I don’t know as much about Shi’a Islam as I should, but I love to read and talk to my Shi’a friends about the things that I as a Sunni have in common with them and areas of divergence. Living in a non-majority Muslim country, I’m really glad of the opportunity to meet other expats from all walks within and beyond our faith that I might never meet otherwise.
Ashura: Something different for Sunni and Shi’a
The Guardian this week featured a stunning photo set of Muslims around the world celebrating/commemorating Ashura – the peak of the Remembrance of Muharram. I’ve always been fascinated with this day, as it both a day of celebration for Sunnis and a day of mourning and intense grief for Shiites.
For many Sunnis it is a day to celebrate victory – Sunnis believe Muhammad fasted and recommends others to fast, in honor of Moses’ gratitude to God for freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Ashura is especially meaningful to Shi’a Muslims as it signifies the day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad and the third Shi’a Imam, who was killed with members of his family and close friends at the Battle of Karbala in 61 AH.
This has a deep resonance for Shi’a and Alawite Muslims who consider Husayn to be Muhammad’s rightful successor and many make a pilgrimage on Ashura to the Mashad-Al Husayn shrine, in Iraq, which marks Husayn’s tomb.
Shi’a wear mourning clothes and use the time for self-reflection, and pass the day in silence, without music and removed from worldly concerns to concentrate on poems and sermons in order to connect with Husayn’s plight and his sacrifices or the greater good of Islam.
Husayn’s martyrdom is widely perceived by Shi’a as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression.
What’s in a Day?
In some Shi’a countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Bahrain, the Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday in which many other ethnic and religious communities participate
In India, a Hindu-majority country, which is also home to around 50 million Shiites, Ashura (also known as Moharram) is taken as a public holiday.
“A single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins.” – Shi’a saying