Ashura is a significant occasion for all Muslims, but it is particularly important for Muslims practicing the Shia branch of Islam. Little known to outsiders, Shias in Oman quietly observe this occasion openly among the narrow streets of Muttrah. Join me as I share with you the unique sights and sounds of Ashura in Oman.
Ashura Etymology and History
Ashura means ten or tenth in Arabic, and more specificially the tenth of Muharram, a month on the Islamic calendar. Under the orders of Yazid I in 680 AD, Imam Hussain bin Ali was killed, along with 72 of his followers, in the Battle of Karbala.
According the Shias, Hussain is a martyr, and see him as a defender of Islam. However, it is here, after the Battle of Karbala, where Sunni and Shia theology splits. More interestingly, Hussain is the last Imam all Shia sub-sects mutually recognize, making the Ashura commemoration even more poignant.
Commemoration rituals are different around the world ranging from memorial services, mourning processions, tomb visitation, battle reenactments, and flagellation. On my visit this year I observed three of these rituals.
As an outsider looking into the Muttrah events, my most notable observation was the variety of the ritual practices conducted by the different cultural groups. You see, It’s not just Omanis down here conducting a single procession. In true Omani fashion the larger group is mixed with Omanis, Pakistanis, Indians, and Iranians from all the Shia sects. Yet each subgroup recites the poems and chants slightly differently. The result is a haunting gathering memorial for Hussain bin Ali.