Ashura 2016: Muslims around the world observe holy day

Ashura 2016: Muslims around the world observe holy day | Courtesy of Shutterstock
The time-honored Muslim holiday of Ashura still has quite an effect around the globe: on Wednesday, Oct. 12, Islamic communities and individuals observed this holy day, the 10th day of the month of Muharram.

Ashura is an ancient landmark on the Islamic calendar. It is also a day that holds more than one meaning for different Islamic sects. Sunnis and Shiites view and observe the holiday differently. In the Sunni world, Ashura marks a fasting day based upon the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by Moses. For the Shiites, it also marks the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, and involves more than just fasting.

On Ashura, many Shiite Muslims gather in public spaces to practice atonement, often flagellating themselves with chains or other items. This practice has not become an outdated part of the practice of Islam, as shown by this Independent article with a pictorial of global observances.

The report also shows some of the current tension between Islamic groups in the Middle East: for example, Kuwaiti authorities increasing security measures this year as the day approached.

A report in the International Business Times from 2014 also points out the significant violence around the holiday in recent years, often caused by sectarian strife -- including 36 Shiite individuals killed in Iraq in 2013 during Ashura demonstrations.

Even in the West, where you're not likely to see the types of demonstrations caught by photographers in some of the GCC countries and elsewhere, Ashura still has its place on the Islamic calendar.

Fuad al-Zubeiry is an imam at the United Islamic Association of Lancaster County in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Speaking to Gulf News Journal, al-Zubeiry, who is affiliated with the Sunni faith, said Sunnis have developed Ashura as a fast day after a historic encounter between the prophet and Jews of that time.

“The prophet fasted that day,” he said.

Al-Zubeiry continued by adding that Muslims tend to fast for two days in order to distinguish their observance of Peabody.

“You might fast on the ninth and 10th, or the 10th and the 11th,” al-Zubeiry said. “Some people fast the ninth and 10th, and the 11th, too.”

Coming after the month-long observance of Ramadan and other fast days like Eid Al-Fitr, the fast observance of Ashura would perhaps be softened by the average observer's body being somewhat accustomed to the fast itself.

Al-Zubeiry said Ashura is not “a big holiday” in terms of promotion and prominence, but it is still an ongoing Islamic tradition, and one that will continue to make a difference in communities around the world.

Looking in detail at these traditional holidays provides a context from which to view the modern Islamic world, a world often struggling to combine its traditions with a highly developed and technologically advanced future.
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