What Is the Day of Ashura and How Is the Islamic Event Commemorated?

The Day of Ashura is an Islamic holiday that occurs on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The lunar calendar is also known as the or Hijri and has been used for more than 1,440 years.

Ateeq Salik, national community fundraising manager at Islamic Relief told Newsweek that the word "Ashura actually means and translates to the word ten," which is why it's observed on the 10th day of Muharram.

The actual date of this holy day will depend on your location as well as the moon, but it's expected to start this year on Sunday, August 7 and end on Monday, August 8.

What Is the Day of Ashura?

The Day of Ashura
Muslims participating in a mourning ritual in Basra, Iraq on August 5, 2022, in the lead-up to Ashura Getty images

It marks two significant events and is observed differently by Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The Day of Ashura was the day that Prophet Moses and the Children of Israel managed to flee from Pharaoh. It was also the day that Hussein ibn Ali died in battle, in Karbala, Iraq, in A.D. 680.

When Prophet Muhammad died, his son-in-law Imam Ali was not successful in becoming the leader of the Islamic community. He was killed in A.D. 661, which allowed his opponent Muawiya to become caliph. When Caliph Muawiya was then succeeded by his son Yazid, Ali's son Hussein refused to accept this succession as legitimate.

Caliph Muawiya and Hussein then fought at Karbala, where Hussein and his followers were murdered.

Sunni Muslims usually celebrate the fleeing of Moses, which is why they can generally fast on the day, as well as the day before and prior. But Shia Muslims mourn the loss of Hussein and participate in events that reflects this loss.

A missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Argentina, Imam Marwan Sarwar Gill, told Newsweek that "it's very common amongst Shia communities and some Sufi groups as well that they remember this harrowing incident by expressing their grief and sorrow."

How Is It Celebrated?

It can be celebrated and observed in many different ways, we have listed below the traditional manners for Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Shia Muslims usually:

  • Reflect on the tragedy
  • Express grief
  • Participate in the flagellation ceremonies, these include hitting themselves with chains or cutting their foreheads
  • Instead of flagellation, some decide to donate blood

Sunni Muslims usually :

  • Fast
  • Pay gratitude to God
  • Become more involved in their worship and religion

According to Al Jazeera, "the primary rituals and observances on Ashura consist of public expressions of mourning. Sunni Muslims commemorate the day through voluntary fasting.

Some in the Shia community mark the day by flagellating themselves with chains and the blunt ends of swords. This is intended to exemplify the suffering Hussein experienced shortly before his beheading."