Ashura is a religious holiday for the Muslims and it the tenth day of the month of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar. For the Shi’a Muslims this day marks the end of the Muharram observances and on this day the death of Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn- ibn Ali, at the battle of Karbala, is also remembered.
He was killed in 61 AH on the 10 Muharram. Husayn’s massacre along with his family and a small group of his fellowmen had a huge impact on the conscience of the Muslims, especially the Shi’a Muslims, who remembers his assassination on this day every year with a great deal of passion and sorrow.
Husayn’s supports and his remaining family members began mourning as soon as they heard about the massacre in the battle of Karbala. During the Abbasid and Umayyad Era, many poets wrote popular elegies in remembrance of the Battle of Karbala. The earliest mourning rituals among public occurred during Buyid Dynasty in the year 963 CE.
The memorial in the honor of Husayn ibn Ali is a national and official holiday in Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Pakistan and Lebanon. Most of the religious and ethnic communities participate in the rituals carried out on this day. This day is a public holiday in India due presence of significant population of the Indian Shi’a Muslims who makes around 20% to 25% of the total Muslim population in India.
For the Sunni Muslims, this day marks the day on which Moses and his supporters, who are also known as the children of Israel, were rescued from Pharaoh by God who created a path in the Red sea. This day also marks the day on which the great prophet Muhammad arrived in Medina and also the day on which Noah left the ark.
In Semitic languages, the word Ashura means tenth. The name of this day of remembrance literally means the tenth day. Ashura is actually the tenth day of the month of Muharram although several scholars have different opinions regarding its etymology. A.J. Wensinck, the orientalist, said that this word has been derived from the Hebrew word Asor. However, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, in his book has written that some of the Islamic scholars also believe this day to be the tenth most important day on which the followers of Islam were blessed by God.
- The morning ritual called Azadari which includes cutting of body and suffering was banned by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei and by Hezbollah in Lebanon even though these are still observed in India and Bangladesh.
- On the day of Ashura, some Shi’a Muslims arranges blood donation to mark this day and this practice of donating blood is known as Qame Zani and also mourns by flailing.
- In rituals like Talwar Zani and Zanjeer Zani people use swords and chains with attached blades to inflict wounds on their own bodies to commemorate the massacre of Husayn ibn Ali.
- These customs and rituals are carried out till date to show solidarity with him and his family.
- The Muslims mourn on this day by carrying out these rituals and expresses their utter regret for the fact that they couldn’t do anything to save Husayn and his family at the battle of Karbala.
- So, they injure their bodies to feel what Husayn had to go through.
- In the Shi’a community of Beirut, blood donation camps are organized on this day of Ashura with the help of Red Cross or Red Crescent and this serves as a replacement of the rituals mentioned above.
- It is a common religious belief among the Shi’a Muslims that shedding a single drop of blood for Husayn will wash away thousand of their sins and sanctifies them.