Muslim Calendar and Holidays

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20120509-Ramadan-kareem.png The Muslim calendar begin on July 16, 622, the date of Muhammad's Hegira from Mecca to Medina. The letters A.H stand for Anno Hegirae and is the equivalent of A.D. in the Gregorian calendar. Use of the Muslim calendar began seventeen years after the Hegira. Muslims count the years beginning in A.D. 622, the year Mohammad escaped to Medina. The year 2000 was 1420 on the Muslim calendar.

Muslims still follow the lunar calendar.The crescent moon is seen on the flags of many Muslim flags and it used as a symbol for the Muslim version of the red cross: the red crescent. As early as the thirteenth century it was the religious and military symbol of the Ottoman Turks.∞

In most Muslim countries the Muslim calendar is used side by side with the Gregorian calendar, which is used in most of the world. In a few places, the Islamic calendar continues to be used for day to day use.

Websites and Resources: Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Muslim Year, Week and Months

The Muslim year has only 354 or 355 days, which means that all Muslim holidays are 10 or 11 days earlier each year. The Muslim lunar calendar consists of 12 lunar months, alternating between 29 and 30 days.

To keep the months in sync with the phases of the moon the length of the twelfth month varies: during a thirty year cycle, 19 of the final months have 29 days and 11 of them have 30 days. In the 30 year cycle, the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 19th, 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 24th, 26th, and 29th years are leap years

The Islamic year consists of twelve 29- to 30-day lunar months: 1) Muharram, 2) Safar, 3) Rabi al-Awwal, 4) Rabi al-Thani, 5) Jumadi al-Awwal, 6) Jumadi al-Thani, 7) Rajab, 8) Sha'ban, 9) Ramadan (the fasting month), 10) Shawwal, 11) Dhul Oi'dah and 12) Dhul Hijjah.

Since the Muslim Sabbath is on Friday, in some Muslim countries the work week starts on Saturday and the weekend is Thursday and Friday, but this is not the case in secular Turkey. On Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer, mosques are often filled with people

Muslim Celebrations

Muslims celebrate two big holidays: 1) Eid al-Fitr, the feast celebrating the breaking of the Ramadan fast; and 2) Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which occurs two and a half months after Eid al-Fitr. Some sources say Eid al-Adha is regarded as the greater of the two as it marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorates God's testing of Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son Ismail. Other sources say Eid al-Fitr is a bigger event. Both feast are celebrated by Muslims worldwide celebration and both usually last for for around three days. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Friday prayers

John L. Esposito wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The two holidays, which are a time for rejoicing, prayer, and social visits, represent a religious obligation as well as a social celebration. Both are occasions for visiting relatives and friends, for giving gifts, and for enjoying special desserts and foods that are served only at these times of the year. Many Muslim children stay home from school to celebrate the festivals, and in some areas school authorities recognize them as holidays for Muslim youngsters.

According to the BBC: “Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha are only two Muslim festivals set down in Islamic law. But there are also several other special days which Muslims celebrate. Some Muslims disapprove of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, on the grounds that it is an innovation, and innovations in religious matters are forbidden. Some Muslims say that if changes were made in religious matters it would imply that Islam was not complete when it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, or that the Prophet did not tell Muslims everything that was revealed to him. This would be seen as highly sacrilegious by many Muslims. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009]

In Shiism the birthdays of Ali and the imams are also celebrated. Shias annually commemorate the "passion" of Hussein during a 10-day period (ashura) of remembering, during which they ritually reenact and mourn the last stand of Imam Hussein and his followers against the army of the caliph. Wedding, parties nine days after a birth, circumcision parties can be major events. Parties are also held to mark births, name-giving and first haircuts. Slaughtering a sheep and firing gunshots in the air is a traditional Arab way of celebrating an event. A “mansaf” is traditional Muslim feast held to mark the end of a period of morning of a prominent person.

Muslim Holidays

Eid, or Id, means a “festival” or “feast” in Arabic. Eid is celebrated twice a year as Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr means “the feast of breaking the fast.” The fast, influenced to here, is the fast during Ramadan, the holy month observed by Muslims, which recalls the revealing of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. “The other festival, Eid al-Adha, is the “feast of the sacrifice.” It commemorates the end of hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and recalls the story of how God commanded Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismail as a test of faith..[Source: Ken Chitwood, Lecturer, Concordia College New York, The Conversation, July 30, 2020]

Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, is when Muslims commemorate Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina in 622 B.C. Isra wa al-Miraj is the Muslim holiday that marks Muhammad’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem to heaven. Muslims that on that day Muhammad devised the custom of praying five times a day.

Shab-i-Barat , a nighttime religious festival observed on the 14th day of the eighth month of the Muslim year, is the Muslim version of "All Souls' Day." The dead are remembered and Muslims believe the fortunes of the living are registered in heaven for the coming year. Mosques are illuminated, and a special type of pudding, known as “hawla” , is distributed among the poor and sent to the neighborhood mosques. Children indulge in fireworks and hawla dishes decorated with silver and gold are sent to relatives. Late in the evening family members gather together and read the Qur’an and recite prayers into the night, and some people visit cemeteries and place flowers and lights on the graves of their ancestors.

Lailat al Miraj (27 Rajab) celebrates the night journey and ascent of the Prophet Muhammad, and the revelation of Salat. According to the BBC: “The festival is celebrated by telling the story of how the Prophet Muhammad was visited by two archangels while he was asleep, who purified his heart and filled him with knowledge and faith. The Prophet travelled from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single night on a strange winged creature called Buraq. From Jerusalem he ascended into heaven, where he met the earlier prophets, and eventually God.During his time in heaven Muhammad was told of the duty of Muslims to recite Salat (ritual prayer) five times a day. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

Lailat ul Bara'h (15th night of the month Shabaan) — Night of Forgiveness — takes place two weeks before Ramadan. According to the BBC: “ It is the time when Muslims seek forgiveness for their sins and believe that on this night one's destiny is fixed for the year ahead. “On this night, Muslims pray and ask God for forgiveness either at the mosque or at home. Muslims may visit the graves of relatives and the giving to charity is also traditional. Although not a religious requirement, in some parts of the world there are firework displays that mark this night. The wording 'Lailat ul Bara'h' is Arabic; layltun meaning night and baraat meaning forgiveness. In Persian and Urdu it is called Shabbe Baraat. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

Al-Hijra: Muslim New Year

Al-Hijra (1 Muharram) is Islamic New Year's Day. According to the BBC: Held on “the first day of the month of Muharram, it marks the Hijra (or Hegira) in 622 CE when the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and set up the first Islamic state. The Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra, which is why Muslim dates have the suffix A.H. (After Hijra). It's a low-key event in the Muslim world, celebrated less than the two major festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. There is no specific religious ritual required on this day, but Muslims will think about the general meaning of Hijra, and regard this as a good time for 'New Year Resolutions'. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

Islamic Celestial Globe

New Year’s Day is celebrated in the Middle East with a meal of stuffed lamb. Each country uses a different stuffing. The stuffing in Lebanon is made with rice flavored with onions, almonds and pine nuts. The date marks the beginning of Islam as a community in which spiritual and earthly life were completely integrated. It was a community inspired by God, and totally obedient to God; a group of people bound together by faith. By breaking the link with his own tribe the Prophet demonstrated that tribal and family loyalties were insignificant compared to the bonds of Islam. This Muslim community grew steadily over time, unifying the many tribes that had made up the Arab world beforehand. “Islam now developed as a combined spiritual and earthly community, with political and military power working hand in hand with spiritual power and guidance. At the same time the community developed the religious and ethical codes of behaviour that still provide the foundation of Muslim life.

Because of the Islamic calendar or hijri, the Islamic New Year is on a different date each year and like Ramadan depends on the sighting of the moon. Iqbal Akhtar wrote in The Conversation: “Year one of the hijri calendar is based on the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in the year A.D. 622. Despite Muhammad being from Mecca, his new faith and followers were persecuted for their beliefs. Additionally, the Islamic New Year is associated with the prophets of the Christian faith as well: This is the day when Noah’s Ark is believed to have to have come to rest on land, the day on which God forgave Adam, the day of Joseph’s release from prison, the day of the births of Jesus, Abraham, and Adam, throughout the ages. It is also believed to be the day of the Prophet Muhammad’s conception in the year 570. The year 2021 was 1443 on the Islamic calendar and Islamic New Year that year was August 10. [Source: Iqbal Akhtar, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University, The Conversation, August 11, 2021]

Unlike many traditions that celebrate the new year as a joyous occasion, the Islamic New Year is typically a somber affair. The first Islamic month is Mu arram, a sacred time for prayer and reflection for both Sunni and Shia Muslims. The 10th day of Mu arram, known as Ashura, is particularly significant to Shia Muslims. In the year 680, the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Hussein was killed along with most of his family and supporters in the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. Yazid the caliph of the Ummayad dynasty, which ruled an area spanning from Spain to Persia from 661 to 750, saw Hussein as a political threat and brutally suppressed him and his movement. The battle was a turning point for the Shias, who saw indifference by the majority in the massacre of the rightful heirs of Muhammad as final proof of a fundamental irreconcilability with Sunni Islam. It solidified the Sunni-Shia schism in Islam. For the Shias, Hussein represents someone who stood against the forces of injustice and evil. They commemorate the battle during the first two Islamic months of Mu arram and afar.

In many countries like India and Iran, the Islamic New Year and Ashura are public holidays. Life events, such as birthdays and marriages, historically were not celebrated for the first 10 days of the month. Sunnis also observe Ashura. Many observe fasts as a way to atone for their sins and perform acts of charity.

Ramadan calendar

Prophet Muhammad's Birthday

The Prophet Muhammad's Birthday is celebrated on the 12th day of the third month of the Muslim Calendar. In some places public gatherings take place and processions are held in which Muslim devotees pass through the streets chanting verses in praise of the Holy Prophet.

Throughout the month there are special gatherings in mosques and Muslim homes where the story of the birth and the mission of the Prophet is recited. Houses and mosques are decorated with colorful strings and paper pennants with printed Qur’an verses praising the Prophet.

Many Muslim countries don't recognize the prophet's birthday. It certainly is never celebrated like Christmas. Muslim scholars say that "neither the prophet or his companions celebrated or marked his birthday in any way or manner. Hence we can to attribute any particular significance to such an occasion.” [Source: Arab News, Jeddah]

Milad un Nabi (12 Rabi-ul-Awwal) marks the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. According to the BBC: “Muslim parents will tell stories of the Prophet's life to their children. Those Muslims who celebrate this festival do so joyfully. It may seem strange to non-Muslims, but many Muslims do not believe in celebrating birthdays or death anniversaries because there is no historical evidence that the Prophet Muhammad ever did this. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

“Despite this, large numbers of Muslims do commemorate the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet, which falls on 12 Rabi-ul-Awwal of the Islamic lunar calendar. This date is important to Muslims because the birth of the Prophet Muhammad is regarded as a great blessing for the whole of humanity. The Prophet Muhammad is deemed to be the chief of all the Prophets sent on earth and it is to him that the Holy Qur'an was revealed. |::|

plastic Ramadan lanterns
“There are only restricted festivities on Eid Milad-Un-Nabi because the same day also marks the anniversary of the death of the Prophet. The event is marked by public gatherings of Muslims. At these meetings religious leaders make speeches about the life of the Prophet. Stories are told about different aspects of the life of the Prophet, his birth, childhood, youth and adult life. The most important part of Eid Milad-Un-Nabi is focusing upon the character of the Prophet; on his teachings, sufferings, and how he forgave even his most bitter enemies. |::|

“Muslims think about the leadership of the Prophet, his bravery, wisdom, preaching and his final triumph over the Meccan Muslims. As well as recounting the Prophet's life, salutations and songs in his praise are recited. In some countries, streets and mosques are decorated and illuminated at night. Some Muslims donate to charity. Families gather together, feasts are arranged and food is served to guests and the poor.” |::|


Ramadan is the month-long Muslim fast or more properly the ninth month of the Muslim year in which the fast takes place. According to Islamic custom, every able bodied Muslim is required to fast during the daylight hours or "as long as a white thread can be distinguished from a black one."

Abstinence from dawn to dusk from all food and beverages during the Islamic month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of the faith required of Muslims. Persons who are ill; women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating; soldiers on duty; travelers on necessary journeys; and young children are exempted from the fast. However, adults who are unable to fast during Ramadan are expected to observe a fast later. Ramadan is a period of spiritual renewal, and the daytime fasting is meant to help concentrate a Muslim's thoughts on religious matters. Many mosques, especially in urban areas, sponsor special prayer meetings and study groups during the month. The evening meal that breaks the fast has special religious significance and also is an occasion for sharing among families and friends. Muslims who can afford to do so often host one or more fast-breaking meals for indigents during Ramadan. The month of fasting is followed by a three-day celebration, Seker Bayrami (in Arabic, Id al Fitr), which is observed as a national holiday in most Muslim countries. [Source: Library of Congress]

Ramadan commemorates the night when Allah revealed the first portion of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 610. It is a time a sacrifice that leads to renewal and strength and is intended to teach Muslims discipline, subdue their passions, cleanses their spirit and humble them by letting them experience what it is like to be poor. Fasting represents both a submission to God and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for God. By going through the experience together, Muslims are expected to develop a stronger bond with one another and a sense of community. Some religious scholars have suggested that Muhammad had Christian relatives and that the notion of fasting as a form of penitence was picked up from Christian ascetics who lived in the desert.

See Separate articles about Ramadan

Lailat al Qadr

decorations in Nablus

“Lailat al Qadr (27 Ramadan) — the Night of Power — marks the night in which the Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah. According to the BBC: “Muslims regard this as the most important event in history, and the Qur'an says that this night is better than a thousand months (97:3), and that on this night the angels descend to earth. This is a time that Muslims spend in study and prayer. Some will spend the whole night in prayer or in reciting the Qur'an. [Source: BBC, July 29, 2011 |::|]

“Lailat al Qadr is a good time to ask for forgiveness. One hadith reads: “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.” — Hadith, Bukhari Vol 1, Book 2:34

“Lailat al Qadr takes place during Ramadan. The date of 27 Ramadan for this day is a traditional date, as the Prophet Muhammad did not mention when the Night of Power would be, although it was suggested it was in the last 10 days of the month. Because of this, many Muslims will treat the last 10 days of the month of Ramadan as a particularly good time for prayer and reading the Qur'an. |::|

Eid al-Fitr

Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, is celebrated for three days after the month of Ramadan is over and a new moon appears. The festival marks the end of the fast and thanks the Almighty for his blessing during the year. It begins with the start of the Muslim month Shawwal and like Ramadan requires the sighting of the new moon by a sane person in Mecca necessary for it to be declared. If the new moon is not spotted the celebrations are postponed for a day.

Eid al-Fitr, or "the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast", is kind of like the Muslim version of Christmas, in the sense that it's a religious holiday, people gather together for big meals with family and friends, exchange presents, and have a good time. Eid is also marked by dressing up and visiting the mosque for prayer, and with visits to family and friends for celebratory meals. Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each successive year, so there is no Western season associated with Ramadan. [Source: BBC]

Eid begins when the first sight of the new moon is seen in the sky. Muslims in most countries rely on news of an official sighting, rather than looking at the sky themselves. The celebratory atmosphere is increased by everyone decorating their homes. There are special services out of doors and in mosques, processions through the streets. The special celebratory meal is eaten during daytime, the first daytime meal Muslims will have had in a month. Eid is also a time of forgiveness, and making amends. |::|

Eid al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice)

20120509-Kurban bayrum _Bay_01.JPG
Kurban bayrum in Turkey
Eid al Adha (10 Dhul-Hijja) — The Festival of Sacrifice — is celebrated on the tenth day of the last month of the Muslim year and is a four-day public holiday in Muslim countries. Over 4000 years ago on this day, Muslims believe, the prophet Abraham had a vision in which God told him to sacrifice his son Ismael. Abraham took his son to a hill in Palestine (the site of the present-day Temple of the Rock in Jerusalem) as God told him to do, and just as Abraham was about to sink the knife into his son's chest, God appeared and told Abraham that he was only testing his faith, and for Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead.

To commemorate this moment all Muslims who can afford to must sacrifice a sheep, goat, camel or cow in memory of the great sacrifice and Abraham's submission to the will of God. Men usually do the killing and butchering and women hose blood and guts. Sometimes children blow up the lungs like balloons. In some countries such as Morocco men pierce the animal’s thigh and suck out the blood "for strength." Eid al-Adha was on July 31 in 2020 and on August 11 in 2019

Eid al Adha remembers the prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to. According to the BBC: “God appeared in a dream to Ibrahim and told him to sacrifice his son Isma'il. Ibrahim and Isma'il set off to Mina for the sacrifice. As they went, the devil attempted to persuade Ibrahim to disobey God and not to sacrifice his beloved son. But Ibrahim stayed true to God, and drove the devil away.As Ibrahim prepared to kill his son God stopped him and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

“Ibrahim's complete obedience to the will of God is celebrated by Muslims each year. Each Muslim, as they celebrate, reminds themselves of their own submission to God, and their own willingness to sacrifice anything to God's wishes. During the festival Muslims who can afford to, sacrifice domestic animals, usually sheep, as a symbol of Ibraham's sacrifice. (British law insists that the animals must be killed in a proper slaughterhouse.) The meat is distributed among family, friends and the poor, who each get a third share. As with all festivals there are prayers, and also presents. |::|

Feast of Sacrifice Celebration

The Feast of the Sacrifice is one of the biggest holidays of the year. Before it begins men selling cattle and sheep occupy the empty spaces next to highways and the parking lots of shopping centers like Christmas tree salesmen in the United States.

The festival lasts for three days. One the first day animals are sacrificed, usually with a slash to the throat. In the cities the blood from the sacrifices spills off the balconies of apartment buildings; in the countryside it collects in pools in front and back yards.

After special prayers are said, the meat of the animal is divided into three parts. The first part is given to the poor, the second to relatives and friends, and the third is cooked at home of the person who sacrificed the animal. A variety of functions take place on these three days, and they vary according to local customs and traditions. In most places families get together and reunions are held. Believers also visit shrines of holy men, recite prayers and give alms.

During the Day of the Sacrifice the gutters in front of mosques in the streets of Mina run red with blood from the hundreds of thousands of animals (sheep, cattle, goats and camels) that are slaughtered to honor Abraham's sacrifice. Pilgrims can slit the animal's throat's themselves or hire a butcher to do it or they can buy special coupons from Hajj organizers that represent a slain animal to reduce the numbers of slaughtered animals on the streets. Because of the large quantities involved, the meat is processed and frozen at a plant and distributed later to the poor.

In 2000, a total of some 637,669 animals mostly sheep, were slaughtered during the Feast of the Sacrifice in Mecca. More than 215,000 sheep, cattle, goats and camels were sacrificed in the al-Muissem slaughterhouse, the "world’s largest," which was built by the Saudi government at a cost of $125 million and opened in 2000. Much of the meat from the facility is frozen and sent to 28 of the poorest Muslim countries.

Eid al-Adha in Mecca During the Hajj

20120509-Kurban bayrum Tabaski-Kounkane.jpg
Kurban bayrum in Tabaski-Kounkane
Ken Chitwood wrote: “On Eid al-Adha, pilgrims in Mecca reenact Ibrahim’s rejection of Satan’s temptation. During the pilgrimage, Muslims cast stones at a pillar, which represents Satan. In remembrance of how Ibrahim was given a ram to sacrifice, they proceed to sacrifice animals.The sacrifice represents how, like Ibrahim, pilgrims and practicing Muslims worldwide are willing to give up even their most precious possessions. [Source: Ken Chitwood, Lecturer, Concordia College New York, The Conversation, July 30, 2020]

“Charity to the poor is a highly emphasized value in Islam. The Qur’an says, “Believe in Allah and his messenger, and give charity out of the (substance) that Allah has made you heirs of. For those of you who believe and give charity — for them is a great reward.” So, as part of this practice, only around a third of the meat is consumed by the family or group of friends; the rest is given to the poor and needy. Furthermore, the sacrifice of animals is carried out according to specific instructions. This is all part of the religious and moral obligation of Muslims.

With more than 2 million visitors normally arriving in Mecca for hajj, the pilgrimage often presents a logistical challenge for countries providing meat for the sacrifice. Saudi authorities strive to find alternative methods of preserving, distributing and dealing with the vast amount of meat that comes from the animal sacrifices.

“The coronavirus pandemic led to a new set of challenges to the celebrations in 2020. Most of all, the hajj pilgrimage had been limited to only those Muslims residing in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, many families were unable to get together for Eid celebrations, due to restrictions on travel and social distancing rules. The World Health Organization even issued guidelines for a “Safe Eid addressing social distancing at prayer and public gatherings. It also included best practices for sacrifices and distribution of charity to the poor.

Shia (Shiite) Festivals

There are several traditional religious practices that are intimately associated with Shia Islam. These include the observance of the month of martyrdom, Muharram, and pilgrimages to the shrines of the Twelve Imams and their various descendants. The Muharram observances commemorate the death of the Third Imam, Hussein , who was the son of Ali and Fatima and the grandson of Muhammad. He was killed near Karbala in modern Iraq in A.D. 680 during a battle with troops supporting the Umayyad caliph. . [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]

Hussein 's death is commemorated by Shia with Ashura (See Below), passion plays and is an intensely religious time In some places they still have procession through the streets in which a catafalque for Hussein is accompanied by horses, blood-smeared attendants, and numbers of naked young men flagellating themselves with chains and swords. The veneration of ‘Ali and his sons is observed by many of the Sunni Muslims too.

Arbaeen is a Shia festival that marks the end of the 40 day mourning period of Iman Hussein, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson and the martyr killed near Karbala. Many mark the event by making a pilgrimage to Karbala, where Hussein and his brother Abbas are buried in two enormous mausoleums facing each other, with some walking the entire distance from Baghdad to Karbala. Many wear black and carry flags. Little tents and open air kitchen are set up along the route to offer rice and soups in keeping with the Shia custom to offering food and drink to pilgrims.



Ashura, a festival that marks the Martyrdom of Imam Hussein, is the most important Shia events, one that is not observed by Sunnis. Held on Tenth Day of Muharram (the 1st Lunar Month), it commemorates the murder of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was slaughtered with thousands of others at the battle of Karbala in A.D. 680. The first nine days of Muharram solemnly recount the tragedy. On the tenth morning, the day on which Hussein was murdered, people form barefoot processions in the streets of Karbala and carry black and green banners and models of the martyr's mausoleum. Similar processions are held in other Shia areas.

In the Kabala processions thousands of barefoot men dress in black mourning clothes and red-and-green bandannas to express their desire to make sacrifices for Islam. They carry black flags and symbols of Hussein (Husayn) and march through the streets to the sound of pounding drums and chanted dirges while beating themselves with their fists, cutting themselves with knives and whipping themselves on their backs, gashing their heads with swords and slamming their chests with chains — often until they are dripping with blood — to express their the grief and recall the suffering of Imam Hussein.

Some men carry portraits of Hussein. Some beat themselves while chanting poems about Hussein like “Hussein is a martyr of Karbala, the grandson of the prophet leader of the youth in heaven." Pilgrims traditionally wail and beat themselves to atone for the collective guilt of their ancestors who failed to come to Hussein's aid.

In mosques imams tell the story of the brutal death of Hussein at the battle of Karbala to weeping worshipers. In some places, passion plays are held in which performers reenact the martyrdom of Hussein and people pray for the dead, including martyrs from the Iran-Iraq War. Ashura also marks the day the Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast to commemorate the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Sunni Muslims mark the event with a voluntary fast.

According to the BBC: “Ashura has been a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims since the days of the early Muslim community. It marks two historical events: the day Nuh (Noah) left the Ark, and the day that Musa (Moses) was saved from the Egyptians by Allah. Shi'a Muslims in particular use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, in 680 CE. In Shi'ite communities this is a solemn day: plays re-enacting the martyrdom are often staged and many take part in mourning rituals. [Source: BBC, September 7, 2009 |::|]

Biswa Itjema in Tongi, Bangladesh: World's Second-Largest Muslim Gathering?

It is said the Biswa Itjema in Bangladesh is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims after the hajj in Mecca. It held in Tongi, about 10 kilometers from Dhaka’s international airport. More than two million Muslims from over 130 countries attend the Biswa Ijtema each year [Source: Mahmud Hossain Opu, Al Jazeera, , January 25, 2018]

The highlight of the Biswa Ijtema ("world congregation") is a mass, collective prayer on the banks of the Turag River, about 35 kilometers north of central Dhaka. Over the three-day gathering, Muslim worshippers listened to scholars reciting and explaining verses from the Quran. It is viewed as an opportunity for Muslims to renew their commitment to Islamic values.

Biswa Ijtema was first held in 1967. It is organised by Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni Muslim missionary movement that began in India and whose members volunteer to spread the Islamic faith. It has been held in two phases since 2011 to accommodate the large number of attendees. The final prayer in 2018 was given in Bengali, Bangladesh's official language, for the first time since 1980.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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