mourning of the Imam Hussein completely. Weddings and parties are also never planned on this date by Shi'as. Shi'as also express mourning by crying and listening to poems about the tragedy and sermons on how Hussein and his family were martyred. This is intended to connect them with Hussein's suffering and martyrdom, and the sacrifices he made to keep Islam alive. Hussein's martyrdom is widely interpreted by Shi'a as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression.[14]

Shi'as believe the Battle of Karbala was between the forces of good and evil. Imam Hussain represented good while Yazid represented evil. Shi'as also believe the Battle of Karbala was fought to keep the Muslim religion untainted of any corruptions and they believed the path that Yazid was directing Islam was definitely for his own personal greed.

Shia Imams strongly insists that the day of Ashura should not be taken as a day of joy and festivity. According to a hadith which is reported from Ali some people fabricated a hadith claiming it was on that day the God forgave Adam, Noah's Ark rested on dry land, The Israelites were saved from Pharaoh's army, etc. The day of Ashura, according to Eighth Shia Imam, Ali al-Rida, must be observed as a day of inactivity, sorrow and total disregard of worldly cares. [15]

Shia refrain from drinking and eating in commemoration of Imam Hussein. This is known as Fakah, which is not a formal fast.

Many of the events associated with Ashura are held in special congregation halls known as "Imambargah" and Hussainia.

As suffering and cutting the body with knives or chains (matam) have been prohibited by many Shi'a marjas like Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran,[16] some Shi'a observe mourning with blood donation which is called "Qame Zani"[16] and flailing[17].

Certain rituals like the traditional flagellation ritual called zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam, involving the use of a zanjeer (a chain) are also performed[18]. These are not religious customs but are popularly done for the sake of Imam Hussain and his family.

At least many Shia believe that taking part in Ashura is to be absolved of sin. A popular Shia saying has it that, `a single tear shed for Hussain washes away a hundred sins.`[19]

Popular customs

For Shi'as, commemoration of Ashura is not a festival, but rather a sad event, while Sunni Muslims view it as a victory God (Allah) has given to his prophet, Musa. This victory is the very reason, as Sunni Muslims believe, Muhammad mentioned when recommending fasting on this day. For Shi'as, it is a period of intense grief and mourning. Mourners, congregate at a Mosque for sorrowful, poetic recitations such as marsiya, noha, latmiya and soaz performed in memory of the martyrdom of Hussein, lamenting and grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of "Ya Hussain." Also Ulamas give sermons with themes of Hussein's personality and position in Islam, and the history of his uprising. The Sheikh of the mosque retells the Battle of Karbala to allow the listeners to relive the pain and sorrow endured by Hussein and his family. In Arab countries like Iraq and Lebanon they read Maqtal Al-Husayn. In some places, such as Iran, Iraq and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Ta'zieh, passion plays, are also performed reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and martyrdom of Hussein at the hands of Yazid.

For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques and some people to provide free meals (Niazz) on certain nights of the month to all people. Many people donate food and Middle Eastern sweets to the mosque. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Husayn, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with God, Hussain, and humanity.

Many participants congregate together in public processions for ceremonial chest beating (matham/latmiya) as a display of their devotion to Husayn, in remembrance of his suffering and to preach that oppression will not last in the face of truth and justice[20]. Others pay tribute to the time period by holding a Majilis, Surahs from the Quran and Maqtal Al-Husayn are read.

Today in Indonesia, the event is known as Tabuik (Minangkabau language) or Tabut/Tabot (Indonesian). Tabuik is the local manifestation of the Shi'a Muslim Remembrance of Muharram among the Minangkabau people in the coastal regions of West Sumatra, particularly in the city of Pariaman. The festival includes reenactments of the Battle of Karbala, and the playing of tassa and dhol drums.

In countries like Turkey, there is the custom of eating Noah's Pudding Ashure as this day in Turkish is known as Aşure.

Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali by non-Muslims

In some countries other religious communities commemorate this event.

In Trinidad and Tobago[21] and Jamaica[22] all ethnic and religious communities participate in this event, locally known as "Hosay" or "Hussay", from "Husayn".

Significance of Ashura for Sunni muslims

According to Sunni Hadith, Ashura was already known as a commemorative day during which some Meccans used to observe customary fasting. In hijrah event when Muhammad led his followers to Medina, he found the Jews of that area likewise observing fasts on the day of Ashura. At this, Muhammad affirmed the Islamic claim to the fast, and from then the Muslims have fasted on combinations of two or three consecutive days including the 10th of Muharram (e.g. 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th)[23][24].

A companion of the prophet, Ibn Abas reports that the prophet went to Medina and found the Jews fasting on the tenth of Muharram. Muhammad inquired of them, "What is the significance of this day on which you fast?" They replied, "This is a righteous day. On this day God saved the Israelites from their enemy. Therefore Moses fasted on this day." Muhammad said, "I am more worthy of Moses than you." (taken from Muslim) [25]

From then, Muhammad fasted on the tenth of Muharram.

The Shariah law however, shuns acts that resemble Jews and Christians. Thus it is reported in Mishkaat that Muhammad said, "Fast on the day of Ashura and oppose the Jews regarding it. Thus fast on the day before it and on the day after." (Taken from The Significance of Muharram by Rafique Valli, lecturer at the Islamic University for Girls, Johannesburg)

All Sunni Muslims believe that the fast on Ashura is optional.

The Ashura is commemorated for the following occasions which may have happened on the 10th Day of the Muharram:

  • God had mercy on Adam[26][unreliable source?]
  • The deliverance of Noah from the flood
  • Abraham was saved from Nimrod's fire
  • Jacob's blindness was healed after Joseph's shirt was brought to him on this day (Quran)
  • Job was healed from his illness
  • The Israelites were saved from Pharaoh's army.
  • Jesus was brought up to heaven after attempts by the Romans to capture and crucify him failed.

All the above incidents are not confirmed to have taken place on Ashura in the Koran, nor by any strong Hadith. These have been reported in the weaker Hadith, but are nevertheless regarded possible by majority of the Sunni Muslims. The most authentic is the 5th incident where God saved Moses and the Israelites from Pharaoh. This is the reason why many Muslims fast on the 10th of Muharram.

Today, Sunnis regard fasting during Ashura as recommended, though not obligatory, having been superseded by the Ramadan fast.[27]

Oddly, Sunnis in Egypt customarily eat a pudding (also known as Ashura) after dinner on the Day of Ashura; it is a rice pudding with nuts, raisins, and rose water, and it is also known in Turkish as Aşure. Given that Egypt was ruled by the Shi'ite Fatimid Caliphate and subsequently conquered by the Sunni Ayyubid dynasty, it may be that the (bitter) fast of Ashura was turned on its head after the Fatimid regime was toppled.

Socio-political aspects

Commemoration of Ashura has great socio-political value for the Shi'a, who have been a minority throughout their history. "Al-Amd" asserts that the Shiite transference of Al-Husayn and Karbala ' from the framework of history to the domain of ideology and everlasting legend reflects their marginal and dissenting status in Arab-Islamic society.[original research?] According to the prevailing conditions at the time of the commemoration, such reminiscences may become a framework for implicit dissent or explicit protest. It was, for instance, used during the Islamic Revolution of Iran , the Lebanese Civil War, the Lebanese resistance against the Israeli occupation and in the 1990s Uprising in Bahrain. Sometimes the `Ashura' celebrations associate the memory of Al-Husayn's martyrdom with the conditions of Islam and Muslims (both of which have been historically continually put down by the world powers) in reference to Imam Hussain's famous quote on the day of Ashura: "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala".[28]

From the period of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) onward, mourning gatherings increasingly assumed a political aspect. Following an old established tradition, preachers compared the oppressors of the time with Imam Hosayn's enemies, the umayyads.[29]

The political function of commemoration was very marked in the years leading up to the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, as well as during the revolution itself. In addition, the implicit self-identification of the Muslim revolutionaries with Imam Hosayn led to a blossoming of the cult of the martyr, expressed most vividly, perhaps, in the vast cemetery of Behesht-e Zahra, to the south of Tehran, where the martyrs of the revolution and the war against Iraq are buried.[29]

On the other hand some governments have banned this commemoration. In 1930s Reza Shah forbade it in Iran. The regime of Saddam Hussein saw this as a potential threat and banned Ashura commemorations for many years. In the 1884 Hosay Massacre, 22 people were killed in Trinidad and Tobago when civilians attempted to carry out the Ashura rites, locally known as Hosay, in defiance of the British colonial authorities.

Violence during Ashura

The Sunni and Shi'a schism is highlighted by the difference in observance by Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The violence is perpetrated by Sunni and Shia extremists. In countries that have significant populations of both sects, there is often violence during the holiday.

On June 20, 1994 the explosion of a bomb in a prayer hall of Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad[30] killed at least 25 people.[31] The Iranian government officially blamed Mujahedin-e-Khalq for the incident to avoid sectarian conflict between Shias and Sunnis.[32] However, the Pakistani daily The News International reported on March 27, 1995, "Pakistani investigators have identified a 24-year-old religious fanatic Abdul Shakoor residing in Lyari in Karachi, as an important Pakistani associate of Ramzi Yousef. Abdul Shakoor had intimate contacts with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and was responsible for the June 20, 1994, massive bomb explosion at the shrine Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad."[33]

The 2004 (1425 AH) Shi'a pilgrimage to Karbala, the first since Saddam Hussein was removed from power in Iraq, was marred by bomb attacks, which killed and wounded hundreds despite tight security.

On January 19, 2008, 7 million Iraqi Shia pilgrims marched through Karbala city, Iraq to commemorate Ashura. 20,000 Iraqi troops and police guarded the event amid tensions due to clashes between Iraqi troops and members of a Shia cult, the Soldiers of Heaven, which left around 263 people dead (in Basra and Nasiriya).[34]

Ashura in the Gregorian calendar

While Ashura is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year due to differences between the two calendars, since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. Furthermore, the method used to determine when each Islamic month begins varies from country to country.

  • 2009: January 8 and December 28 (estimated)
  • 2010: December 16 (estimated)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Battle of Karbala". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  2. Sahih Bukhari 1900; Sahih Muslim 1130
  3. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Mizan, The Fast, Al-Mawrid
  4. Al Bidayah wa al-Nihayah [1]
  5. Al Bidayah wa al-Nihayah [2]
  6. Al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah [3]
  7. در روز عاشورا چند نفر شهید شدند؟
  8. فهرست اسامي شهداي كربلا
  9. "Zaynab Bint ʿAlĪ". Encyclopedia of Religion. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  10. The history of Al-Tabari, Volume XIX The Caliphate of Yazid, translated by I. K. A. Howard, p:164
  11. al Musawi, 2006, p. 51.
  12. Litvak, 1998, p. 16.
  13. Karbala', an Enduring Paradigm
  14. Ayoub, Shiʻism (1988), pp. 258 and 259
  16. Ashura observed with blood streams to mark Karbala tragedy | Jafariya News Network
  17. New Statesman - Scars on the backs of the young
  18. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, 2006, p.50
  20. Korom, Frank J. (2003). Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 0-8122-3683-1. 
  21. Shankar, Guha (2003) Imagining India(ns): Cultural Performances and Diaspora Politics in Jamaica. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin pdf
  22. Sahih Bukhari 1900; Sahih Muslim 1130
  23. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Mizan, The Fast, Al-Mawrid
  24. Al-Bukhari
  25. Birundi, Traces of the Past
  26. Emmanuel Sivan. "Sunni Radicalism in the Middle East and the Iranian Revolution". International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1. (Feb., 1989), pp. 1-30
  27. IslamOnline - Art & Entertainment Section
  28. 29.0 29.1 Calmard, J.. "'AZAÚDAÚRÈ". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  29. ABC Evening News for Monday, June 20, 1994
  30. Explosive circles: Iran. (Mashhad bombing)
  31. []
  33. BBC NEWS, Iraqi Shia pilgrims mark holy day


  • Litvak, Meir (1998). Shi'i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq: The Ulama of Najaf and Karbala. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521892961
  • al Musawi, Muhsin (2006). Reading Iraq: Culture and Power and Conflict. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1845110706
  • al Mufid, al-Shaykh Muhammad (Dec 1982(1st ed.)). Kitab Al-Irshad. Tahrike Tarsile Quran. ISBN-10: 0940368129 , ISBN-13: 978-0940368125
  • al-Azdi, abu Mikhnaf, Maqtal al-Husayn. Shia Ithnasheri Community of Middlesex []

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