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Ashura

Ashura 2017 and 2018

Ashura is a public holiday in Pakistan, as it is in many other nations with large Muslim populations, including neighbouring Afghanistan and India.

YearDateDayHoliday
201730 SepSatAshura
1 OctSunAshura
201812 SepWedAshura
13 SepThuAshura

The term “Ashura” comes from the Arabic word for “tenth,” and Ashura falls on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram.

Both Sunni and Shia Muslims celebrate Ashura, but they do it differently and for different reasons.

Shias remember Ashura as the day of the slaughter of Husayn ibn Ali and his family, Husayn being the grandson of Muhammad and according to some his rightful heir, in the Battle of Karbala in modern Iraq. Since A.D. 680, when this event occurred, it has been mourned over and made the subject of sorrowful poems and elegies.

Many Shias go on pilgrimage to the shrine in Karbala, thought to be Husayn’s tomb, that commemorates the tragic events that took place there so long ago. Those who remain in Pakistan avoid all joyous events, such as weddings, and deprive themselves of worldly pleasures throughout the day. They avoid music, recite mournful poetic verses, wear clothes of mourning, and contemplate the “false justice” endured by Husayn ibn Ali.

Sunnis, by contrast, see Ashura as looking back to the day when the ancient Israelites were freed from 400 years of Egyptian bondage. In Jewish belief, this is the Day of Atonement, and Sunnis also call Ashura by that name. Sunnis often fast on Ashura to thank Allah for the deliverance of Israel and because they believe Muhammad commanded such a fast.

Pakistan is mostly Sunni, but estimates are that 10 to 25 percent of the population is Shia. Given that there are over 200 million people in Pakistan, this may equal as much as 40 million Shias, the third-highest Shia community in the world. Thus, both Ashura traditions are strong in Pakistan.

Activities

Some ideas on what to do for those touring Pakistan during Ashura are given below:

  • Watch the numerous Shia Ashura Day processions, either in person or on TV. The biggest procession is in Islamabad, but other large processions take place in Lahore, Multan, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and Quetta. Some, however, may wish to avoid them. For they involve self-flagellation with chains, whipping cords, knives, and swords. Participants also beat their chests and heads in sorrow, and some even carry symbolic caskets through the streets.
  • Visit one of the earliest places in Pakistan to turn to Islam, Hyderabad on the Arabian Sea coast. The populace began to turn to Islam in A.D. 711, after Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the city. There are many historic sites to see in Hyderabad, including: Ranikot Fort, Hyderabad Fort, the Tombs of the Talpur Mirs, and the remains of the ancient town of Amri. Also be sure to investigate the Sindh Museum to learn of the history of the region.
  • Get away to Hingol National Park where you can surround yourself with rugged, natural beauty. The park borders the Arabian Sea and has diverse climates, ranging from subtropical forests to desert-like mountain heights. There is abundant wildlife, including the Sindh ibex, gazelle, jackals, hyenas, foxes, marsh crocodiles, yellow monitor lizards, eagles, vultures, and more.

Pakistan takes Ashura very seriously as a religious holiday, but tourists of other faiths can still find activities to enjoy, regardless of whether or not they wish to witness the Ashura Day processions.