Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Karbala & The Day of Ashura

The Day of Ashura (عاشوراء (ʻĀshūrā’, Ashura, Ashoura, and other spellings) is on the 10th day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar and marks the climax of the Remembrance of Muharram. Muharram (Arabic: محرم) is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fighting is prohibited. Tasua is the 9th Night of Muharram (Tasua) Ceremonies.

It is commemorated by Shia Muslims as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 AD). Imam Husayn was killed by Yazid ibn Muawiyah, the Sunnis' 6th Khalif. Ashurah is a day of deep mourning for Shia Muslims, which occurs on the 10th of Muharram. Ashura is a time for Shi’ites to re-live and express extreme grief and mourning for Hussein and his family. They have passion plays, they march, they chant and they beat their chests. They flail themselves until they bleed. Their actions sometimes reach a trance-like fervor.

Sunnis also commemorate Ashurah, but give it a different meaning. Not a celebration, but a remembrance, According to Sunni Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad fasted on this day and asked other people to fast. Sunni Muslims also celebrate the day claiming that Moses fasted on that day to express gratitude to God for liberating the Israelites from Egypt.

Karbala City, Iraq
Map of Karbala

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Karbala (Arabic: كربلاء‎; BGN: Al-Karbalā’; also spelled Karbala al-Muqaddasah) is a city in Iraq, located about 100 km (60 mi) southwest of Baghdad. In the time of Husayn ibn Alī's life, the place was also known as al-Ghadiriyah, Naynawa, and Shathi'ul-Furaat. The estimated population in 2003 was 572,300 people. It is the capital of Karbala Governorate.

City of Karbala, a holy city for Shi'ite Muslims; it houses the shrine of Imam Hussein, a heavily revered figure in Shi'ite Islam. Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and India flood into the city to visit the shrine. Shi'a Muslims consider Karbala to be one of their holiest cities after Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Najaf. The city is best known as the location of the Battle of Karbala. Karbala is also called City of Martyrs.

The city is one of Iraq's wealthiest, profiting both from religious visitors and agricultural produce, especially dates. It is made up of two districts, "Old Karbala," the religious centre, and "New Karbala," the residential district containing Islamic schools and government buildings.

At the centre of the old city is the Masjid al-Husayn, the tomb of Husayn ibn ‘Ali, grandson of Muhammad by his daughter Fatima tuz-Zahra and ‘Alī ibn Abu Tālib. Hussein's tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many Shī‘ī Muslims, especially on the anniversary of the battle, the Day of ‘Āshūrā. Many elderly pilgrims travel there to await death, as they believe the tomb to be one of the gates to paradise. Another focal point of the Shī‘ī pilgrimage to Karbala is al-Makhayam, traditionally believed to be the location of Husayn's camp, where the martyrdom of Husayn and his followers is publicly commemorated.

The city's association with Shī‘a Islām have made it a centre of religious instruction as well as worship; it has more than 100 mosques and 23 religious schools, of which possibly the most famous is that of Ibn Fahid, constructed some 440 years ago.

(source: wikipedia)

Etymology of Ashura

The word ashura means simply tenth in Arabic language; hence the name of the remembrance, literally translated, means "the tenth day". The day is indeed the tenth day of the month, although some Islamic scholars offer up different etymologies. In his book Ghuniyatut Talibin, Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani writes that the Islamic scholars have a difference of opinion as to why this day is known as Ashura, with some scholars suggesting that this day is the tenth most important day that God has blessed Muslims with.
(source: wikipedia)

Shi'a Islam
Shia Islam (Arabic: شيعة‎ Shī‘ah, sometimes spelled Shi'a), is the second largest denomination of Islam, after Sunni Islam. The followers of Shia Islam are called Shi'as but are also know as Shiites or Shi'ites.

Shia Islam is based on the teachings of the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an and the message of the final prophet of Islam, Muhammad. In contrast to other schools of thought, Shia Islam holds that Muhammad's family, the Ahl al-Bayt ("the People of the House"), and certain individuals among his descendants, who are known as Imams, have special spiritual and political rule over the community. Shia Muslims further believe that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad and thus reject the legitimacy of the first three Rashidun caliphs. Shīʿites have come to account for roughly one-tenth of the Muslim population worldwide. In some Shia countries and regions such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and most ethnic and religious communities participate in it. Even in India, Ashura (often called Moharram) is a public holiday.

The Shi'a faith throughout its history split over the issue of imamate, with each branch supporting different imams. The largest branch are the Twelvers, to which over 85% of Shi'a belong. The only other surviving branches are the Zaidi and Ismaili. All three groups follow a different line of Imamate.


This year, Tasua is the 9th day of Muharram, it fall on 26-12-2009, and Ashura fall on 27-12-2009.

Ashura Procession
The most visible and evocative sign of Ashura is the procession by men and boys, stripped to the waist or wearing black robes, and flailing or scourging themselves with sticks, whips, chains, and swords until their backs and foreheads bleed. Some cut themselves with knives and razors. While in other countries these displays are much more ritualized, one observing Ashura rites in Iraq should expect to see men – and even young boys — drenched in their own blood.
Then, on the eleventh day, the faithful return to their homes for a period of mourning lasting 40 days. The mourning period ends with the observance of Arba’een, when many Shi’a gather in Karbala to assert their Shi’a identity.
(source: http://www.theredbulls.org/article00535)

Past Ashura events
1. Iraq:
On January 19, 2008, 2 million Iraqi Shia pilgrims marched through Karbala city, Iraq to commemorate Ashura. 20,000 Iraqi troops and police guarded the event amid tensions due to clashes between Iraqi troops and the population which left 263 people dead (in Basra and Nasiriya).

The Shi'ite Muslim religious festival of Ashura passed without major violence in Iraq on Sunday, after tight security was deployed to safeguard millions from the bloody attacks that marred past pilgrimages. Some 20,000 members of Iraq's security forces formed cordons around Kerbala, vehicles were banned and 1,000 snipers were perched on the roofs of buildings. Troops stood watch with bomb-sniffing dogs and the wands used to detect explosives. At the climax of the 10-day Ashura event, vast crowds beat their chests and heads in mourning, chanting accounts of Hussein's death on the battlefield at Kerbala, where he and his followers made a desperate last stand against the armies of the Caliph Yazid, whom Shi'ites view as an oppressor.

(source: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5BP1MD20091227)

2. Iran:

Iran was plunged into crises on the holy day of Ashura yesterday as the intense clashes and protests in Iranian cities ranging from Tehran and Isfahan to Shiraz broke out. In Tehran, large protest groups objecting the growing intolerance and suppression of the current government for political dissidents chanted "death to Khamenei" and did not abide by the official warnings. According to various opposition Web sites, security forces opened fire on crowd, killing at least 10 protesters and wounding a hundred ones. A thick smoke from fire and tear gas covered most parts of Tehran. "We were on Kolaj bridge and people started attacking. The security forces began shooting at people," said one witness, Muhammad, an economics student.
(From Monday, 28 December 2009 http://www.turkishweekly.net/news)

Related articles:
1. Shia Islam, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia
2. Day of Ashura, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_Ashura
3. http://www.theredbulls.org/article00535, where you can see some pictures.
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTfjFZcrugI
5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49J6eh7kJMA - To mark the final day of the Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura, boys and men in Kabul flayed their backs with chains and razor blades.
6. Karbala, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karbala
7. "Karbala - When Skies Wept Blood", a documentary film by www.redtears. co.uk; a trailer of the film can be seen from youtube.
8. The lesson of Karbala , by Murtaza Razvi, http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/art-culture/18-the-lesson-of-karbala-am-05.

Note to readers:
Please read the blog article with an open mind, the article is for knowledge on global events and understanding of other people and their lives. The article is to be neutral and non-political, non-religion bias. Let this knowledge enrich our life and understanding more about fellow human being. Thank you.

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