The Day of Ashura is an important day for the Muslim, marked on the tenth-day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. The day commemorates the moment when the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali was killed in a battle.
Although both Sunni and Shia Muslims observe the 10th Day of Muharram worldwide, many Shia Muslims observe Muharam as a month of mourning.
One of the most controversial practices of the day includes the custom of self-flagellation, often using sharp or painful objects such as knives or chains.
Here are 4 interesting things to know about Ashura Day including its history, significance and the custom of flagellation
For most Shia Muslims, the Day of Ashura is of mourning and commemorates Husayn ibn Ali's death in the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH. In many of the Shia regions such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and others, the commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday.
The day is commemorated by Sunni Muslims (who refer to the day as The Day of Atonement) as the day when the Israelites were freed from the Pharaoh of Egypt. According to a widely cited narration of Ibn Abbas, Muhammad came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the tenth day of Muharram. When asked about it, they reportedly said, "This is a good day, this is the day when Allah saved the children of Israel from their enemy and Musa (Moses) fasted on this day."
Flagellation with Knives or Chains
Suffering and cutting one's body with knives or chains (matam) was banned by the orders of supreme leader of Iran and Shia cleric, Ali Khamenei and by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
However, other leaders such as Mohammad Al-Shirazi of Iraq, promote flagellation rituals as a way of remembering the pain of Husayn ibn Ali.
There are certain traditional flagellation rituals called 'Talwar Zani' that use a sword. Other dangerous rituals include 'Zanjeer Zani' or Zanjeer Matam' which makes use of a chain with blades to hurt one's body. It is believed that these customs show solidarity with Husayn and his family and signify deep mourning of his death. The acts are believed to show people's regret of the fact that they were not present at the battle to fight and save Ali and his family.
Violence during Ashura
Since there are difference in observance of the day by both Sunni and Shia Muslims, violence often takes place in countries that have significant populations of both sects. In the most recent case, on December 6, 2011, a suicide attack killed 63 people and critically wounded 160 at a shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan, where a crowd of hundreds had gathered for the day of Ashura observation.
Many countries in the Middle East have already tightened security ahead of the Ashura day 2014, which falls on 2 November, Sunday.