A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Sunday, December 27, 2009

‘Ashura 1431

[Oops. Sorry: for a while the headline said 1381. Perhaps conflating 680 AD, the year of Karbala', and 61 AH. It is, of course, 1431.]

Today was the Shi‘ite mourning day known as ‘Ashura; or rather, more precisely, it ran from sundown last night to sundown tonight, so it's over as I post this. It was a day of massive demonstrations in Tehran, as expected, since ‘Ashura coincided with the one week period of mourning for Grand Ayatollah Hossein ‘Ali Montazeri.

‘Ashura is observed in Sunni Islam as well, since the Prophet recommended fasting on the day, and some hadith indicate that he was directly emulating the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur. (‘Ashura is the tenth day of the first month, Muharram, and thus is an analog of Yom Kippur, but since the Muslim calendar is purely lunar, it moves arolund the calendar.)

The Shi‘ite practice came about because the Battle of Karbala' in 61 AH (680 AD), in which the Third Shi‘ite Imam, Imam Hussein, died along with most of his family, took place on the day. His martyrdom is the most mourned of all the Shi‘ite Imams, at least after Imam ‘Ali himself. During the reign of the Shah some of the more extreme practices, such as self-flagellation, were banned, but they returned after the Islamic Revolution. The emotion and redemptive symbolism of ‘Ashura make it a particularly explosive moment for Montazeri to have died.

For a number of posts relating to ‘Ashura, including pictures of some of the art associated with it, check the last several posts at View from the Occident. One of them, of ‘Abbas bin ‘Ali, Hussein's half-brother and a hero of Karbala who also died there, appears above.

As I've noted previously, MEI's closed all week and posting will be light, but will occur.

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