Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
Shi'i Muslims observe a major festival in the month of Muharram called Ashura, which falls on the tenth day of the month. Tradition holds that Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad, was martyred in the month of Muharram, on the tenth day. Together with his family and some followers, Husayn was killed by Umayyad troops outside Karbala, in Iraq, as he traveled to take his place as caliph. The Shi'a recall Husayn's martyrdom in public festivals that include passion plays, which reenact Husayn's death, and processions in which the men express their profound grief and regret that more Shi'i loyalist troops did not ride to Husayn's defense. Their sorrow that Husayn died nearly alone and undefended is palpable, as is their gratitude that Husayn chose to die by standing up to oppression and unjust rule. Husayn's martyrdom has inspired Muslims to stand up to tyranny in many parts of the world.
1. How does Islam mark its sacred events?
2. What is the Hijrah calendar? Why is it important?
3. How is sacred time enacted through ritual?
4. How does the commemoration of Husayn’s birthday unite Shi’a Muslims?