Muslims mark Ashura day on Tuesday, October 11th

An Ashura celebration for men in an Anjuman-E-Burhani Mosque
An Ashura celebration for men in an Anjuman-E-Burhani Mosque

On Tuesday, Libyans and all Muslims across the world will be celebrating Ashura, which is a prominent day for all Muslims but one which is also at the heart of the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Ashura means “10” and occurs on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and the second holiest month after Ramadan. This year it falls on Oct. 11, although in some countries the day before Ashura is also a public holiday.

For Sunni Muslims, Ashura is a day of celebration to commemorate Moses being saved from the Egyptians by Allah. It is also the day when the Prophet Muhammad, then in Medina, noticed Jews fasting on their Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, and decided that he and his followers should do likewise. In addition, Ashura marks the day Noah left the Ark.

For Shiites, though, Ashura has extra significance and is very much a somber occasion. It was the day in 680 AD that Imam Hussein, a grandson of Muhammad, was murdered in Karbala, in modern-day Iraq, during a battle against the ruling Caliph. It is this event that brought about the splitting of Islam into two main sects – Sunni and Shiite.

Hussein opposed the nomination as caliph of Yazid I by his father and previous caliph Muawiyah following the death of Muawiyah I and refused to swear loyalty to him. This led to the Battle of Karbala and the death of Hussein, who Shiites consider a martyr.

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