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ASHURA (the "tenth" day):

A fast-day among the Mohammedans, observed on the tenth day of the month MuḦarram, and derived from the Jewish Day of Atonement, celebrated on the tenth of Tishri (Lev. xvi. 29, xxiii. 27). The name is an Aramaic form of the Hebrew word "'Asor" (the tenth), still to be found in a liturgical poem for the Day of Atonement (, M. Sachs, "Festgebete der Israeliten," 4th ed., pt. iv. 88).

Mohammedan tradition is a unit on the assertion that the Prophet knew nothing of the Atonement Day until he came to Medina in 622. "When Mohammed came to Medina, he saw that the Jews fasted upon the day Ashura. Said he, 'What is this?' They answered, 'It is an "excellent day," the day on which God saved Israel from their enemy, whereupon Moses fasted.' Said he, 'I have a nearer claim to Moses than you have'; then he fasted and commanded others to fast also" (Bukhari, ed. Krehl, i. 497).

Conflicting Traditions.

Mohammed fixed upon the tenth of MuḦarram as the Ashura day. This leaning toward the Jews was evidently displeasing to some of the followers of the Prophet. "They said, 'O Prophet, it is a day celebrated by Jews and Christians' (the last two words are a senseless addition of later times). He answered, 'Then, let us celebrate it on the ninth, in order to distinguish ourselves from the Jews'; but the next year at this time the Prophet was already dead." Some say that, in order to distinguish it from the Jewish fast, Mohammed said, "Fast on the ninth and the tenth"; according to others, "Fast on Ashura, but fast also on the day before and the day after." Another tradition is that he did not want it celebrated in as joyous a manner as did the Jews, who were accustomed to deck out their wives with their finest jewelry and dresses.

But there were those who, according to the commentators to the Koran (sura ii. 46), connected the original celebration of Ashura with Noah, who was said to have landed on Mt. Judi on the tenth of MuḦarram and, out of thankfulness, to have fasted on that day (Baidawi, Comm. on Koran, i. 435; ZamaḦshari, "Al-Kashshaf," i. 614). Still others, according to traditions gathered by Al-Biruni, said that on this day God took compassion on Adam; Jesus was born; Moses was saved from Pharaoh, and Abraham from the fire of Nebuchadnezzar; Jacob regained his eyesight; Joseph was drawn out of the ditch; Solomon was invested with the royal power; the punishment was taken away from the people of Jonah; Job was freed from his plagues; the prayer of Zacharias was granted, and John was born to him (Al-Biruni, "Al-Athar al-Baḳiyyah," ed. Sachau, p. 326).

Becomes non-Obligatory.

When Mohammed, at a later period, turned away from the Jews and instituted the Ramadan fast as a counterpart of the Christian Lent, the Ashura became a non-obligatory fast-day. As such it is still celebrated in Mohammedan countries, and is called "The Little Fast." In Egypt the "blessed storax" is sold on the streets, and the venders cry, "A New Year and a blessed Ashura!" It is the season for giving alms; and the belief is that "Upon him who gives plenty to his household on the day of Ashura, God will bestow plenty throughout the remainder of the year." The day is held in especial honor by the Shiites as the anniversary of the battle of Ḳerbelah (680), on which day the protomartyr Al-Ḥusain was killed, and the moon shone for seventy-two hour (Browne, "New History of the Bab," 1893, p. 195).

Bibliography:
  • BuḦari, Al-Jami' al-ṢaḦiḦ, ed. Krehl, i. 286, 472, 473, 497;
  • Muslim, Matn al-ṢaḦiḦ, iii. 98-103, Cairo, 1867;
  • Malik ibn Anas, Al-Muwaṭṭa', p. 91, Lucknow, 1879;
  • Al-Ḳasṭalani, Irshâd al-Sari, iii. 482, Bulak, 1868;
  • Al-Tirmidhi, Shama'il al-Nabi, i. 145, Bulak, 1875;
  • Al-Biruni, Al-Athar al-Baḳiyyah, ed. Sachau, pp. 329 et seq. (Eng. transl. pp. 326 et seq.), reproduced by Al-Ḳazwini, Athar al-Bilad, i. 67 et seq. (German transl. by Ethe, pp. 139 et seq.). CompareGeiger, Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume Aufgenommen? p. 38;
  • Hirschfeld, Beiträge zur Erklärung des Korân, p. 77;
  • Sprenger, Das Leben Mohammeds, iii. 55;
  • Grimme, Mohammed, i. 55;
  • Pautz, Muhammad's Lehre von der Offenbarung, p. 131;
  • and especially Goldziher, in Revue Etudes Juives, xxviii. 82 et seq. For the modern celebration, see Lane, Modern Egyptians, i. 343, ii. 165 et seq.
K. G.
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