Youm-e-Ashur is marked on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, by all Muslims.
It marks the day Hazrat Nuh (Noah) Aleh-e-Salam left the Ark and the day Hazrat Musa Aleh-e-Salam (Moses) was saved from the Pharaoh of Egypt by God.
The Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him used to fast on Ashura in Mecca, where it became a common tradition for the early Muslims.
But for the Shia, it is also a major religious event to commemorate the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain Ibn Ali Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him, who died at the Battle of Karbala.
Sunni Muslims commemorate the day through voluntary fasting.
In early Islamic history, some Muslims supported Ali, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him and the fourth caliph (temporal and spiritual ruler) of the Muslim community.
Their support was based on the wish that the caliphate should stay within Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) family.
They were called Shia, which means “the supporters” in Arabic.
Hazrat Ali Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho was murdered in 661 AD and his leading opponent Muawiya bin Abi Sufiyan became caliph.
The Battle of Karbala
One of the important events that occurred in the month of Muharram was the Battle of Karbala.
This battle is one of the most memorable battles for Muslims because even though it has become a deep wound for Muslims throughout history, it also brought wisdom.
Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho and his companions’ courage against oppression has become an example for Muslims who experience oppression to take a step fighting against any form of oppression.
The battle of Karbala took place on 10 Muharram 61 AH (9/10 October 680 CE/AD) at Karbala, precisely near the Euphrates (Faraat) River, or the area is now known as Iraq.
This battle took place between a small entourage consisting of the family and companions of Imam Hussain ibn Ali Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho the grandson of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and son of the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho against the military troops sent by Yazid ibn Muawiyah, the Umayyad caliph at that time.
Since the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho, the Muslims in Kufa pledged allegiance to Imam Hassan ibn Ali Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho as successor to his father’s caliphate.
However, Muawiyah from the Umayyads felt he was more worthy of being a leader than Imam Hassan Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho and had ambitions to seize that power.
Imam Hassan Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho, who was a peacemaker, relented by handing over his power to Muawiyah through a peace treaty.
The terms of the Hassan-Muawiyah treaty were that Imam Hassan would become caliph after Muawiyah. If anything happens to Imam Hassan Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho, then the leadership will be taken over by Imam Hassan’s little brother, Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho.
But Muawiyah breaches the treaty. When Hassan (RA) died being poisoned, Muawiyah handed over his leadership to his own son, Yazid ibn Muawiyah, and not to Hussain (RA).
When Yazid rose to power, he sent the governor of Medina, Walid ibn Utba ibn Abu Sufyan to secure allegiance from Imam Hussain Ibn Ali (RA). However, Imam Hussain (RA) refused to pledge allegiance, then moved to Mecca with his family.
While in Mecca, Imam Hussain (RA) received many letters from the people of Kufa asking him to go to Kufa. The people of Kufa, who were dissatisfied with Yazid’s leadership, asked Imam Hussain (R.A) to come to Kufa and promise to pledge allegiance to him.
Imam Hussain (RA) finally sent Muslim bin Aqil (RA) to find out the state of Kufa. When he got there, the Muslim wrote a letter to Imam Hussain (RA) telling him that the people of Kufa were ready to welcome him.
Yazid heard the presence of Muslim ibn Aqil (RA) in Kufa, and he (Yazid) then ordered someone to kill him. He also changed the governor of Kufa, from Numan ibn Bisyr to Ubaidillah ibn Ziyad.
Without knowing about the changing condition in Kufa, Imam Hussain (RA) still left for Kufa.
Imam Hussain (RA) and his companions consisting of 128 people departed from Medina to Kufa on 8 Dhul al-Hijjah 60 AH (9 September 680 CE). It was only when on the way to Kufa that he (Imam Hussain R.A) received the news of the death of Muslim ibn Aqil (RA), but he still decided to continue his journey to Kufa.
Imam Hussain (RA) and his companions arrived in Kufa on 2 Muharram 61AH (2 October 680). The next day, the Kufa army of 4000 men led by Umar ibn Sa’d approached Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho entourage.
Ibn Saad’s army prevented Hussain (RA) and his companions from accessing the Euphrates (Faraat) River.
Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho and his entourage stayed in their camp thirsty without water.
On the third day without water, a group of 50 men led by Imam Hussain (R.A) half-brother Abbas Ibn Ali (RA) managed to draw water from the river even though they could only fill 20 water-skins.
Eventually, when Abbas ibn Ali (RA) went to the river to get water for the children at Imam Hussain’s camp, he (Abbas) was surrounded by hundreds of soldiers who tried to prevent him from taking water.
He was pulled down from his horse, the soldiers who attacked cut both of his arms off, leaving his teeth to carry water bags.
He kept running to deliver the water even though stones and arrows rained down on him from all sides until an arrow hit the water bags he was carrying. He started to lose hope at that moment until a man hit him on the head until fell to the ground.
Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho immediately came to him. Abbas (RA) then died on Imam Hussain’s lap.
After the morning prayer on the 10th of Muharram, Imam Hussain (RA)’s side consisting of 72 people: 32 horsemen and 40 footmen bravely fought the armed forces led by Umar bin Sa’d, numbering 4,000-10,000 people.
Before the battle, Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho delivered a speech, reminding the Umayyad soldiers to return to the path of Allah SWT, which resulted in Hurr ibn Yazid and several others turn to defend Hussain (RA).
This battle of Karbala lasted until the evening. Even though Imam Hussain (RA)’s army steadfastly fought ibn S’add’s army, but they were still outnumbered. As many as 70 of Imam Hussain (RA)’s side died lying weak on the ground, while Imam Hussain (RA), who had been seriously injured, continued to fight ibn Sad’s troops until he died because a poisoned arrow hit him.
The battle of Karbala ended with the victory obtained by ibn Saad’s troops.
The troops who fell from the Umaayah side were 88 people. On the other hand, Imam Hussain (RA) and his companions were beheaded and taken to Damascus, the capital of Syria.
After the surviving soldiers left the battlefield, the locals buried the headless bodies of Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho and his companions there.
Both Shia and Sunni Muslims consider this site as one of the sacred sites because it reminds them of the courage and fortitude of Imam Hussain (RA) and his companions.
Imam Hussain (RA)’s belongings were looted, and the women left behind by Imam Hussain (RA)’s companions were imprisoned and presented in front of Yazid, later sent back to Medina.
Imam Hussain (RA)’s death had the opposite effect on what Yazid may have thought before. Imam Hussain (RA)’s death sparked hatred and resistance to Yazid’s rule and the Ummays in general.
To this day, the death of Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho and his companions are commemorated by Sunni and Shia Muslims on the 10th of Muharram every year on the Islamic calendar, which peaks on the tenth day, commonly known as Ashura Day.
Muslim community even holds the Ashura event, which is held every year on the 9th to 10th of Muharram.
Hussain (RA)’s death became the center of Shia belief and have a special place for Sunni beliefs. Both saw Hussain (RA) as someone who fought against oppression. Imam Hussain Razi-Allah-Tala-Unho became a person whom they greatly admired for his courage, sacrifice, and fortitude.
Sources: Al-Jazeera, The Islamic Information, en.manqoolat