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This time of year is normally met with frantic last minute shopping and a side of holiday cheer. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa there is plenty of family time to be had. The same is true for millions of Shi’a Muslims around the world. But this December brings about the remembrance of a very important day in history, one that will never be forgotten. On December 16, 2010 millions of Shi’a Muslims around the world engaged in the somber celebration of Ashura. During this celebration, or rather remembrance of the massacre that took place at the battle of Karbala in 680 CE, it is remembered that the beloved leader of the Shiite Muslims, Husayn, was slain by the Sunni Muslims who greatly outnumbered the Shiites.

Husayn was considered to be the successor of the Prophet Muhammad, who before his death did not appoint a successor. However, only a small group of people agreed with this idea and they broke off from the larger group of Muslims and became known as the Shiite Muslims. The larger group became known as the Sunni Muslims. This split, in part, is what is commemorated on this day. But more than that, the people who celebrate this day also relive the bloody battle that once took place many years ago. One way this is done is through passion plays like those that are performed of Jesus Christ around Christmas time and Easter. These plays re-enact the battle where Husayn was martyred and the Shiites were brutally beaten by the Sunni Muslims in a battle where the Shiites were vastly outnumbered. The battle was fought for religious reasons, and it ended in bloody chaos.

Along with these plays people often fast and listen to surahs, or verses from the Quran, that reference Husayn and the battle at Karbala. These are two of the more harmless ways to relive the battle and commemorate those that lost their lives fighting for what they believed in. Another more bloody and violent way is through the slashing of one’s forehead with a sword to draw blood and the beating of one’s chest. These actions are done to show one’s devotion to Husayn.

While the snow continues to fall around the Minneapolis area and Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa draw near, be thinking about your Muslim neighbors and the commemoration they just went through. Whether it be to remember the beloved martyr Husayn or the deliverance from Egypt that the Jews celebrate, remember to think of other celebrations this time of year amid the hussle and bussle of holiday cheer.

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