Shia and Sunni Ashura

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured Topics: Ashura, Shia-Sunni Relations Views: 5182

During the early period of Prophet's mission in Makkah, Muslims fasted on Muharram (First month of the Islamic calendar) 10th. After the Muslims migrated to Medina the tradition was to fast for two days, on the 10th and on the day before or after the 10th. Ashura refers to the 10th of Muharram and according to Muslim beliefs it has a broad range of significant events that are attributed to this day. From the day of atonement of Prophet Adam after he was sent down to earth to the day Prophet Moses was able to bring the Israelites out of bondage from Pharaoh.

But in our recent memory, this day is remembered for one of the greatest tragedies that occurred in the early history of Muslims. It was on this day when Imam Hussein, son of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad offered his life together with members of his family in the fields of Kerbala which is located in modern day Iraq. It was on this day when the army of Yazid who had claimed the title of Caliph (Head of the Muslim State) for himself confronted Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet, to extract his allegiance. It was on this day that Imam Hussain along with his family was brutally massacred. It is indeed a tragic day in Islamic history.

Shias observe this day as a day of great mourning reminding them of the sacrifices of Imam Hussein and his family. Most Sunnis on the other hand tend to minimize the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and instead focus on pre-Islamic prophetic events that are attributed to this day.

We must realize that the sacrifice that Imam Hussein gave was for the entire ummah not just for one section of the community. He stood for the universal principles of Islamic justice. He knew that life is sacred and a gift from Allah, yet he reached the conclusion that there comes a times in the life of individuals when the goals of life becomes more important than the life itself.

He believed that People could not be coerced into giving political allegiance to leaders they disagreed with. People had a right to dissent with rulers with dignity and honor. The resources of a nation belong to all and not to a dynasty, or aristocracy or an elite group. Imam Hussain taught us that coercion and violence are the weapons of despots in their campaign against truth and justice.

Thus, Imam Hussein challenged the decision of Muwaiya, the ruler of the Muslim world at the time when he nominated his son Yezid as his successor. Imam Hussein was of the opinion that Islam was against dynastic rule and the nominated son was not qualified to lead the nation of Muslims. He was not alone in this opinion. Many of the companions in Medina and Makkah supported his ideas.

Against all odds of his time, Imam Hussein stood against the forces of Yezid in Kerbala realizing that those who had promised to be on his side had betrayed him. He knew he could be crushed and suffer dire consequences. Yet he decided to stand for his principles. He knew that compromise was not an option in these situations. He also realized that when the choice is so clear between right and wrong, one should offer all one has in defense of one's ideals. It was his ijtihad based on his understanding of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet and he stood by that.

It is this message that Imam Hussein offered his life for so that his example will be remembered by generations to come.

Unfortunately his message has been forgotten by one section of the community and lost in ritual by the other.

If people mourn this day to express their love and the tragic loss of the grandson of the Prophet, it should be within the limits that his grandfather set for these occasions. Mourning and repentance belongs to those who betrayed Imam Hussein and refused to support him even after inviting him to continue his resistance. It does not behoove those who see in the example of Imam Hussein a manifesto for the ummah to rid itself from all sorts of depots and tyrants in every aspect of life.

If people remain silent on martyrdom of Imam Hussain they must realize that he gave his life for the principles of righteousness that Allah introduced to the world through his grandfather, Prophet Muhammad .

Tenth of Muharram is a day of great significance in Muslim history and it is a day when one of the great leaders of the community, Imam Hussein, knowingly and consciously accepted martyrdom for saving the soul of Islam. It should be a day to bring Shias and Sunnis together. Because it is a day of pride when freedom and justice was given priority over one's life and a day that should be viewed as the day of deliverance.

Both Sunnis and Shias can focus on the message of Imam Hussain and work together to rid their world of all sorts of repression that has negated the essence of divine guidance.

Dr Aslam Abdullah is director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Vice president of the Muslim Council of America (MCA) and the President elect of the Nevada Interfaith Council. He has authored several books and published more than 400 papers on issues related with Islam and contemporary issues. He has taught at colleges in India as well as in the US. He is also Editor-in Chief of America's largest circulating Muslim weekly, The Muslim Observer.

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  6 Comments   Comment

  1. GREGORY THOMAS from United States

    We must stick to the Sunnah and the dictates of the Prophet of Islam

    alahi wa salaam and not to stupid writing as this message, we must not

    have in mind the death of Hussain rahima allah who was murdered by the

    Khawaij Shia then they turn and make this day a day of remorse for a

    crime they created, Ashura is about the Followers of Musa nothing more

    can be added, anything added becomes an Innovation no doubt, we do not

    unite upon batil, but upon Tawheed unpon the Understanding of the

    Rightly Guided Caliphate Salafi Abu Bakr, Umar al Khattab, Uthman, and

    Ali and the 3 generations of sahabas not from the opinions of the Kalaf

    of the Shia and their sects

  2. Habibeh from Canada

    Great article. You are absolutely right, on all the points you've made

    here. Imam Hussain a.s. sacrifice to save his religion touches even

    non-Muslims, like Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in places like India.

  3. maria from usa

    Salam Alaikum. I agree with Annette. Prophet Musa wasn't even

    mentioned in this article.

  4. khan from US


    The Muslims in general are brainwashed by fabricated 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 to some scholars who talk about the facts of

    Imam Hussain, Yazeed and Muavia (ra). We were brainwashed with 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


  5. Ahmed Ismail from Saudi Arabia

    This article gives food for thought. However, one must be careful or else it will be the Same Old Same Old all over again. A look at under the article Same Old Same Old tells the story of what happens when people go overboard in their religion.

  6. Annette Khan from USA

    Assalamu alaikum. With all due respect, Muslims follow the ways of the Quran and Sunnah (authentic ahadith)what you describe in yor article is an innovation. All innovations not practiced by our beloved prophet(peace be upon him)are to be rejected period!

    In Sahih Bukhari# 1222 Narrated Abdullah: The prophet said, " he who slaps the cheeks, tears the clothes and follows the traditions of the days of ignorance is not from us."

    When one of the prophet's grandson's was dying during his lifetime his message to his own daughter was recorded in Bukhari # 1211, "Whatever Allah takes is for him and whatever he gives , is for him, and everything with him has a limited fixed term and so she should be patient and hope for Allah's reward."

    There are several narrations which mention the terms for mourning, it is 3 days and for the wife whose husband has past four months and ten days.

    Take heed before it is too late and or term expires.