Yaum Ashura, or the Day of Ashera, is a holy festival of remembrance in Islam. It is a day of differing significance to Sunni and Shi’a Muslims.
For Sunni Muslims Ashura is a minor fast observed by the Prophet Muhammad. It marks the day that Moses and the Israelites were saved from Pharaoh by God creating a path in the Sea, and so is the Islamic equivalent to Yom Kippur. In Sunni Islam, Ashura follows the traditions of Judaism with a day of fasting.
The Prophet Muhammad thought that this tradition was worth following so he fasted and encouraged his followers to do the same. As well as fasting, Sunni Muslims celebrate by reflecting, showing respect and thanks.
For Shia Muslims, Ashura is sacred as a day of remembrance. They recall a great tragedy that took place in AH 61 (680 CE). Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was attacked and killed at Karbala (now in Iraq) along with his family and followers by the troops of the Caliph Yazid.
Many consider Husayn ibn Ali’s death as martyrdom. In honour of his suffering and martyrdom, some Shia Muslims take part in ceremonies of self-flagellation (where men march and beat their chests). Others will forgo the flagellation and instead opt to give blood.
Yaum Ashura falls on the tenth day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic year) in the Muslim calendar. Here’s a link to our story about Muslims marking Al-Hijra, their New Year, 10 days ago.