Published On: Mon, Sep 9th, 2019

Ashura 2019: How is Ashura celebrated? Where Ashura is commemorated around the world?


Ashura, also known as Yom Ashura, marks the tenth day of Muharram, which is the first month in the Islamic calendar. Ashura is a day of atonement and mourning for Muslims and marks the day that Moses and the Israelites were saved from Pharaoh by God creating a path in the seas. The Shi’a Muslims see the day as the climax of the Remembrance of Muharram and the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, at the battle of Karbala. But how exactly do different Muslims around the globe celebrate this day?

What is Ashura?

Ashura is a festival of remembrance within the religion of Islam.

This year it begins on September 9, 10 or 11, depending on the location.

The story of Muharram dates back 1,300 years to events that followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: How do Muslims around the world commemorate Ashura? (Image: GETTY)

After the prophet died in AD 632, a dispute arose regarding who would inherit the leadership of the Muslim community and the title of the caliph or “deputy of God”.

The majority of Muslims supported Abu Bakr, a close companion of the prophet Muhammad, however, a minority wanted the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali.

Those that supported Ali’s claim went on to become Shiite Muslims.

Shiite Muslims considered Ali their first imam, a leader divinely appointed by God and therefore, the title of imam would be passed on to his sons and his descendants.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: Ashura is celebrated on the tenth day of Muharram (Image: GETTY)

Political leadership largely remained out of the hands of Shiite Imams, ensuring they would not be caliphs, but Shiites came to believe that their imam was the true leader to be followed.

By the time Ali’s youngest son, Husayn, came to be the third imam, divisions between the caliph and the imam had further deepened.

In AD 680, during the holy month of Muharram, a caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, Yazīd, ordered Hussain to pledge allegiance to him and his caliphate, a dynasty which ruled the Islamic world from AD 661 to 750.

Husayn refused as he believed Yazīd’s rule to be unjust and illegitimate.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: Ashura is a holy day of mourning and remembrance (Image: GETTY)

His rejection resulted in a massive 10-day standoff at Karbala, in modern-day Iraq, between Umayyad’s large army and Husayn’s small band, which included his half-brother, wives, children, sisters and closest followers.

The Umayyad army cut off food and water supplies for Husayn and his companions, and on the day of Ashura, Husayn was savagely killed.

Among the men, only Husayn’s sick son was spared, meanwhile, women were unveiled, which is a violation of their honour as the family members of the prophet, and they were paraded to Damascus, the seat of Umayyad rule.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: This year Ashura will take placce on September 9, 10 or 11 (Image: GETTY)

How is Ashura celebrated?

Ashura is a holy day of mourning for many Muslims (mainly Shia Muslim) and fasting for others.

For the Sunnis, it is the ay Moses fasted to show his gratitude for the freedom of the Israelites.

Meanwhile, Shia Muslims see it as a climax of the Remembrance of Muharram and the murder of Husayn ibn Ali at the battle of Karabala.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: Shiite pilgrims taking part in a celebrations for Ashura in Karbala (Image: GETTY)

In Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Pakistan, Ashura has become a national holiday and it sees many ethnic and religious communities come together to commemorate the day.

Mourners, of both sexes, traditionally congregate at a Mosque for sorrowful, poetic lamentations performed in memory of the martyrdom, grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of “Ya Husayn.

Scholars will also deliver sermons on the themes of Husayn’s personality and position in Islam, and the history of his uprising.

In Arab countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, the sheikh of the mosque will retell the story of the Battle of Karbala, to remind Muslims of the anguish and sorrow suffered by Husayn and his family.

Ashura 2019: Ashura commemoration

Ashura 2019: Self-flagellation is at times part of the Ashura commemorations (Image: GETTY)

From New York and London to Hyderabad and Melbourne, thousands take part in Ashura processions which involve carrying replicas of Husayn’s battle standard and following a white horse.

The white horse is intended to symbolise Husayn’s riderless horse returning to the camp after his martyrdom.

In some regions, passion plays are performed during which the battle is reenacted.

These passion plays, known as Taziyeh, are musical dramas of the many martyrs and tragedies of Karbala, designed to evoke deep emotions of grief in the audience.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: Often passion plays are performed during which the battle is reenacted (Image: GETTY)

The divide between Sunnis and Shia is the oldest and largest in Islamic history. 

These two communities are split in terms of doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation. 

Shia Muslims constitute about 10 percent of all Muslims, and globally their population is estimated at between 154 and 200 million. 

Shia Muslims are in the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and, according to some estimates, Yemen.

Ashura 2019: Ashura celebrations

Ashura 2019: During Ashura many sing lamentations about the martyrdom of Husayn (Image: GETTY)

There are also large Shia communities in Afghanistan, India, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Meanwhile, the great majority of the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims are Sunnis, with estimates indicating the figure is somewhere from 85 to 90 percent. 

In the Middle East, Sunnis make up 90 percent or more of the populations of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.



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