Today, October 11th marked the 10th day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), also known as Ashura; the word itself means little more than the tenth day. Every year, this day marks great divisiveness among the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam due to the different approaches and understandings (and tolerance) of what this day stands for.
Growing up in Sunni communities, you don’t really get informed much about Shias, the little piece of information you get is that they do not stand to what we stand for, therefore they are not as good as we are. Over the years, I grew so much curiosity over different religions (and non-religions) as well as different sects of Islam and I could not settle for that simple answer I always get whenever I ask my family or those around me about what makes Shias different than us and why should I believe that they are not as good as we are. So like every other teen rebel who does not want to conform, I delved into learning more about this.
I’ve had contradicting facts and opinions about it but I understood well that there was misinformation or lack of information provided regarding anything that is different from our beliefs. Difference was something that scared us, and that fear made us intolerant, but intolerance only led us to more bloodshed. Getting some questions about this day inspired me to write about it here, do note that my writings are imperfect and will never give justice to the importance of this day for all Muslims in general.
Ashura is an important observance to both Sunnis and Shias, yet for different reasons.
Sunni Muslims consider Ashura as a day a commemoration of the Exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt and a day of respect and gratitude for prophet Musa (Moses)’s hard battle in the pursue of freedom for his people regardless of the impossible obstacles and barriers faced. It is related by Imam Bukhari in the third volume of Sahih Bukhari that When prophet Muhammad (PBUH) migrated to Medina he found that the Jews observed the fast of Ashura, He enquired about the reason from them and was told that it was the day on which God had delivered the Children of Israel from the enemy and Moses used to keep a fast on it as an expression of gratitude to the Almighty. The Prophet thereupon, remarked that Moses has a greater claim upon me than upon you,’ and he fasted on that day and instructed his followers to do the same. In Jewish tradition, this festival is celebrated as the Passover, so I guess we can say that Ashura for Sunnis is the Muslim Passover. Ashura is also the day Prophet Nuh (Noah) left the ark after the great flood.
Shia Muslims consider Ashura as the time of mourning and commemoration of the tragic and horrific battle of Karbala where Imam Hussein, the grandson of the prophet was brutally captured and killed in the battle in modern-day Iraq in his fight against the injustice performed by Yazid, the Ummayad successor at the time. Each year, millions of Shia pilgrims visit the shrine of Imam Hussein to mourn the anniversary of Hussein’s death on the Day of Ashura.
I believe that while the two sects view the day differently, the concepts remain the same, Imam Hussein embodied the qualities of the prophet in his character and he remained deeply committed to the values of justice and fairness, he spoke on behalf of those who were marginalized by a class of rulers and fought oppression. Prophet Musa (Moses) looked right through the barriers and obstacles and saw hope, he fought oppression of Firaun and stood for the freedom rights of his people. Both stories represent values of justice, fairness, equality and the fight against tyranny, oppression and marginalization. Values that we are deeply missing currently in our Muslim world, from what is happening now in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and other countries, this is a time for us to ponder and look beyond our differences and try to become more tolerant towards each other, look at all our similarities and accept our differences instead of causing more bloodshed than what is already prevalent. May this Ashura unite us more on these values that both Prophet Musa and Imam Hussein fought for and may we grow more tolerance towards each other.