What is Ashura and How Can We Pray?


And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.

— Mark 6:34

Similar to Jews and Christians, Muslims also observe a variety of holy days some that are familiar to us such as Ramadan, a month of fasting, introspection and prayer; Eid al-Fitr, the feast celebrating the end of Ramadan; and Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power. However, there are lesser known holidays such as Ashura. Even though this holiday is not mandated by the Prophet Muhammad, Quran or hadiths, it is an important time of the year for both Sunni and Shia Muslims, although they do not agree on its origins or meaning.

How is Ashura observed?

Ashura, which means 10, is observed on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Since this calendar is based on the lunar cycle, Ashura starts on a different day each year. This year the holiday begins at sunset on Friday, August 28 and concludes at sunset the following day.

Although Ashura is observed by Muslims, there are differences between Sunni and Shia beliefs regarding this holy day. For Shia Muslims, approximately 15% of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, Ashura is a time of mourning and sadness in remembrance of Husayn ibn Ali, or Imam Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad and son of Ali who was the fourth Caliph and rightful successor of Muhammad. After the assassination of Ali during the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD, Shiites believed that his son, Husayn, should have been his successor. However, war ensued and Husayn was beheaded, resulting in Shiites commemorating and emulating his martyrdom during this holiday.

As a result, Shia Muslims re-enact Husayn’s death by beating themselves with whips, flogging themselves and cutting themselves with swords, a practice similar to asceticism, which results in their white clothes being stained crimson and the streets being covered in blood. While true asceticism in religion is self-denial and self-discipline to come closer to a god, Shia Muslims are subjecting their bodies to pain and torture to honor a man. According to Yousef, this practice is totally unacceptable because no man should be honored in this way except for Muhammad. Since the death of Saddam Hussein, the former leader of Iraq, this ritual has been somewhat frowned upon and in some areas, it has been banned.

On the other hand, Sunnis, representing approximately 85% of Muslims worldwide, fast on this day and commemorate the defeat of Pharaoh by Moses, or Musa. For some Sunni, Ashura also commemorates Noah, or Nuh, leaving the ark after the flood. This holiday is a day of thanks similar to Yom Kippur in Judaism. It is said that after Muhammad completed the Hijra in 622 AD, he came upon a group of Jews fasting. Muhammad later commanded that Muslims were to fast on this day as he felt it was a tradition worth emulating.

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

— John 17:3

Regardless of the different ways Muslims commemorate Ashura, it is imperative that we learn about them and their culture. Let’s also take time to pray for Muslims as they devote this day to mourning, fasting, and spending time in thanksgiving and reflection. May they draw closer to the true and living God who sees and loves them and wants to have relationship with them. 


  • Please pray that as some Muslims set their hearts to suffer like Husayn suffered, that they would instead encounter and know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.

  • Please pray that the Holy Spirit helps them see that Jesus has already suffered and paid the highest price for their souls, through whom they can have eternal life.

  • Please pray that our Father would give us love for Muslims across the world like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”


join us for ashura prayer and communion

Join us on Saturday, August 29, at 10 am CDT for a time of prayer and communion for Ashura.

About this Event

We will be praying for the protection of GCM disciple makers, the revelation of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sins, and for salvation for the Muslim people during Ashura.


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