Ashura Commemorations Around the World

Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, is a period of mourning for Shia Muslims. During the month they commemorate the death of Husain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the third Shia Imam, at the Battle of Karbala. The mourning events reach a climax on Ashura, the tenth day of the month, which falls this week.

In this post we look at different Ashura rituals around the world, and bloggers describe what Ashura means to them.

Last year during Muharram, Pakistani blogger Fahad Desmukh mapped commemorations in different countries:

View The Globalization of Muharram in a larger map

Fahad wrote a post to accompany the map:

The map is far from exhaustive, as there are literally thousands of Muharram videos on Youtube from all over the over the world. I've just selected a few that show the wide diversity of the rituals as they have spread around the world.

The map and videos quite neatly reflect the migration and displacement patterns of people from the time of the events of Karbala in 680AD to all corners of the globe today. It also shows something about how rituals and tradition are defined, and then continuously moulded by time and migration.

So, for example, here is one path taken. The rites travelled east from Iraq, across Persia, to North India sometime between 1300 and 1700 AD. Although Shi'ite Muslims claimed ownership of the rites, in India Sunnis and even Hindus were active participants.

In Mauritius, Ashura is known as Ghoon. This video, uploaded by YouTube user , shows Ghoon back in December 2010:

Fahad wrote:

During the days of the British Raj, thousands of Indian indentured labourers travelled to far flung regions of the British Empire, such as Fiji, Mauritius and the Caribbean Islands, taking these rituals with them. In Trinidad, the rites became known as the festival of Hosay, in which not only Sunnis and Hindus participated, but also Afro-Trinidadians. In Trinidad, the Dhol-Tasha drums (referred to as ‘Tassa’) and Tazias (‘Tadja’) can still clearly be seen.

Video by  on YouTube, December 31, 2009.

In Qatif in eastern Saudi Arabia, blogger Mujtaba Alsaif has written about his experience of Ashura:

The days of Ashura are always filled with a lot of activities in Qatif. Stepping into Qatif during this season, the visitor can't help but realize that there is something happening. This activity can consume the individual's time positively as he can visit the many lectures that may hold a significant value, or attend a session of a Latmiya [recitations commemorating the days of Ashura] to understand this region's struggles during a specific period, or just to walk around and discuss with the people to gather their understanding of these blessed days and what Imam Hussain's sacrifice means to them. Muharram in Qatif has always been special to me because it is truly a season that brings people of the region together and abolishes the negativity they have for one another.

An Ashura commemoration in Ghana uploaded to YouTube by  on July 30, 2010:

In Atlanta in the United States, blogger Taahira Abdul-Halim has put down her thoughts:

Without Imam Hussain's sacrifice, I would be just like all of the others in the world who wander like drones on this Earth, passing time, questioning their existence, seeking to find temporary satisfaction in trivial things. I wouldn't have Islam. The single most imprtant aspect of my life. The single most important part of being me. I'm starting to get a little bit emotional now because I just know how awful it would be to not have Allah swt [Subhanahu wa ta'ala – may He be glorified and exalted] in my life.

An Ashura commemoration in Moscow, Russia, uploaded to YouTube by  on January 19, 2008:

Thumbnail and featured image show Muharram procession in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Bayazid Akter, copyright Demotix (26/05/2009).


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