Ashura is a 10 day festival in the Islamic month of Muharram and marks one of the most important days in the Shi’a calendar. Sunni and Shi’ites differ in who them believe should be the Caliph. This festival marks the time when Husayn ibn Ali (the grandson of the Muhammad whom Shi’a consider to be the rightful 3rd Caliph, being of Muhammad’s family) and 72 companions died on the battlefield in AD 680. Husayn died in “revolt” against Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (the second Caliph of the Umayyad dynasty). Husayn and his followers alleged that Yazid was going against the teachings of Muhammad and changing the sunnah. After the companions were all killed, their bodies were mutilated. And Shi’a symbolically, in mourning, remember this during Ashura. Not all Shi’a scholars approve of the blood-letting and many claim it violates Islamic law.
For Sunni, Ashura has a vastly different significance. When Muhammad saw the Jews fasting during Yom Kippur (day of attonment), he did likewise, and Muslims claim that this shows that Islam continues in the observance and spirit of Judaism and Christianity. In addition, according to Islam, God performed many miracles in the Bible on this day. There is no authoritative Islamic saying or tradition on this in Sunni Islam.
Further info on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_Ashura
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