Procession for Ashura at Imam Hossein Square in Tehran, Iran (2016)
TypeIslamic (Shia and Sunni)
SignificanceIn Shia Islam:
Mourning the death of Husayn ibn Ali during the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE
In Sunni Islam:
Celebrating the salvation of Moses and the Israelites from their enslavement in Biblical Egypt
Date10 Muharram
2022 date8 August[1]
2023 date28 July
FrequencyAnnual (Islamic calendar)

Ashura (Arabic: عَاشُورَاء, ʿĀshūrāʾ, [ʕaːʃuːˈraːʔ]) is a day of commemoration in Islam. It occurs annually on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Among Shia Muslims, Ashura is observed through large demonstrations of high-scale mourning as it marks the death of Husayn ibn Ali (a grandson of Muhammad), who was beheaded during the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE.[4] Among Sunni Muslims, Ashura is observed through celebratory fasting as it marks the day of salvation for Moses and the Israelites, who successfully escaped from Biblical Egypt (where they were enslaved and persecuted) after Moses called upon God's power to part the Red Sea.[5] While Husayn's death is also regarded as a great tragedy by Sunnis, open displays of mourning are either discouraged or outright prohibited, depending on the specific act.[citation needed]

In Shia communities, Ashura observances are typically carried out in group processions and are accompanied by a variety of rituals ranging from weeping and shrine pilgrimages to the more controversial acts of self-flagellation and chest-beating.[citation needed] In Sunni communities, there are three rounds of fasting, based on Muhammad's hadith: on the day before Ashura, on the day of Ashura, and on the day after Ashura; while fasting for Ashura is not obligatory, it is strongly encouraged.[6] In folk traditions across countries such as Morocco and Algeria, the day of Ashura is variously celebrated with special foods, bonfires, or carnivals, though these practices are not supported by religious authorities.[7]


Ashura is an Aramaic word meaning 'tenth'.[8] It may also be derived from the Syriac word asiroya or asora.[9] At any rate, root of the word ashura is the Hebrew word 'āsōr.[10] In Arabic, Ashura refers to the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, the month in which fighting was forbidden even before Islam.[9]

Ashura in Sunni Islam


Fasting on Ashura was likely a Jewish practice adopted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad after his arrival in the city of Medina in 622 CE,[10] perhaps signifying Muhammad's sense of a shared prophetic mission with Moses.[11] Although it remained optional, this practice ceased to be a religious obligation after about a year when the relations with the Medinan Jews deteriorated.[10] This transition is often associated with verses 2:183–5 of the Quran, the central religious text in Islam, which explicitly designate Ramadan as the month of fasting.[8] It also seems improbable that Ashura originally coincided with the tenth of Muharram.[10][11] Instead, it is likely that Ashura was initially observed on the tenth of the first Jewish month Tishri, known as Yom Kippur,[11] which commemorates God's forgiveness of the Jewish people, after they atoned for their sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the first set of tablets with the 10 Commandments.[12][13] The association of Ashura with the tenth of Muharram thus happened later, some time after the Jewish and Muslim calendars diverged.[10][11] In turn, this happened when, before his death, Muhammad forbade Jewish-type calendar adjustments after receiving verse 4:37 of the Quran.[11][14][15]

The above origin story for Ashura appears in some Sunni traditions.[8] Alternatively, some other traditions in canonical Sunni collections describe fasting on Ashura as a pre-Islamic practice among the Quraysh tribe, in which Muhammad also partook while in Mecca.[8] Early Sunni hadiths, many classified as unreliable, also link Ashura to other auspicious events: On this day Noah disembarked from the Ark,[16] God forgave Adam, Joseph was released from prison, Jesus, Abraham, and Adam were born, and Muhammad was conceived.[8] Fasting on the ninth of Muharram, known as Tasu'a, was a later addition, probably to distinguish Muslims from Jews.[10][8]


In Sunni Islam, ninth and tenth of Muharram are days for voluntary fasting, strongly encouraged by Sunni jurists.[8] While not endorsed by all Sunni scholars,[8][17] Ashura is viewed as a day of giving thanks (shukr) to God, a joyous occasion, celebrated through pious acts and acceptable expressions of delight.[18] Ashura is thus an important festival for many Sunnis, in contrast to the Shia, who mourn on this day the slaughter of the grandson of Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali, and his companions in the Battle of Karbala in 680.[8] Such Sunni festivities either developed in response to Shia customs on Ashura or under the influence of pre-Islamic traditions.[19][8] Whatever the case, they were well-established by the time of the Sunni jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), to whom a questioner wrote, observing that people bathe, adorn themselves, shake hands with each others, cook grains, and manifest joy (izhar al-surur) on Ashura.[19] In the Maghreb, for instance, Ashura is celebrated today through fasting, almsgiving, honoring the dead, special dishes, jumping over bonfires, and carnivals.[10] Nevertheless, particularly in South Asia, some Sunnis participated in the Shia rituals on Ashura,[8] at least until modern times.[8] Sufis also commonly commemorated the death of Husayn, more so in the earlier times, despite its variance with the views of the Sunni elite.[20]

Ibn Taymiyya

In response to an inquiry about their legal basis, Ibn Taymiyya rejects both mourning and rejoicing on Ashura because neither was practiced by Muhammad, in his view. He does, however, encourage fasting on Ashura to emulate Muhammad. The Islamicist Marion Katz questions the judgment of Ibn Taymiyya for not taking into account the Sunni reports that Muhammad fasted to celebrate Ashura. Insofar as fasting is a joyous expression of thanking God for a past boon, then perhaps other joyous expressions of pious gratitude should also be allowed on Ashura, she argues. Katz thus criticizes Ibn Taymiyya for his selective reading of hadith literature, adding that he has stripped fasting from its higher meaning.[21]

Ashura in Shia Islam

Main article: Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali

Millions of Shia Muslims gather around the Husayn Mosque in Karbala after making the pilgrimage on foot during Arba'een, which is a Shia religious observation that occurs 40 days after the Day of Ashura.

Battle of Karbala

Main article: Battle of Karbala

In Shia Islam, Ashura commemorates the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad,[20] who was killed on 10 Muharram 61 AH (10 October 680) in the Battle of Karbala against the army of the Umayyad caliph Yazid ibn Mu'awiya (r. 680–683), after being surrounded and deprived of access to drinking water for some days. Most male relatives of Husayn and his small retinue of some seventy supporters were also killed in the battle, while the women and children in his camp were taken prisoner and marched to the capital Damascus in Syria. The battle followed failed negotiations and Husayn's refusal to pledge his allegiance to Yazid, who is often portrayed by Muslim historians as a debaucher who openly violated the Islamic norms.[22][23] It took place in the desert land of Karbala, en route to the nearby Kufa, whose residents had invited Husayn to lead them against Yazid.[24]


Azadari (mourning) rituals

The words Azadari (Persian: عزاداری), which means mourning and lamentation, and Majalis-e Aza are used exclusively in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Majalis-e Aza, also known as Aza-e Husayn, includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all acts which express the grief and, above all, repulsion against what Yazid stood for.[25]

Ritual scourge for use in the Ashura procession. Syria, before 1974

These customs show solidarity with Husayn and his family. Through them, people mourn Husayn's death and express regret for the fact that they were not present at the battle to save Husayn and his family.[26][27]

Tuwairij run

The Tuwairij run is the name of an Ashura ceremony in which millions of people from around Tuwairij in 22 km run and mourning on side of the Imam Husayn Shrine.[28] this ceremony is considered as the biggest observance of religious activities in the world.[29][30] Its importance has grown since Moḥammad Mahdī Baḥr al-ʿUlūm was quoted as saying that Hujjat bin Hasan was present at this ceremony.[31]


The Tuwairij was first run on Ashura 1855 when people who were at the house of Seyyed Saleh Qazvini after the mourning ceremony and the recitation of the murder of Husain bin ‘Ali cried so much from grief and sorrow that they asked Seyyed Saleh to run to the imam's shrine to offer his condolences. Seyyed Saleh accepted their request and went to the shrine with all the mourners.[32][33][34][35]

Prohibition of the march

The march was banned by Saddam Hussein’s Ba‘athist regime between 1991 and 2003.[36][37] However, despite the ban, Tuwairij still continued and the regime executed many participants.[citation needed] The event was permitted again after 2003, and participation from outside Iraq has steadily increased.[38]

Popular customs

See also: Nakhl Gardani and Rawda Khwani

After almost 12 centuries, five main types of rituals were developed around the story of the battle of Karbala. These rituals include memorial services (majalis al-ta'ziya); visits to Husayn's tomb in Karbala particularly on Ashura and on the fortieth day after the battle (Ziyarat Ashura and Ziyarat al-Arba'in); public mourning processions (al-mawakib al-husayniyya); representation of the battle as a play (the shabih); and personal flagellation (tatbir).[39] Some Shia Muslims believe that taking part in Ashura washes away their sins.[40] A popular Shia saying has it that "a single tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins".[41]

For Shia Muslims, the commemoration of Ashura is an event of intense grief and mourning. Mourners congregate at a mosque for sorrowful, poetic recitations such as marsiya, noha, latmiya, and soaz performed in memory of the martyrdom of Husayn, lamenting and grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of "Ya Hussain". Ulamas also give sermons on the themes of Husayn's personality and position in Islam, and the history of his uprising. The Sheikh of the mosque retells the story of the Battle of Karbala to allow his listeners to relive the pain and sorrow endured by Husayn and his family and they read Maqtal Al-Husayn.[39][42] In some places, such as Iran, Iraq, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, passion plays known as Ta'zieh[43] are performed, reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and martyrdom of Husayn at the hands of Yazid.

A tadjah at Hosay in Port of Spain during the 1950s

In the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, Ashura, known locally as 'Hussay' or Hosay, may commemorate the grandson of Muhammad, but the celebration has taken on influences from other religions including Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, and the Baptist movement, so that it has become a mixture of different cultures and religion. The event is attended by both Muslims and non-Muslims in an environment of mutual respect and tolerance.[44][45] For the duration of the memorial events, it is customary for mosques and individuals to provide free meals (Nazri or Votive Food) for everyone on certain nights.[46]

Certain traditional flagellation rituals such as Talwar zani (talwar ka matam or sometimes tatbir) use a sword. Other rituals, such as zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam, use a zanjeer (a chain with blades).[47] This can be controversial and some Shia clerics have denounced the practice saying "it creates a backward and negative image of their community." Instead believers are encouraged to donate blood for those in need.[48] A few Shia Muslims observe the event by donating blood ("Qame Zani"), and flagellating themselves[49]

Terrorist attacks during Ashura

Terrorist attacks against Shia Muslims have occurred in several countries on the day of Ashura, which has produced an "interesting" feedback effect in Shia history.[50]

A second group of abuses Syed Ahmad held were those that originated from Shi’i influence. He particularly urged Muslims to give up the keeping of ta’ziyahs, the replicas of the tombs of the martyrs of Karbala taken in procession during the mourning ceremony of Muharram. Muhammad Isma’il wrote, "a true believer should regard the breaking of a tazia by force to be as virtuous an action as destroying idols. If he cannot break them himself, let him order others to do so. If this even be out of his power, let him at least detest and abhor them with his whole heart and soul". Sayyid Ahmad himself is said, no doubt with considerable exaggeration, to have torn down thousands of imambaras, the building that house the taziyahs.[51]

In the Gregorian calendar

Main article: Islamic calendar

While Ashura always takes place on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year due to differences between the two calendars, since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. Furthermore, the appearance of the crescent moon used to determine when each Islamic month begins varies from country to country due to their different geographic locations.[citation needed]

AH Gregorian date
1444 2022 August 8
1445 2023 July 28
1446 2024 July 16


See also



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Further reading