Ashura has an important place in the Islamic calendar. Muslims observe Ashura as a special day in different parts of the world. Battle of Karbala is what makes this day one of the most special days, however, it is not the only reason of the importance of this day.
The literal meaning of word Ashura is tenth. It is the tenth day of the first Islamic month Muharram. As you already know that Muharram is one of the sacred months in the Islamic lunar calendar. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:
“The year has twelve months, and four months are sacred. Out of these four months, three months of Dhul qiddah, Dhul-hijjah, Muharram come consecutively and then Rajab comes between Jamadi us sani and Shabaan.(Bukhari)
Holy Prophet (PBUH) laid special emphasis over fasting on the day of ashura. It is evident from the hadiths as well. You can find many hadiths that are related to fasting on the day of Ashura and stress the need to fast on this day. The fast on the tenth of Ashura makes amend for the sins.
The Holy Prophet said:
“The fast of Ashura compensates the sins of the previous year.”(Muslim)
“The most exceptional fast after the month Ramadan is fasting in the month of Allah.”(Muslim)
Besides its religious importance, Ashura has historical significance as well.
Historical significance Of Ashura
While reviewing historical importance of Ashura, you can view many significant events happened on the day of Ashura. Some of these happenings are being mentioned below:
1: On the tenth of Muharram God accepted the request for forgiveness of Adam (AS). Adam (AS) was exiled from paradise for his sin.
2: On this day, Noah’s ark was saved by God.
3: With the help of God, Abraham remained safe from the fire. He was thrown into fire by Nimrod, but fire was extinguished by the mercy of God.
4: On the day of ashura, God helped Mosus and his people to cross the river and Pharoah along with his crowd was drowned to destruction.
5: Ayub(AS) recovered from leprosy by the grace of god.
6: God helped Younus (AS) and took him out from the belly of fish.
7: On the day of ashura, Yousuf (AS) was united with his father.
8: Hussain (RA), the grandson of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) embraced martyrdomon the 10th of Muharram. In Karbala, Hussain (RA) sacrificed his life and fought against the forces of evil till his last breath. The battle in which Hussain (RA) embraced martyrdom is known as battle of Karbala.
Ashura was celebrated as a joyous occasion till the battle of Karbala. But after the martyrdom of Hussain (RA), it is observed with simplicity and mourning by shia muslims.
Battle of Karbala:
Battle of Karbala is the greatest tragedy in Islamic history. You must have observed that the battle of Karbala is symbolic of the clash between the forces of good and evil. Karbala is a city situated in Iraq. According to Islamic calendar, battle of Karbala was fought on the 10th of Muharram 61 AH.
It was a battle between a small group of relatives and followers of Hussain (RA), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a large army of Yazid. Yazid, son of Muawiyyah took the charge of Islamic caliphate after the death of his father. Muslims were not happy with Yazid because of his evil and malicious nature.
Yazid asked Hussain (RA) to accept his rule and take oath of allegiance. The grandson of Holy Prophet (PBUH) had not learnt to bow his head before evil and rejected his offer without any fear. The tension was increasing between both the groups. The people of Kufa sent an invitation to Hussain (RA) to become their ruler. Hussain (RA) started his journey towards Kufa.
Meanwhile, Yazid replaced the ruler of Kufa with a tyrant Ubaid ullah ibn Zayad. He was given the command to show no mercy to the opponents of Yazid. An army was sent to kill Hussain (RA) on his way to Kufa. The people of Kufa also went against him. The army of Yazid consisted of around four thousand soldiers.
These soldiers were equipped with best arms. On the other hand, the army of Hussain (RA) was not more than one hundred men, some children and women. But they were equipped with faith and patience. They had a fair idea that by following the path of God, they will find ultimate success. This spirit encouraged them to fight till their last breath. Hussain (RA) gave his life for the sake of God. But he refused to bow before the evil.
Lesson learnt from Karbala:
The battle of Karbala is a brutal and callous event in the history of mankind. It has a strong message for Muslims to stay tolerant and to fight against the evil at any cost. It teaches us that success lies in following the straight path established by God. Hussain (RA) and his followers lost their lives in the fight against the cruel force of Yazid but their sacrifice is still remembered.
Rituals of Ashura
Shia muslims perform several rituals to commemorate the great sacrifice of Hussain (RA).
You can see Shia muslims wearing black clothes as soon as the moon of Muharram is sighted. Black is a color that symbolizes sadness. They wear black color to mourn the death of Hussain (RA).
Pilgrimage to Karbala:
In order to pay tribute to the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Shiia muslims perform pilgrimage a to Karbala. During their stay at Karbala, they pay visit to shrines and holy places. Karbala has got special place in the lives of shiia muslims.
Weeping and Mourning:
Shiia muslims consider weeping and mourning as a noble deed. During the course of lectures regarding the incidents of Karbala, shiia muslims weep when they feel the pain of the brutal incidents of Karbala. Mourning processions are an integral part of Aashura rituals.
Re-enactment of the Karbala incident:
Shiia muslims around the world also re-enact the entire episode of Karbala. This practice renews the different events of Karbla. The scenic depiction of the incidents helps them relate to the tragedy of Karbala.
Alam is a reminder of the flag-bearer of the caravan of Hussain (RA). Flag was held by Abbas the brother of Hussain (RA). Abbas was given the responsibility to bring water for the thirst children. He was martyred on his way back to the camp of Hussain (RA). Alam is a symbol of this brave man who embraced martyrdom but he fought the enemy till his last breath.
Self-flagellation is an act that is symbolic of the blood spilled in the battle of Karbala. Shiia Muslims perform this ritual on ashura and pay tribute to the martyrs of Karbala. There are different forms of self-flagellation. Some people strike their chest with their palms and strike chains on their backs. The purpose is to show the graphic image of atrocities that occurred as a result of the havoc wreaked by the forces of Yazid. In many countries including Iran, self-flagellation is not practiced openly.
Is self-flagellation allowed in Islam?
Islam has never supported the idea of self-flagellation. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:
“A person who strikes his ace and tears his dress and follows the culture of days of ignorance is not one of us.”
Moreover the sacredness of the holy month of Muharram forbids violence. God says in the Quran:
“Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them.”(Al-Tawbah)
The Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Komeni also termed Self-flagellation as fake.
Fasting on the day of aashura:
Muslims of both sunni and shiia school of thoughts keep fast on the day of Ashura. Fasting on the day of Aashura is being practiced since the time of Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Holy Prophet (PBUH) said that the fast of ashura expiates the sins of preceding year. Fasting on Ashura was obligatory before the revelation on fasting month. But it was declared optional afterwards.
As you know that Ashura or yom e Ashur is observed on the 9th and 10th of Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar. On this day, public holidays are declared in the muslim countries. In USA, 9th and 10th Muharram would be 28th August and 29th August. However, it depends on the sight of moon.