Sundown today marked the beginning of the Islamic holiday known as Ashura or عاشوراء (ʿāshūrāʾ), notable primarily for its significance in Shiʿi religious identity. This post by Dr. Michael Collins Dunn at the Middle East Institute describes the meaning behind the holiday. This is the tenth day of the month of Muharram (محرم), or in other words the tenth day of the new Islamic year, and it takes its name from the name of the Arabic numeral ۱۰ (our 10), عشر (ʿashr).
Both Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims recognize Ashura as a holiday, the provenance of which goes back to Muhammad who advised his followers to fast on this day (he identified it as the day when the Israelites escaped from Egypt). He may have intended that it would correspond to the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which is also the tenth day of the new year on the Hebrew calendar. However, the day has far deeper meaning for Shiʿa, as it was on this day in the Hijri year 61 when Imam Husayn (حُسَين), the son of Ali (علي), was martyred in battle with the armies of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I (يَزيد) at Karbala, in modern Iraq. Because it is such an important holiday for the Shiʿa, and Shiʿism is so much a part of the Iranian national identity now, and mostly because I always do these explanations of Islamic holidays here on the Arabic blog even though there’s no particular reason why that should be, I decided to write more about Ashura at my Persian blog. If you’re interested, please go check it out.