Ashura and Muharram of Sunni and Shia

Category: Articles, Faith, Featured | Topic: ashura, muharram | Views: 13,603

At the beginning of each Islamic lunar calendar, in various parts of the Muslim world the first ten days are observed as a commemoration of a most horrific and tragic event. In places like Iran and Iraq, Muslims stage passion plays, in India and Pakistan, the community organizes huge processions full with tazias, (replicas of the tomb of Husain). Shia Muslims relive the story of the first ten days of Muharram that took place in the first century of Islam when the grandson of Prophet Muhammad , Imam Hussain challenged the authority of Yezid, the Umayyad ruler. He established the principle that sometimes the goals of life become more important than life itself.

Imam Hussain stood for the Quranic principle of justice and fairness. Imam Hussain spoke on behalf of those who were marginalized by a class of rulers who were laying the foundation of dynastic rules in Islam. Imam Hussain refused to surrender to the forces of oppression knowing fully well that he could perish in the process.

It is a month of serious reflections for the Muslim world. While Shia Muslims observe the first ten days as public mourning, the Sunni Muslims evade any overt display of happiness such as weddings etc. and focus on the fasting of the 10th day of Muharram in memory of Prophet Moses exodus from Egypt. By and large most of the Sunni Muslim community avoid any explicit connection of that day to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain . In fact in many parts of the world the month has become a point of conflict between Shia and Sunni. Thus, Imam Hussain and his legacy is seen as a sectarian event.

Imam Hussain is the grandson of the Prophet who lived his life the way he watched his grandfather live it. He embodied the qualities of the prophet in his character and he remained deeply committed to the Quranic values of justice and equality. His struggle was for fairness and Islamic values for common men and women. When the power was usurped by the Ummayd rulers and the people’s right to elect their Caliph was turned into a dynastic rule with little regard for human life and human dignity, freedom and justice, Imam Hussain mobilized first his family then his supporters to challenge the authority of Yezid, the Umayyad ruler at that time. He was betrayed by many of his supporters who withdrew at the last minute, but his family stood by him in Karbala, modern day province of Iraq, and faced the brutal might of a well organized, well equipped and well trained army.

The outcome was known from the beginning. Imam Hussain was aware of the imbalance in power. He had the choice to make a tactical withdrawal. He had the choice of accepting the rule of Umayyad’s and give legitimacy to their claim. He had the choice to accept the practices of the court in Damascus. Yet he chose to stand his ground knowing fully well that he and his followers may not survive at the end of the conflict. He did not run away. He knew why he was there and why he had challenged the authority. He fought bravely and left the world with violent wounds as a testimony of his belief that sometimes in the life of nations come moments when liberty and justice become more important than the life itself.

It was a sacrifice given in support of human rights and human dignity. It is this sacrifice that has held a profound impact on the history of ideas in the world as rooted in the famous line of one America’s great founding father, Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” It is this sacrifice that has inspired millions throughout history to challenge injustice and inhumanity on the part of political powers. Imam Hussain is a living legacy of Muslims. It should and it must not be split into Sunni or Shia conflict. Imam Hussain followed the path of prophets. If prophets were alive, they would have not done anything different.

Shia and Sunni both need to work together to uphold the legacy and sacrifice that the Grandson of Prophet Muhammad , Imam Hussain gave. Shias need to look at this observance beyond the passion plays and Sunnis should recognize this historical tragedy beyond a sectarian and political divide.  All Muslims need to remember Imam Hussain for his commitment to justice as taught by the Quran “… enjoin what is just; forbid what is wrong; bear anything that happens to you steadfastly: these are things to be aspired to.” (31:17).


Dr. Aslam Abdullah is editor in chief of the weekly Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.


Leave a Reply


  1. AA

    The Muslims in general are brainwashed by Fabricated and lies of

    some Muslims and in the books that speak ill of Muavia, Yazeed, Abu

    Bakr, Omar and Osman (ra).

    Find the facts and listen some Scholars who talk about the facts of

    Imam Hussain, Yazeed and Muavia (ra) We weer brainwashed all the

    books and fabricated lectures about Karbala

    Abdulalh Ibn Sabah a formerly jew (like St Paul an ex jew formed St

    PAul’s Christianity) corrupted Islam and played a major role in creating


  2. The Reported said “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens

    himself in his religion,will not be able to continue in that

    way.So you should not be extremists,but try to be near to

    perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be

    rewarded”. So Religion is very easy It is the Religion of your

    Father Ibrahim.It is He who named you Muslims both before and

    in this so that the Messenger may be witness over you and you be

    witness over mankind.So perform Salah and give zakah and hold

    fast to Allah (ie depend on Him) He is your Maula (Lord Patron)

    what an Excellent Maula and what an Excellent Helper.May Allah

    unite the Ummah on Haq so that we become the means of hidayah to

    the entire mankind but we must show good example so that others

    can follow us.

  3. Salaams,

    I want to agree with Sam,As a South African Muslim,we always commerate the ten days of Ashura,We as Sunni muslims always say

    “har Karbala ke bad Islam Zindha hothai” (after every karbala Islam is given life.)


  4. Shi’ah do of expressing distress and grief, most of which may be done in order to show off. His father was better than him and he was killed, but they do not take his death as an anniversary as they do with the death of al-Husayn. His father was killed on a Friday as he was leaving the mosque after Fajr prayer, on the seventeenth of Ramadaan in 40 AH. ‘Uthmaan was better than ‘Ali according to Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah, and he was killed when he was besieged in his house during the days of al-Tashreeq in Dhu’l-Hijjah of 36 AH, with his throat cut from one jugular vein to the other, but the people did not take his death as an anniversary. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab was better than ‘Ali and ‘Uthmaan, and he was killed as he was standing in the mihraab, praying Fajr and reciting Qur’aan, but the people did not take his death as an anniversary. Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq was better than him but the people did not take his death as an anniversary. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) is the leader of the sons of Adam in this world and the Hereafter, and Allaah took him to Him as the Prophets died before him, but no one took the dates of their deaths as anniversaries on which they do what these ignorant Raafidis do on the day that al-Husayn was killed. … The best that can be said when remembering these and similar calamities is that which ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn narrated from his grandfather the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), who said: “There is no Muslim who is afflicted by a calamity and when he remembers it, even if it was in the dim and distant past, he says Inna Lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon (verily to Allaah we belong and unto Him is our return), but Allaah will give him a reward like that of the day when it befell him.”

  5. Alhamdu Lillahi one thing common which binds the two Communities Sunni and Shia together is the common belief in Lailaha illal lah Muhammadu Rasulullah Non is worthy of Worship except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.This is the common factor believe in One God and accepted Muhammad (S.A.W) as the final Messenger at the same time we all recognise Muharram as the new Year of the Hijira Calender. Differences can be found everywhere even in the same house so what? We are Muslims and proud of our Religion. What happened previously is unfortunate and we hope it will not be repeated let bye gone be bye gone. We should not let the enemies divide us on trivial issues. We are Muslims and nobody can take away that title as brothers and sisters all over the World The rest is all history.

  6. Unfortunately, the monarchy the umayyads established are alive and

    well in much of the Muslim world, and the political progeny of Yazid

    are ruling much of the Mulsim world and particularly the Middle

    East. The political children of Yazid will sow mischief, as they

    have done recently in Egypt, and create fitnah to secure their hold

    on power. Unfortunately, they have their backers amongst the sunni

    ulama in the Gulf, and they are beneficiaries of this political

    reality. I am sorry the future is predictably bleak, barring a

    direct intervention of Allah.

    Now don’t jump into the conclusion that I am a shi’i. I am a sunni,

    trying to look inside our religio-political fabric as fairly as


  7. It is extraordinary that the author does not mention the innovations

    that the shia have brought into islam by the various wild and

    generally un-islamic practices during the commemoration of imam

    Hussain’s death. Instead, he blames the sunnis for not doing the same.

    The sunnis rightly avoid getting into these habits out of fear of

    distortion and innovation in the religion of Allah. The prophet peace

    be upon him said: every innovation (in the deen) is a straying (from

    the path) and every straying is in the fire.

    Thanks to sister Haneefa for the good word.

  8. Wa kazalika jaalnakum Ummatan Wasata This is how We made you as Middle Ummah.Inna hazihi Ummatikum Ummatan Wahida This your Umma is One Umma.Kuntum Khaira Ummatin Ukhrijat Linnas Waltakum Minkum Ummatun yad’una ilal khair Wa yaamuruna bil maaruf wa yan hauna anil munkar wa ulaika humul mufilihun and so on and so forth. I dont see where we are told you are Sunni or Shia Why causing all these division.We are one Ummah with One Rabb one Quran One Rasul five daily Salah One Hajj so whats all the fuss about.May Allah Bless the Ummah and bring unity among the Ummah and love one another for the sake of Allah and do everything for the sake of Allah and His Prophet.

  9. As a convert to the true religion, may Allah (Mighty and Sublime is He) place correct knowledge and understanding, the strength of conviction, the joy of kindness,the delight of mercy, and the calm of peace and tranquility into the hearts of the believers and may He draw us together like schools of fish. Ameen. Thank you for sharing your breadth of knowledge, experience, and insight.

  10. The Author is incorrect in making a general statement that sunni mulims do not observe the first 10 days. Here in South Africa we sunnis observe the 10 days were we have programmes that includes reciting Sura Yasin and discourses in most of the MASJIDS and especially observe the 10th day as the saddest day in the Muslim world. We love Imaam Hussain and the Ahlul Bayt. We dispise Yazid. Lets not spread misinformation…Peace and unity