Ashoura and Shi'ite beliefs

Ashoura and Shiite beli

Ashoura blood 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ashoura blood 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Ashoura is a major festival in the Shi'ite calendar. Celebrated on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, which fell on December 27 this year, Ashoura marks a key event in Shi'ite history known as the battle of Karbala, in Iraq. The main bone of contention between Sunnis and Shi'ites is the succession to the prophet Muhammad, who supposedly died in 632 CE. Determined to defend his rights to the throne, Hussein, the son of Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin Ali, was killed in the battle in 680 CE. The martyrdom of the prophet's descendent and the son of Ali struck a chord with Ali's supporters. Shi'ites mark this event in their calendar as the Ashoura. Much of the Shi'ite iconography revolves around this event, which is commemorated annually with much fervor, passion and drama. Shi'ites are the second largest group of believers in Islam after Sunnis. They constitute between 10 percent and 15% of Muslims, with major clusters in the Gulf region. Iran has the highest concentration of Shi'ites, with the vast majority of its 70 million-strong population adhering to this branch of Islam. Around two-thirds of the Muslims in Iraq are Shi'ite, and large concentrations are located in Bahrain (around 70%), Oman, the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and Lebanon. Shi'ites today constitute diverse groups with similar cultural practices and religious beliefs but whose adherents do not necessarily feel associated with other Shi'ites across national divides. Shi'ites are still an oppressed minority in many Muslim countries. They are sometimes frowned upon by Sunnis, denounced as heretics or accused of tearing the solidarity of Muslim people. Their persecution over the years led to a development and endorsement of the principle of taqiyya - dissimulation, or concealment - in order to protect themselves from harm. More recently, Sunnis have accused Shi'ites, especially those in Iran, of trying to spread Shi'ite doctrines in Sunni countries. Ali was the fourth caliph who succeeded Muhammad and is revered in the Sunni tradition as one of the four righteous men who led the Muslim nation in the turbulent years that followed the prophet's death. Where Sunnis believe the caliph can be any qualified descendent of Qureish, Muhammad's tribe, Shi'ites believe the successor can only be a blood descendent of the prophet, such as Ali. Shi'ites believe that Muhammad's first three successors usurped the legitimate authority of his family's descendents and were thus illegitimate. Shi'ite tradition further ascribes divine attributes to those named imams, the spiritual successors of the prophet. Shi'ites are not a homogeneous group. There are numerous sects that differ chiefly on the number of imams they regard as having been divinely inspired after Ali's imamate. The two dominant Shi'ite groups are the Twelvers, who believe in a line of 12 imams, and the Seveners, who believe in seven. The imams are held to have lived as mortals but on a spiritually higher level than that of mortals and slightly lower than that of Muhammad. They are most often considered infallible, divinely inspired, and chosen by God. Various groups believe that the last imam disappeared and became occulted - he is expected to return at a later date as the mahdi (savior). Some Shi'ites believe that the occulted imam is capable of conveying messages to Muslims through learned men called ayatollahs. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khumeini, the architect of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, is thought to have received inspiration from the 12th imam. (Most of the Shi'ites in Iran and Iraq are Twelvers.)