There are days in a year when goodness is more abundant than others; Ashura, or the 10th of Muharram, is one such day. Given that the word “Ashura” means “ten,” it is named from the Arabic word “Asharah,” signifying the day that falls on the tenth of the Islamic month of Muharram.
Ashura is celebrated by Sunni Muslims as the day that God split the Red Sea miraculously, freeing Moses and the Israelites from Egypt’s grasp. However, Ashura is a solemn event for the Remembrance or Mourning of Muharram and is very important to Shia and Sufi Muslims. The main focus of this commemoration is Imam Husayn ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, and his sacrifice. Ashura is a moment to reflect deeply on the differences between the corruption of the world and the values of piety, sacrifice, and tenacity.
Origins of Ashura
The most significant event that took place inside the confines of Iraq during the month of Muharram—more precisely, in Muharram 61 AH—was the Battle of Karbala.
The battle ensued between a comparatively small army, comprised of the family and companions of Imam Hussain (AS), who was the grandson of the Prophet (PBUH), and a significantly larger army dispatched by Yazid ibn Muawiyah, who held the position of Umayyad Caliph during that period.
The battle took place between a tiny contingent made up of Imam Hussain’s (AS) family and friends, the revered Prophet Muhammad’s grandson (PBUH). They faced an opposition army that was far bigger, led by Yazid ibn Muawiyah, the Umayyad Caliph at that time.
A sad occurrence arose on the 10th of Muharram, also known as the Day of Ashura, when the opposing camp ruthlessly assassinated Imam Hussain (AS). This day is very important in the history of Islam because it is the day that Imam Hussain (AS) and seventy-two other honorable people—mostly men who were related to the Prophet (PBUH)—boldly gave their lives to protect the teachings of Islam and to resist injustice.
The Prophet (SAW) and Imam Hussain (AS) had a very special and intimate friendship. He readily climbed upon the Prophet’s (SAW) back during prayer as a youngster, demonstrating the close relationship they shared. But Imam Hussain (AS) suffered a terrible end when he was violently decapitated in the Battle of Karbala, which is still remembered as one of the saddest and most painful moments in Islamic history.
The following Hadith highlights Imam Hussain’s elevated stature in Islam:
“Al-Husain is from me and I am from Al-Husain. Those who hold affection for Al-Husain are cherished by Allah”.
Hadith | Musnad Ahmad
Importance and Significance of Ashura in Islam
The observance of Ashura is very meaningful to Muslims worldwide and has great historical significance in Islam. On the Day of Ashura, several important events take place in Islamic history.
Events transpired on the Day of Ashura
1)On the tenth day of Muharram, or Ashura, Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) became a martyr. As the adored grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the son of Hazrat Ali (RA) and Hazrat Fatima (RA), Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) is especially revered. Being the third Imam of Muslims, he is especially respected as one of the Imams.
The Battle of Karbala, in which Yazid personified the forces of evil and Imam Hussain (AS) represented the forces of good, represented the fight between good and evil, and the events leading up to Hazrat Imam Hussain’s (AS) martyrdom. As a result, Muslims remember Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS) and his family’s sacrifice on Ashura Day in remembrance of Islam.
2)Narrations state that Ashura is the day on which Hazrat Adam (AS) was pardoned by Allah Almighty, the day on which Hazrat Nuh’s (AS) Ark settled on Mount Judi and the day on which Allah pardoned the followers of Hazrat Yunus (AS).
3)Ashura is the day that Hazrat Musa (AS) and his people were freed from the onslaught of Pharaoh and his army by Allah Almighty. Hazrat Musa (AS) and his adherents were spared on this day, while Pharaoh and his army perished. Hazrat Musa (AS) observed a fast as a sign of thanks, and his people carried on with this custom ever since. The Jews were told by the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) that Hazrat Musa (AS) was more closely connected to his Ummah (country) than he was to them.
Accordingly, on the day of Ashura, the Prophet (PBUH) fasted himself and commanded his Companions to follow suit. Moreover, it is thought that Hazrat Ayub (AS) was healed of his illnesses and given a fresh start on the day of Ashura by Allah Ta’ala.
Understanding the importance of Muharram and the qualities associated with this holy month is vital for all Muslims. This holiest of months is when Allah Almighty bestows many rewards on those who do righteousness. According to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): “The best of fasts besides the month of Ramadan is the fasting of Allah’s month of Muharram.” (Muslim)
The virtues and regulations related to observing the fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram.
After moving to Medina in 622 CE, the Islamic prophet Muhammad is said to have embraced the Jewish custom of fasting on Ashura. This deed could have represented Muhammad’s relationship to Moses’ prophetic mission. Originally, Muslims were not required to fast on Ashura. But after a year or so, when things with the Medina Jewish community soured, fasting on Ashura became no longer a religious requirement.
Verse 2:183–5 of the Quran, which specifically names Ramadan as the month of fasting and highlights its significance to Islam, is frequently cited as the source of this change. It is also improbable that Ashura initially corresponded with the tenth day of Muharram. Rather, it is thought that the first Ashura was celebrated on Yom Kippur, also known as the “day of atonement,” on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei.
The relationship between Ashura and the tenth day of Muharram emerged later, following the divergence of the calendars used by Muslims and Jews. Muhammad forbade the adoption of Jewish-style calendar modifications, as stated in Quranic verse 9:37, which led to this disparity in calendars.
It is imperative to stress the tremendous importance of keeping a fast on the day of Ashura, which is observed on the tenth of Muharram, since it offers several benefits in Islam. According to the saying of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “Fasting on the day of Ashura holds significant virtues. I have the hope that Allah will accept it as an expiation for the sins committed in the preceding year” (Muslim).
Moreover, the Sunnah states that keeping a fast on the ninth of Muharram is strongly advised. According to Imam At-Tirmidhi, to set oneself apart from the Jewish society, Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) used to recommend fasting on the ninth and tenth of Muharram, two days in a row (At-Tirmidhi).
The Islamic Society of North America’s previous president, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, elaborates on the benefits of fasting on the ninth and tenth of Muharram, saying the following: It is in line with the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) Sunnah to observe a fast on the ninth and tenth of Muharram. On the day of Ashura, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would fast himself. He learned that the local Jewish community in Madinah was fasting on this day in remembrance of Prophet Musa (peace and blessings be upon him).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) expressed gratitude to the Jews for this custom by stating, “I am closer to Musa than you are.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) not only observed a fast on this day but also instructed his Companions to do the same. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
As the Prophet (PBUH) reached the end of his life, he recommended Muslims to keep their fasting on the ninth day of Muharram. As a result, keeping a fast on the ninth and tenth of Muharram is highly advised.
Muharram Mourning for Muslims
Muslims avoid joyous gatherings and festivities during the full month of Muharram out of reverence and respect for Imam Hussain’s sacrifice. Members of the Shia community wear black clothing and take part in public processions, especially during the first ten days of Muharram, to express their grief over the untimely death of Imam Hussain and the hardship his family faced. Different Muslim groups commemorate Ashura in different ways: while some fast, others abstain from food, and many attend religious events.
Ashura in Pakistan
The tenth day of Muharram, or day of Ashura, falls on July 17th in the year 2024. Ashura, also known as Yom e Ashura, is remembered yearly throughout the month of Muharram. With a one-day discrepancy in Asian nations, Ashura 2024 is anticipated to be held on July 16th in the Arabic world.
To commemorate the historical significance of this day, processions were organized in major cities and towns. During the processions, intellectuals and orators gave speeches that shed light on various elements of the tragedy of Karbala.
To protect the safety of mourners during the processions and to avoid any unfortunate situations, strict security measures were put in place around the nation. In addition, the interior ministry instructed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to temporarily halt mobile communications in a number of cities. This suspension continued until Muharram 11 in addition to Muharram 9 and 10.
Early in the morning, the main Zul-Jinnah parade in Lahore started at Nisar Haveli, Mochi Gate. Following its usual itinerary, which comprised locations such as Kashmiri Bazaar, Masjid Wazir Khan, Rang Mahal, Paniwala Talab, Bazaar Hakiman, Taksali, and Bhati Gate, the procession culminated at Karbala Gamay Shah late at night.
The mourners took part in Majalis-e-Azadari, which were held at each of the route’s principal squares, throughout the procession. In addition, several mourners self-flagellated as a way of expressing their deep feelings and bonding with Imam Hussain (RA) and his companions.
The safety of the parade was ensured by the implementation of extensive security measures by the Lahore Police. These precautions included installing CCTV cameras, walk-through gates, a three-layer security system, and drones for observation. Along the path, snipers were also stationed on rooftops to increase protection.
The main Muharram parade in Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and several other Pakistani districts was headed by Colonel Maqbool Hussain. Over ten thousand police and law enforcement officers participated in this parade, which included Tazia, Alam, and Zuljinah. To help, Rescue 1122 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa set up camps in a number of areas.
The main mourning march in Quetta started from Nichari Imambargah on Alamdar Road. To keep the peace, processions including Taazia, Alam, and Zuljinnah were held in every city of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Additionally, cell phone service was temporarily suspended. The primary procession in Gilgit began at the primary Mosque and ended there as well.
Ashura in Bahrain
Muharram that distinguishes it from other Arab nations in the Persian Gulf. This makes Bahrain the only country in that region having that kind of population makeup. The significance of this is clear during Ashura, as thousands of persons from the Gulf area opt to visit Bahrain to actively participate in the holy processions. Although official data from 2009 show that there are only 1,100 legally recognized matams (مأتم) throughout the nation, it is estimated that there may be as many as 5,000 matams in total, both registered and unregistered.
Almost daily processions, called Azadari, occur during the month. These processions can take many different forms. For example, some include individuals rhythmically pounding their chests, while others—known as “Haidar”—use chains to self-flagellate or strike themselves with swords or knives. As part of these processions, passion plays and Day of Ashura reenactments are also presented.
Ashura is celebrated as a two-day public holiday in Bahrain, especially on the ninth and tenth days of Muharram, however, the exact dates may differ according to the Gregorian calendar. According to official sources, the Bahraini government actively participates in assisting matams throughout this month-long celebration by donating money and food.
Ashura in Lebanon
The streets of Lebanon were crowded with Ahl al-Bayt (PBUH) adherents from dawn forward, proudly displaying their loyalty and taking part in marches to protect the sacred Quran, as stated by “Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah”, the Secretary General of Hezbollah.
Flags and banners depicting esteemed Hezbollah commanders and expressing solidarity with the Quran decorated the streets. Notably, the phrase “At your command, O Quran,” introduced by Sayyed Nasrallah in his speech on the eve of Ashura, stood out prominently. Additionally, the slogan emphasized the following: under your guidance, O Hussein; O Mahdi, at your command.
Ashura is the end of a 10-day mourning period that falls during the holy month of Muharram. Hezbollah has an important event in Dahiyeh every year, and there are also mourning parties in Baalbek and the South of Lebanon.
Devout people commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (PBUH), the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandson, who sadly perished in the Battle of Karbala, over these somber days. Processions, elegies, and reflections on the ideals of justice, sacrifice, and righteousness personified by Imam Hussein (PBUH) are all part of the mourning customs.
Beyond Lebanon’s boundaries, Ashura and the related mourning customs hold great significance for Shia Muslims worldwide. It is a time for contemplation that inspires adherents to restate their commitment to the pursuit of social justice, compassion, and the truth. This is a potent illustration of Imam Hussein’s (PBUH) enduring legacy.
Ashura in Maritius
In Mauritius, Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Hussein. Leaders and organizations within the Mauritian Shia community discourage the practice of bloodletting during the Karbala ritual, as they believe it promotes a regressive and unfavorable perception. In 2018, I captured images of this ritual, locally referred to as The Ghoon Festival, emphasizing that the photographs depicted the body-piercing technique without any bloodshed. Ashura holds a unique significance in Muslim culture, particularly for Shia Muslims, who utilize this day to honor and remember the martyrdom of Hussein.
Ashura in Azerbaijan
In central Baku, Azerbaijan’s Shia Muslim community has convened at the Taza Pir Mosque to observe the Ashura commemoration amidst an atmosphere of tension between the secular government and the growing Shia population. Some worshippers attribute the low turnout to government pressure, leading to scuffles between certain attendees and government officials.
While the majority of Azerbaijanis identify as Shia Muslims and religious observance has increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a significant portion of the population remains secular and feels uneasy about the resurgence of Shia practices. Some accuse Iran of exporting its strict interpretation of Shia Islam, while the government, in turn, accuses religious leaders of attempting to overthrow the state.
To sum up, Ashura, which falls on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, is an important religious and historical day for Muslims worldwide. In especially, it is a day of sadness and remembering for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA) and his allies during the Battle of Karbala. Muslims celebrate Ashura in a variety of ways, such as fasting, taking part in processions, going to religious events, and thinking back on the examples of courage, sacrifice, and steadfastness shown by Imam Hussain and his companions.
Ashura is celebrated to serve as a reminder to pursue justice, resist injustice, and preserve Islamic principles. As Muslims commemorate the memory and sacrifice of Imam Hussain and consider the worldwide message of justice and righteousness that he represented, it is a moment for reflection, togetherness, and empathy.