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Ashura, holy day in Islam, the 10th day of the month of Muharram. It commemorates the day Noah left the ark and the day Moses was saved by God from the Egyptians, and is a voluntary day of fasting for all Muslims. For Shiites it is a solemn day of mourning, commemorating the martyrdom of Husein, grandson of Muhammad, who was killed (A.D. 680) in the battle of Karbala. Shiites observe Ashura with memorial remembrances at mosques, public processions of mourning (including in some instances self-flagellation), and plays that reenact Husein's martyrdom.
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Ashura (Husain Day, Hosay)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Shi'ite Muslim)
Date of Observation: First ten days of the Islamic lunar month of Muharram
Where Celebrated: India, Iraq, Jamaica, Trinidad, Turkey, West Africa, and by Shi'ite Muslims throughout the world
Symbols and Customs: Ashura Pudding, Rawda-Khani, Self-flagellation, Sherbet, Taziyah


Ashura is a holiday in the religious tradition of Islam, one of the world's largest religions. According to some estimates, there are more than one billion Muslims worldwide, with major populations found in the Middle East, North and sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. In Europe and the United States, Islam is the second largest religious group, with some seven million adherents in the United States. During the early years of Islam, the faith spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula into regions that are today occupied by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. Contrary to popular opinion, however, Muslims are not just Arabs. Muslims-followers of Islam-are found in many different ethnic groups all over the globe. In fact, Arabs make up less than twenty percent of Muslims.

The word Islam is an Arabic word that means "surrender to God." Its other meanings include peace, safety, and health. The central focus of Islam is a personal commitment and surrender to Allah, the Arabic word for God. In Islam, the concept of Allah is universal and eternal. Allah is the same in every religion and throughout the history of humankind. A person who follows Islam is called a Muslim, which means one who surrenders or submits to Allah's will. But Islam is not just a religion of belief; it is a religion of action. Five specific deeds are required of followers; these are called The Five Pillars of Islam. They are 1) Shahadah-confession of faith; 2) Salat-prayer/worship; 3) Zakat-charity; 4) Sawm-fasting; 5) and Hajj-pilgrimage.

The message of Islam was brought by Muhammad (570-632 C . E .), who is considered a prophet of Allah. The holy book of Islam is the Qur'an (also sometimes spelled Koran or Alcoran). According to Islamic belief, the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad by Allah over a period of twenty-three years. Authorship of the Qur'an is attributed to Allah, and not to Muhammad; Muhammad merely received it. Muslims believe that because it originated with Allah, the Qur'an is infallible. Ashura

There are two main sects within Islam: Sunni and Shi'ite. Sunni Muslims are the majority (estimated at about eighty percent). They recognize the authority of the first four Caliphs, including Ali, and they believe that the Sunna (the example of the Prophet Muhammad) is interpreted through the consensus of the community. Shi'ite Muslims also look to special teachers, called imams. The imams are the direct descendants of Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali. These individuals are believed to be inspired and to possess secret knowledge. Shi'ites, however, do not recognize the same line of Islamic leaders acknowledged by the Sunnis. Shi'ites hold to a doctrine that accepts only leaders who are descended from Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali. Many Shi'ite subsects believe that true imams are errorless and sinless. They receive instruction from these leaders rather than relying on the consensus of the community.

It is among the Shi'ites that the most important rituals associated with Ashura and the tenth of Muharram take place. Ashura is a holiday commemorating this day in the year 680 C . E . when Husain, the third imam and grandson of the prophet Muhammad, was killed in a skirmish between Sunnis and the small group of Shi'ite supporters with whom he was travelling to Iraq. He was buried on the battlefield where he fell in Karbala, now located in modern-day Iraq about sixty miles from Baghdad. Almost immediately, the site became a destination for Muslim pilgrimages. To this day, many Shi'ites come to Karbala to die or request that their bodies be brought there for burial. The town has become a devotional center for Shi'ite Muslims around the world and a vast burial ground.

Shi'ites begin the observation of Ashura, the commemoration of Husain's death, on the first day of Muharram, when they put on their mourning clothes and refrain from shaving or bathing. Black tents are pitched in the streets, adorned with draperies and candelabra. Wooden pulpits are erected, and speakers use them to tell the story of Husain's martyrdom with as much detail and elaboration as possible.

For the first nine days of the month, groups of men with their bodies dyed black or red roam the streets. Dragging chains and performing wild dances, they pull out their hair, inflict wounds on themselves with their swords, and occasionally engage in violent fights with Sunnis or other adversaries. On the tenth day there is a big funeral parade for Husain, featuring a coffin carried by eight men and accompanied by others holding banners. Horses and men march behind the coffin and sing battle songs.

While the tenth of Muharram procession has remained primarily a Shi'ite observance, the veneration of Husain has spread among Sunni Muslims as well. Modern-day Sunnis observe Ashura as an optional fast day, but in countries like Iraq they are not allowed to participate in the processions.

In Jamaica and Trinidad, the festival is called Hosay and is celebrated by Muslims and Hindus as a symbol of East Indian unity. In West Africa, the holy day is spent eating to ensure prosperity. In Senegal, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the dried head and feet of the ram killed at ID AL-ADHA are cooked and served on this day. In addition to commemorating the death of Husain, the tenth of Muharram also celebrates the safe landing of Noah's ark (see ASHURA PUDDING ).


Ashura Pudding

According to legend, Noah was so happy to stand on dry ground at the end of the floods described in the Bible that he asked his wife to prepare a pudding so they could celebrate. She gathered dates, figs, nuts, and currants to make the largest pudding ever made and named it "Ashura."

In Turkey, the tenth day of Muharram is called Yevmi Ashurer, or the "day of sweet soup or porridge." It commemorates Noah's departure from the Ark onto Mount Ararat. Everyone makes ashurer, a pudding made from boiled wheat, dried currants, grain, and nuts, similar to that prepared by Noah's wife.


One of the rituals associated with Ashura is the rawda-khani, or recital of the sufferings of the Imam Husain. An individual or a family will invite a group of friends to a private gathering, where a professional storyteller will recite the tale of Husain's martyrdom, playing upon the emotions of his listeners and often reducing them to tears or provoking them to cry out Husain's name. Sometimes these recitations take place in mosques, and they have been known to result in public frenzies where devout Shi'ites cut themselves with swords and knives or beat themselves with chains in imitation of the torments to which Husain was subjected.


The practice of self-flagellation, in which devout Shi'ite Muslims strike themselves with chains and knives while chanting the name of Husain, is symbolic of the pain and anger they feel about Husain's murder by Umayyad soldiers. It also serves as a ritual punishment, because many Shi'ites stayed home rather than march out to join Husain in fighting the Umayyad rulers. It is during Ashura that the Shi'ite community expresses its guilt and anguish over the death of one of its most beloved leaders.


Throughout the ten days of Ashura, Muslims eat a kind of sherbet in memory of the intense thirst that Husain experienced on the battlefield of Karbala. He was surrounded by an army of 4,000 soldiers near the Euphrates River, where they cut Ashura

off his water supply for eight days. When he finally mounted his horse and rode into battle, he was so weakened by thirst that he was killed.


The taziyah or passion play performed during Ashura in Shi'ite communities is a detailed and emotional reenactment of Husain's martyrdom. The actors on stage portray not only the events surrounding the death of Husain but also the struggle of the Shi'ite community and its imams in their fight to overcome the Umayyad rulers. The play consists of forty or fifty scenes, some of which are highly realistic. Perhaps the most realistic of all is the portrayal of the attack on Husain and his infant son.

Throughout the performance of the taziyah, the audience is expected to participate. They shout their advice to the actors, laugh when the imams are doing well, and fall silent when events turn against the Shi'ite leaders. When the soldiers close in on Husain with their spears and swords, hacking away at his horse and finally beheading him, members of the audience have been known to weep out loud and hurl curses at the Umayyad soldiers. Sometimes they leap up on the stage to protect Husain and his family or to threaten the actor who plays Umar, the soldier who deals the fatal blow.

The word ta-ziyah means "solace" or "condolence," and the play's underlying message is the salvation that was achieved through Husain's sacrificial death. In India, ta-ziyah refers to small replicas of Husain's tomb, which are carried and buried in the local "Karbaela" grounds, named after the place where Husain was killed.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Glassé, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1999. Gordon, Matthew S. Islam. New York: Facts on File, 1991. Gulevich, Tanya. Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene. ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Smith, Huston. The Illustrated World's Religions. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994. Von Grunebaum, Gustave E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York: Schuman, 1951.


BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


First 10 days of Islamic month of Muharram
On the 10th of Muharram in the year 680, Muhammad's grandson Hussein (also spelled Husain) was killed in a skirmish between Sunnis and the small group of Shi'ite supporters with whom he was travelling to Iraq. They had been cut off from water and had suffered for 10 days before the men were killed and the women and children taken to Damascus, Syria, along with the heads of the men. His battlefield grave in Kerbela, about 60 miles southwest of Baghdad, became a pilgrimage site almost immediately, and to this day it remains a devotional center for Shi'ite Muslims around the world. Many aging Shi'ites settle in Kerbela or ask in their will to have their bodies carried to the holy city. So many dead have been sent to Kerbela that the town has been transformed into one vast burial ground.
This Islamic holy day, celebrated in the first month of the Islamic year, was derived by Muhammad from the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur; he later changed it to an optional fast day and it is so observed by modern-day Sunni Muslims. But for Shi'ites throughout Asia, the festival is dedicated to Hussein and begins on the first day of Muharram, when people put on their mourning clothes and refrain from shaving or bathing. The story of Hussein's martyrdom is recited in Muslim halls, with as much elaboration as possible. The celebration culminates on the 10th day of Muharram, in a large procession designed as a reenactment of Hussein's funeral, with many men whipping themselves bloody with whips and knives to take on the pain of Hussein. Since the early 19th century, the Hussein Day celebration has culminated in the performance of a ta'ziyah, or passion play, in which Hussein's life, death, and burial are recreated in a loose sequence of 40 to 50 scenes.
The Fatimid dynasty (969-1171) transferred Hussein's head to Cairo and built the Mosque of the Hasanain ('the two Hasans': Hasan and his brother, Hussein) over the relic. It is an especially holy place and is venerated also by Sunnis.
In India non-Shi'ites frequently take part in the processions, whereas in Iraq they would not be tolerated. Small replicas of Hussein's tomb, called Ta ziyehs (from the Arabic aza, meaning "mourning"), are carried and buried in the local "Kerbela" grounds: India is so far from Kerbela, Iraq, that Indian Shi'ites consecrate local lands so they, too, may be buried in "Kerbela" grounds.
In Jamaica and Trinidad the festival is called Hosay and is celebrated by Muslims and Hindus as a symbol of East Indian unity. In Guyana, it is called Tadja and is now celebrated by Afro- and Indo-Guyanese, after having been outlawed in the 1930s because of clashes between Muslims and Hindus when it coincided with Durga Puja.
In West Africa the holy day is combined with African beliefs, and ensuring prosperity is of uppermost importance: everyone eats as much as possible, inviting poor people to join them, because a full belly ensures prosperity. The Hausa give a fowl or goat's head to each member of the household, which they eat with their backs to each other. In Senegal, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the dried head and feet of the ram killed at ' Id Al-Adha are cooked and eaten. Symbolic bathing in rivers and purification by leaping over small fires are followed by torchlight parades and contests.
In Turkey, the 10th of Muharram is called Yevmi Ashurer, (day of sweet soup or porridge) and commemorates Noah's departure from the Ark onto Mount Ararat. They must share Allah's gifts with others, so everyone makes ashurer, which is a sweet soup or porridge made of boiled wheat, dried currants, grain, and nuts, similar to that supposedly made by Noah and stored in the bins of the Ark. Each person is assigned a day to invite his neighbors to come and share it.
Embassy of Iraq
3421 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007
202-742-1600; fax: 202-462-5066
AnnivHol-2000, p. 233
BkFest-1937, p. 237
ConEncyIslam-1991, p. 52
EncyRel-1987, v. 1, p. 462
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 433
HolSymbols-2009, p. 53
MuhFest-1988, pp. 51, 85
OxYear-1999, pp. 732, 734
RelHolCal-2004, p. 144
UndIslam-2004, p. 261
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


land of punishment for those who die angry. [Jap. Myth.: Jobes, 140]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
How is it marked? The 10 days from the Islamic New Year up to and including the night of Ashura is a time for mourning for Shiite Muslims.
Yahya bin Mahfoudh al- Manthri, Chairman of the State Council patronized over the meeting in the presence of Khalid bin Hilal al- Ma'awali, Chairman of Majlis AShura, and honorable members of the State Council and members of Majlis AShura and the Secretaries -General of the State Council and Majlis AShura.
There was also a bomb at an Ashura event in Pakistan, where attacks on Shias have been common for the last quarter-century, promoted by a radical Sunni groups that has long charged that Iran is seeking to convert the entire Islamic world to Shiism.
In the framework of the maintenance of order during performing ceremonies of Ashura, the security forces, in accordance with the law, have dealt with violations have been committed, represented in placing miniatures in violated places that pose a threat to traffic safety.
The word ashura means "10" in Arabic and refers to the 10th day of Muharram.
A group of four Shi'a Muslims have said they were prevented by Salafis and police officers from entering Al-Hussain mosque in Cairo to commemorate Ashura, adding that one of them was detained by police.
Crowds gathered at the town's central square, dubbed Ashura Square, where thousands of people heard a local imam tell the story of the battle of Karbala, and watched a re-enactment of the battle along with the suffering and death of Imam Hussein.
C4 explosives usually result in a large blaze, with little smoke; in the Ashura blast, however, there wasn't much in the way of a blaze, but a large plume of smoke rose immediately from the epicentre, leading investigators to believe that local explosives were used, instead of C-4.
Police said that early on Sunday a bomb ripped through a procession marking Ashura in the northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, near oil-rich Kirkuk, killing five people and wounding 27, including five women and a policeman.
He further said that seven Majalis and four processions were held in Iqbal Division on Ashura, six Majalis and 37 processions in Jaranwala Division, six Majalis and 13 processions in Lyallpur Division, four Majalis and 24 processions in Madina Division, three Majalis and 39 processions were in Iqbal Division.
KARACHI -- While the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) claimed to have geared up for Muharram Ashura, water seems to have dried up in the pipelines, leaving hundreds of households and imambargahs in the city without water.
KARACHI -- Adviser to Chief Minister Sindh on Information, Law and Anti-corruption Barrister Murtaza Wahab on Thursday visited the Rescue Emergency Response Centre and control room established in Commissioner Office Karachi for reviewing security arrangements during the Ashura days throughout the city.