Muslim faithful mark Ashura in remembrance of Karbala, unity

Shiite and Sunni Muslims alike marked Ashura yesterday, commemorating the tragic death of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein. Over the years, the day has also come to symbolize unity.

Ashura, derived from the word for "10" in Arabic, is a religious day observed on the 10th day of the first Islamic month Muharram with traditional rituals. Turkey's Jafari community of Shiite Muslims held a parade and commemoration event in Istanbul's Halkalı district, where the community has a big presence, to mark the suffering of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein, a revered figure in Shiite Islam.

Sunni Muslims also marked the day in remembrance. They observed the day by serving Ashura or Noah's pudding. The faithful believe Ashura is also the day Noah was saved from the flood.

In Halkalı, an air of mourning was ubiquitous with streets adorned with black flags. Dressed in black and wearing red headbands with sayings to commemorate the death of Hussein, Jafaris held a parade to mark the 1,380th anniversary of their mourning. A large crowd gathered at a culture center for speeches by community leaders and a remembrance event.

Women dressed in black march on the streets of Kars for a mourning procession, Sept. 9, 2019.

The killing of Hussein at the battle of Karbala against Caliph Yazid is one of the most tragic events of Islamic history as it led to a rift between the believers. Today, Hussein is remembered as a figure praised for his stand against tyranny and injustice, for his fight against Yazid's army, which outnumbered his small army of companions.

Another major event was held in the eastern province of Kars, where a sizeable Jafari community lives. Gathering outside a Jafari mosque, some 15,000 people dressed in black marched on the streets amid mourning chants as they beat their chests and flogged themselves with chains. Some burst out crying, while some mourners carried symbolic coffins.

For Sunni Muslims, it was a day of charity. Nonprofit organizations and municipalities served ashura dessert to thousands of people across Turkey on the occasion. A mixture of morsels of grain and dried fruits in a sweet pudding garnished with pomegranate, ashura is traditionally made at home and shared with neighbors in Turkey. It is also the custom to prepare it in large cauldrons to distribute to the poor.

In Istanbul's iconic Spice Bazaar, where every ingredient of the dessert is on sale in dozens of shops, the municipality of the city's Fatih district served ashura to visitors. Topped with crescent and star shapes made from the dessert's ingredients, the dessert was served to thousands of people, leading to long queues in the popular marketplace.

In Sümbül Efendi Dervish Lodge, members of the foundation dressed as dervishes prepared ashura in large cauldrons to mark a tradition dating back to the Muslim conquest of Istanbul. Three tons of ashura were served to visitors.

The lodge is home to the graves of Fatma and Sakine, two daughters of Hussein who died in Constantinople under Byzantine rule centuries ago. The lodge was the first place where the ashura dessert was distributed in Istanbul during Ottoman rule.

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