Ashoora is an Islamic holiday observed on the 10th of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year. The word sstems from ‘ash’ara’ or ’10’ in Arabic and denotes the date of the holiday.
Shortly after the Hijira in AD 622, Muhammad designated Ashura as a day of fasting from sunset to sunset. This was perhaps patterned on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). When Jewish-Muslim relations became strained, however, Muhammad designated Ramadan the Muslim month of fasting, making Ashura a voluntary fast, as it has remained among Sunnis. Traditionally, Ashoora commemorates two events: the day Noah left the ark and the day Moses was saved from the Egyptians by Allah.
Among Shi’ites, however, Ashoora is a major festival commemorating the death of Husayn, the son of Imam ‘Ali and grandson of Muhammad in 680AD (some 1335 years ago) at the battle of Karbala. The event led to the split between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, and it is of central importance in Shia Islam. Processions (‘azadari’) occur on an almost-daily basis during the month consisting of public expressions of mourning and grief. Some Shi’as express mourning by flagellating themselves on the back with chains, beating their head or ritually cutting themselves. This is intended to connect them with Husayn’s suffering and death as an aid to salvation on the Day of Judgment. Husayn’s martyrdom is widely interpreted by Shia as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression.
Muharram in Bahrain is unique, as it is the only Arab country in the Gulf region that allows Shia Muslims to practice the mourning of Muharram openly.
Quite a fee of my friends have dressed conservatively, covered their hair and donned an abaya, took their make up off and stood at the sidelines of such processions telling me that it is not something to be missed.
So if you get a chance, go to Manama and witness this tradition for yourself!