THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16: For the world’s Shi’a Muslims, today’s Day of Ashura is a heart-felt remembrance of the tragic death of Husayn ibn-Ali, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Shi’a believe that Ali should have immediately followed Muhammad as the top Muslim leader, and that treachery prevented Ali’s proper succession. In the year 680, on the day now remembered as Ashura, he was killed in the Battle of Karbala in an area that now is part of Iraq. (Wikipedia has details.)
Usually at Ashura, news reports from Muslim countries emphasize the grief that Shi’a Muslims display over this sacred memory, sometimes shown in public processions, in staged reenactments of the martyrdom and in elaborate stories. This year, Iraqi officials have deployed a security force of 23,000 to Karbala, where tens of thousands of Shi’a gather for remembrance on Ashura. (Read a small article here.)
Most Muslims around the world are Sunni and do not observe Ashura, although some Sunnis do follow a traditional fast to honor the day. In modern times, however, even some non-Muslims study and learn from the life of Husayn—as was the case with Mahatma Gandhi. It’s recorded that Gandhi once said, “I have learned from Husayn how to be oppressed yet victorious.” Similarly, the Thaqalayn Muslim Association sponsors an annual Ashura Awareness Week in February to promote humanitarian action and to fight injustice for everyone—no matter what religion—in honor of Husayn’s virtues. (Get more at the official AAW website.) This year’s AAW theme is “Don’t distance yourself,” and efforts will focus on taking action in areas like Haiti, Darfur and Congo.