What is Ashura? Only the Events of Karbala Took Place – The History of Ashura


Ashura is a significant day observed by Muslims around the world, especially by Shia Muslims, to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It is a day of mourning and reflection, which holds immense historical and religious importance. This article delves into the history of Ashura, focusing on the events that occurred in the city of Karbala, and sheds light on its significance in Islamic tradition.


What is Ashura?

Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar. The word “Ashura” itself means “tenth” in Arabic. It is a day of both sadness and inspiration for Muslims worldwide. While Sunni and Shia Muslims commemorate Ashura, it is observed more fervently by the Shia community, particularly due to its connection with the tragic events in Karbala.

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The Significance of Ashura in Islamic History

The history of Ashura dates back to the early days of Islam. The name “Ashura” itself is derived from the Arabic word “Ashr,” which means ten, signifying its occurrence on the tenth day of Muharram. For Sunni Muslims,

Ashura has multiple historical and religious significances. It is believed that Prophet Musa (Moses) and the Israelites were saved from the tyranny of Pharaoh on this day, which led to the institution of fasting. Additionally, some Sunni Muslims observe fasting on Ashura as a way to commemorate this event.

The Events of Karbala

1. The Background of Karbala

For Shia Muslims, Ashura holds deep mourning and remembrance for the tragic events that occurred in the year 680 CE in the city of Karbala, located in present-day Iraq. It was during this time that Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his followers faced persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the ruling Umayyad caliph, Yazid I. This brutal event has had a lasting impact on the Muslim world and continues to shape the beliefs and practices of Shia Muslims.

2. The Battle of Karbala

The Battle of Karbala was a significant clash between the forces of Imam Hussain and the Umayyad caliph’s army. Despite being vastly outnumbered, Imam Hussain refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid I due to his oppressive rule and injustice. The battle resulted in a devastating loss for Imam Hussain’s camp, leading to the martyrdom of many of his close companions and family members.

3. Martyrdom of Imam Hussain

The most heart-wrenching event of Karbala was the martyrdom of Imam Hussain himself. On the day of Ashura, he courageously faced the enemy forces, but his small group was no match for the massive Umayyad army. Imam Hussain was ultimately killed, and his body, along with the bodies of his loyal followers, was left unburied for several days. The aftermath of Karbala left a profound impact on Islamic history, leading to a division within the Muslim community.

Commemorating Ashura

1. Observance by Shia Muslims

For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a day of deep mourning and reflection. They commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his followers by holding mourning processions and gatherings, where they express their grief and sorrow. The atmosphere is filled with lamentations, poetry recitations, and speeches that recount the events of Karbala. Some Shia Muslims also participate in self-flagellation as a symbolic gesture of mourning.

2. Sunni Muslims and Ashura

While Sunni Muslims acknowledge the significance of Ashura, their observance and practices may differ from those of Shia Muslims. Some Sunni communities fast on this day, following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad. However, the day is not marked with the same level of mourning and grief as it is in Shia communities.

Ashura Traditions and Practices

1. Fasting

Fasting on Ashura is a common practice among Muslims. While Sunni Muslims fast as a way to express gratitude for the events of Prophet Musa’s escape from Pharaoh’s tyranny, Shia Muslims fast as an act of remembrance for the suffering and martyrdom of Imam Hussain.

2. Charity and Acts of Kindness

Many Muslims, regardless of their sect, use Ashura as an opportunity to engage in acts of charity and kindness. It is believed that performing good deeds on this sacred day carries immense rewards.

3. Recitation of Poetry and Elegies

During Ashura, mourners recite poetry and elegies that depict the sufferings of Imam Hussain and his followers in Karbala. These poetic expressions evoke a sense of sorrow and empathy among the community.

The Global Observance of Ashura

1. Ashura Around the World

Ashura is observed in various countries with significant Muslim populations, such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, and Bahrain, among others. The intensity of the observance varies from one region to another, but the underlying spirit of remembrance and mourning remains consistent.

2. Ashura in Modern Times

In recent years, the observance of Ashura has evolved, and new ways of commemorating the day have emerged. Many communities organize blood donation drives, food distributions, and interfaith dialogues to foster unity and compassion.

Misconceptions and Controversies

Ashura, like many religious events, has faced misconceptions and controversies over time. Some misunderstandings revolve around self-flagellation practices, which are often misinterpreted as acts of violence. It is essential to understand the historical and cultural context behind these practices to avoid misjudgments.


Ashura stands as a momentous day in Islamic history, carrying deep religious and cultural significance. For Shia Muslims, it is a day of mourning, remembrance, and reflection on the sacrifices made at Karbala. Sunni Muslims also commemorate Ashura, albeit with different historical contexts. As the world continues to evolve, the observance of Ashura remains a testament to the enduring power of faith, unity, and compassion within the Muslim community.


  1. What is the significance of Ashura for Muslims? Ashura holds different meanings for Sunni and Shia Muslims. For Sunnis, it commemorates the rescue of Prophet Musa and the Israelites from Pharaoh’s oppression. For Shia Muslims, it marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain in the Battle of Karbala.
  2. Why do Shia Muslims mourn on Ashura? Shia Muslims mourn on Ashura to remember and commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Hussain and his followers, who were brutally killed in Karbala.
  3. How is Ashura observed by Sunni Muslims? Sunni Muslims may fast on Ashura as a way of following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad. However, the level of mourning is not as profound as it is among Shia Muslims.
  4. What is the historical background of the Battle of Karbala? The Battle of Karbala took place in 680 CE and involved a clash between Imam Hussain and the Umayyad caliph’s army. It resulted in the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions.
  5. How has the observance of Ashura evolved over time? Over the years, the observance of Ashura has seen various changes, with modern practices focusing on acts of charity, blood donation, and interfaith dialogues to promote unity and understanding.


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