History of The Day of Ashura
Hussain ibn Ali was the grandson of Muhammad (the last prophet of Islam), born in 620 AD to a family famed for their values of love, honour and peace. Hussain was a leader who was known widely for his compassion, wisdom and integrity. Not long after the death of Muhammad, the Muslim empire had slid into political turmoil and corruption as Yazid (from the Ummayad dynasty) usurped power and slowly began destroying the moral fabric of society.
Yazid wanted Hussain to pay him an oath of allegiance in order to gain credibility for his illegal rule. Hussain out of moral obligation towards his principles of social justice and honour refused to do so, despite it being a risk to his life.
Hussain chose to make a stand, and began a small but mighty uprising – he chose to leave the comfort of his own city and begin a journey eastwards towards modern day Iraq. Hussain travelled with his family and 72 companions to make it clear that he did not want violence, but was prepared to defend himself and sacrifice all he had for the greater good of his people.
Word reached Yazid of Hussain’s movement and out of fear it would gain momentum he dispatched an army of 30,000 to halt Hussain and his supporters in their tracks. They were blocked from moving further until Hussain pledged allegiance, but Hussain resisted. Yazid ordered his army to attack and kill Hussain and his supporters, on the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic calendar (Muharram) – which is known as The Day of Ashura (the 10th day).
Ashura and The Battle of Karbala
Hussain and his supporters had been stopped in the desert land of Karbala (in Iraq), where they had been denied access to water for 3 days. At dawn on the Day of Ashura, Hussain and his men made their prayers, knowing that what was ahead of them was certain defeat yet they all remained steadfast and loyal to their principles.
The battle of Karbala commenced at noon, small bands of men dispatched Hussain’s camp to go and fight valiantly against the army of Yazid. One after the other Hussain’s supporters fought and died until eventually Hussain had no one left to support his resistance.
Hussain was fatigued, thirsty and heavily wounded having fought bravely against the enemy, until eventually he fell. The enemy forces attacked him from all sides with swords, spears and arrows until a man by the name of Shimr ruthlessly beheaded Hussain on the burning plains of Karbala.
The legacy of Ashura
Whilst Hussain died in the battle, he was victorious through his legacy. His actions and the stand he made at Karbala triggered a series of small uprisings against the tyrannical regime of Yazid which led to his eventual demise. Yazid’s army took the women and children from Hussain’s camp as war prisoners and marched from Iraq to Syria where they were held captive.
Hussain’s sister Zainab and his son Zain Al-Abideen, defied Yazid in his own courtyard in famous sermons which unnerved even his closest allies. Thereon, the remaining members of Hussain’s family spread the word to the people about the massacre which took place and the crimes that were committed on The Day of Ashura.
The Day of Ashura – a day of mourning
The Day of Ashura is mourned and remembered by millions of people across the world as the day Hussain and his supporters were killed in The Battle of Karbala. Today, pilgrims from all across the world visit the shrine of Hussain ibn Ali in Karbala where he is buried, to pay their tribute to his courageous stand.
On the day of Ashura many Muslims partake in large peaceful gatherings where they recite poems in memory of Hussain and his sacrifice whilst lamenting and beating their chest as a cultural tradition to display their grievance. Many people use the day of Ashura as a day to perform acts of kindness and charity as a way for them keep alive the very same principles and values Hussain gave his life for.