The Ashura festival

The Ashura Festival (Or Festival Of Ashura) is not a celebration of joy and happiness, but a sad and sorrowful ceremony that is performed in groups and in different forms.

Ashura, also known as Yawm Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, It falls on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This annual pilgrimage marks the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic New Year. As the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, the day of Ashura changes from year to year.

Martyred Hussain

In A.D. 680, during the holy month of Muharram, a caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, Yazīd, ordered Hussain to pledge allegiance to him but Hussain refused because he believed Yazīd’s rule to be unjust and illegitimate. His rejection resulted in a massive 10-day standoff at Karbala (in modern-day Iraq)between Umayyad’s large army and Hussain’s small band, which included his half-brother, wives, children, sisters and closest followers.
The Umayyad army cut off food and water for Hussain and his companions And on the day of Ashura, Hussain was brutally killed.
Among the men, only Hussain’s sick son was spared. Women were unveiled – a violation of their honor as the family members of the prophet – and paraded to Damascus, the seat of Umayyad rule.

The renowned historian Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī states:
… [T]hen fire was set to their camp and the bodies were trampled by the hoofs of the horses; nobody in the history of the human kind has seen such atrocities.
Once the Umayyad troops had murdered Hussain and his male followers, they looted the tents, stripped the women of their jewelry, and took the skin upon which Zain al-Abidin was prostrate. Hussain’s sister Zaynab was taken along with the enslaved women to the caliph in Damascus when she was imprisoned and after a year eventually was allowed to return to Medina.


After almost 12 centuries, five types of major rituals were developed around the battle of Karbala. These rituals include the memorial services (majalis al-ta’zieh), the visitation of Hussain’s tomb in Karbala particularly on the occasion of the tenth day of Ashura and the fortieth day after the battle (Ziyarat Ashura and ziyarat al-Arba’een), the public mourning processions (al-mawakib al-husayniyya) or the representation of the battle of Karbala in the form of a play (the shabih), and the flagellation (tatbir).


In some places, such as Iran, Iraq, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, passion plays known as Ta’zieh are performed, reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and martyrdom of Hussain at the hands of Yazid. In the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica Ashura, known locally as ‘Hussain’ or Hosay or Hussain is commemorated for the grandson of Muhammad, but its celebration has adopted influence from other religions including Roman Catholic, Hindu, and Baptists, making it a mixture of different cultures and religion. The event is attended by both Muslims and non-Muslims depicting an environment of mutual respect and tolerance. For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques and some people to provide free meals (Nazri or Votive Food) on certain nights of the month to all people.

Shia Muslims make pilgrimages on Ashura Festival, as they do forty days later on Arba’een, to the Mashhad al-Hussain, the shrine in Karbala, Iraq, that is traditionally held to be Hussain’s tomb. On this day Shia is in remembrance, and mourning attire is worn. They refrain from listening to or playing music since Arabic culture generally considers music impolite during death rituals. It is a time for sorrow and for showing respect for the person’s passing, and it is also a time for self-reflection when one commits oneself completely to the mourning of Hussain.

Shia Muslims do not plan weddings and parties on this date. They mourn by crying and listening to recollections of the tragedy and sermons on how Hussain and his family were martyred. This is intended to connect them with Hussain’s suffering and martyrdom, and the sacrifices he made to keep Islam alive. Hussain martyrdom is widely interpreted by Shia Muslims a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression. Shia Muslims believe the Battle of Karbala was between the forces of good and evil, with Hussain representing good and Yazid representing evil.Shia imams strongly insist that the day of Ashura should not be celebrated as a day of joy and festivity. The day of Ashura, according to Eighth Shia Imam Ali al-Rida, must be observed as a day of rest, sorrow, and total disregard of worldly matters.

Some of the events associated with Ashura are held in special congregation halls known as “Imam bargah” and Hussainia.
For Shia Muslims, the commemoration of Ashura is not a festival but rather a sad event, while Sunni Muslims view it as a victory God gave to Moses. For Shia Muslims, it is a period of intense grief and mourning. Unfortunately, the extremist Shias, like the rest of the extremist sects, have fallen prey to these superstitions. We all know that extremism fails in everything,
In recent years, we have seen deviant sects of Sunni Muslims who have committed many heinous murders and assassinations in Iraq and Syria. From beheading innocent people to beheading young children for not being Sunni Muslims. This absurd and idiotic way of thinking is called religious extremism.

Extremists are present in all religions, such as extremist Christians who crucify themselves in remembrance of Christ, Instead of behaving like Christ in society.
Extremist Sunni Muslims act like those who beheaded Hussain on Ashura, and their followers celebrate that day by fasting as a sign of rewarding action. So it is better to know who the Muslims who fast on the day of Ashura follow and what horrible ideas they cultivate for humanity. Sunni Muslims are ignorant of the facts and believe that Sunni Muslims believe that Moses fasted on this day to demonstrate his gratitude to God for the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. According to Sunni traditions, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) fasted on this day and encouraged others to fast While the word Ashura means ‘tenth’ in Arabic and literally translated, means “the tenth day”.

For Shia Muslims, it marks the day that Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was martyred in the Karbala. Ashura is a major holy day and occasion for pilgrimage in Islam, as well as a recommended but non-obligatory day of fasting in Sunni Islam. 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 Hussain.” Also, scholars will give sermons on the themes of Hussain’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 so that the audience is reminded of the anguish and sorrow that was endured by Hussain and his family. In some regions, passion plays may also be performed that reenact the battle.
Shia Muslims believe that Hussain was their third imam – a line of 12 divinely appointed spiritual and political successors.

Mourning for the incident began almost immediately after the battle. Popular elegies were written by poets to commemorate the Battle of Karbala during the Umayyad and Abbasid era, and the earliest public mourning rituals occurred in 963 AD during the Buyid dynasty. In Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Pakistan, India Ashura has become a national holiday, and many ethnic and religious communities participate in it.

Some Shia men seek to emulate the suffering of Hussain by flagellating themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads until blood streams from their bodies but such behavior is seen in deviant Shia sects, so it can be concluded that self-mutilation and bloodshed are not correct Shia mourning rituals.
Some Shia leaders and groups discourage the bloodletting, saying it creates a backward and negative image of Shia Muslims. Such leaders encourage people to donate blood.


The killing of Hussain was an event that led to the split in Islam into two main sects – Sunnis and Shias.
It is a shame that politicians and government men in some Islamic countries are making political use of the Ashura event.
The event of Ashura is much bigger than being used by governments.
Today the story of Karbala has become a powerful tool of fight for social justice in Muslim communities.
Who is Hussain?” A social movement with chapters in over 60 cities worldwide, carries out charitable activities and blood donations in the name of Hussain. Volunteers are encouraged to organize around events that will be meaningful in their communities and will tie into social justice issues that Hussain is believed to have fought for.

In 2018, local volunteers donated tens of thousands of bottles of water in Flint, Michigan in remembrance of Hussain and his companions, who were denied water for three days before they were killed.As historian Yitzhak Nakash points out, the tragedy of Karbala gives Shia Muslims a common narrative to pass on to the next generations. And commemorating it in multiple ways is a part of their unique identity.

In a thorough study, we will examine the battle of Karbala separately.

What do you think now? Is Ashura a festival?

If you want to increase your knowledge about Hussain, you can go to the articles section.

The Ashura festival