Muslims begin their new lunar Hijri calendar with the month of Muharram. It is the first month in the Islamic calendar that starts with the sighting of the new moon. This holy month is one of the four sacred months in which it is considered to be unlawful to fight. After Ramadan, Muharram is the most significant month in the Islamic calendar. On the 10th day of Muharram, that is, Ashura, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Husain was brutally massacred along with his family and followers. The day is observed with great sorrow and grief. The Shia Muslims regard the day as the mourning period. Read through the following lines to know more about the significance of Ashurah for both Sunni and Shia Muslims.
Historical Importance Of Ashurah
For Shia Muslims
For Shia Muslims, the day of Ashura is very important as they consider Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, the rightful successor of Muhammad. They believe the battle of Karbala took place between the good and the evil, with Imam Husain representing good and Yazid representing evil. Shia Muslims do not take the day as a day of joy and festivity. Instead, they commemorate it as a day of mourning. They refrain from music and avoid planning out any weddings or parties on this date. By doing so, they try to commit one to mourning of Imam Husain completely. By crying and listening to poems and sermons about the tragedy on the assassination of Husain and his family, Shia Muslims try to connect themselves with Husain’s suffering and martyrdom.
Many Shia Muslims make pilgrimages on the day of Ashura to the Mashhad al-Husayn, the shrine at Karbala in Iraq. This shrine is traditionally known to bear the tomb of Imam Husain. Different events associated with Ashura are held in special assemble halls that are known as Imambaragah or Hussainia. To experience the suffering of Husain and his family, people slash their bodies with knives and other sharp tools attached to chains, allowing blood to run freely. Some people also indulge in matam, i.e., beating of the chests to show solidarity with Imam Husain and his family. A popular Shia saying goes as this,
‘A single tear shed for Husain washes away a hundred sins.’
For Sunni Muslims
As per records in Sahih al-Bukhari, Ashura is a commemorative day wherein many Meccans used to observe the customary fast. Even during Hijrah when Prophet Muhammad was leading his followers to Medina, he observed Jews fasting on this day. He inquired one of them about the significance of fasting on Ashura. The reason given was that on this day, God saved the Israelites from their enemy, Egyptians. Hence, to mark this freedom, Moses observed the fast.
Prophet Muhammad too started fasting and recommended his followers and other Muslims to fast on two of three consecutive days, including the 10th of Muharram. The fast during Ashura is only recommended and not made obligatory, since Sunni Muslims consider the Ramadan fast to be more significant. Sunnis residing in Egypt prepare a pudding called Ashura (made from wheat, nuts, raisins and rose water) and consume it after dinner on the day of Ashura. The same pudding is known as Asure in Turkish.