The day of Ashura is marked by Muslims as a whole, but for Shia Muslims it is a major religious commemoration of the martyrdom at Karbala of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h).
It falls on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. (Friday 29th September – Saturday 30th September 2017).
It is marked by Muslims with a voluntary day of fasting which commemorates the day Noah left the Ark, and the day that Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.
For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a solemn day of mourning the martyrdom of Hussein in 680 AD at Karbala in modern-day Iraq.
It is marked with mourning rituals and passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom.
Shia men and women dressed in black also parade through the streets slapping their chests and chanting.
Some Shia men seek to emulate the suffering of Hussein by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads until blood streams from their bodies.
Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood.
Fasting the Day of ‘Ashura’
When the Prophet (p.b.u.h) arrived in Madinah in 622 CE, he found that the Jews there were fasting on the 10th Muharram so when asking them the reason for their fasting on this day, they said,
” This is a blessed day. On this day Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy (in Egypt) and so Prophet Musa [Moses] fasted on this day giving thanks to Allah.”
The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said,
“We are closer to Musa than you are.”
And so he fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on this day. (Al-Bukhari)
The following year, Allah commanded the Muslims to fast the month of Ramadan, and the fasting of ‘Ashura’ became optional.
By Maryam Ali