Ashura – Honoring a Martyr

Ashura cannot really be described as a festival, as it is not celebrated with joy and elation. It is a rather somber religious event which is observed by the Muslim community and in Algeria. As with Muslims across the world it is an event that is attended every year without fail. The day of Ashura is held by both Sunni Muslims and Shi’a Muslims, and even though there might be minor differences in their ceremonies, its concept and basic beliefs remain the same.

The tenth day of Muharram is the official day for Ashura. It is a day of remembrance for the martyr Husayn ibn Ali and the mourning of his passing during the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. During the battle of Karbala, Husayn ibn Ali and seventy two of his family members lost their lives. Zaynab, Husayn ibn Ali’s sister, walked onto the battlefield and wept next to his body. The words she spoke out over his body were so heartfelt and distraught that even the enemy wept. She then ensured that every last soul in Demasque and in Kufa wept, and that the descendants of Husayn wept for him annually. This became a yearly event and the day of Ashura was eventually declared a holiday, allowing everyone to attend.

During Ashura, a gathering of mourners will congregate outside a predetermined mosque and the streets surrounding the mosque are usually a sea of religious followers. Some of the rituals include the flagellation of male participants, which is mostly done by Shi’a Muslims. Others choose to whip themselves or cut their backs, allowing their flesh to bleed and to experience the pain that Husayn suffered. Women often gather to listen to poetic readings and recitations, and all through the day Husayn is honored through chanting, grieving and chest beating to the slow and hollow beats of a mournful drum.

There are, however, many different historical and religious events connected to this day, and there are groups that do not agree on the history of the day of Ashura. But it is for each group to decide how they interpret history and the origins of Ashura. Visitors to Algeria who find themselves in the country during this time, will have the unique opportunity to witness the seriousness and true sadness of this event.