A Journey Towards Humanity
Ashara Mubaraka, or the Blessed Ten, is a period of ten days at the start of the Islamic new year that is dedicated to remembering the tragedy of Karbala and the plight of Imam Husain, his family and companions as well as their stand for Islam, justice, truth and humanity.
In narratives of the tragic events that befell the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Imam Husain, it is said that his journey towards the Hereafter began where his journey in this world came to an end: the land of Karbala. For Imam Husain, his kin and companions, the journey to Karbala through the scorching deserts of Iraq was a journey that eventually ended in their martyrdom. It was a journey to a battle where they took their last stand against the forces of indecency, immorality and inhumanity. A journey towards immortality in which they attained the loftiest of ranks in Heaven and the highest of places in the history of humankind.
Even after the death of Imam Husain, for the women and children of his household and for his son and successor Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen, the journey continued. Forced to make their way to the Umayyad court in Damascus, the princesses of his house were paraded like slaves. their heads uncovered and their feet bare like the backs of the camels they were forced to ride for hundreds of miles. The hands of the young children were bound like animals and the heads of the martyred were raised before them on the tips of spears. Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen was made to walk barefoot upon the desert sands leading the caravan of his father’s grief-stricken household, the spears of his captors prodding him onward with no regard for the frailty caused by his illness and the crushing loss of his father, uncles and brothers.
The journey to Karbala and the events that unfolded on its desert sands have not been forgotten. Over 1400 years later, millions of Muslims remember the path taken by Imam Husain at the start of the new Islamic year and embark upon a journey of their own: one of commemoration, remembrance and grief. Ashara Mubaraka, or the Blessed Ten, is a period of ten days at the start of the new year that is dedicated to remembering and recalling the tragedy of Karbala and the plight of Imam Husain, his family and companions and their stand for Islam, justice, truth and ultimately, for humanity. The remembrance and commemoration of Imam Husain’s journey is a journey in itself: one that, as His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin explains, illuminates the very essence of what it means to be human.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Imam Husain left the sacred precincts of the Holy Kaaba in order to answer the pleas for help sent by the people of Iraq. Alarmed by the Umayyad ruler Yazid and the path of indecency, cruelty and injustice he had embarked upon, the people of Kufa and nearby cities pledged their loyalty to Imam Husain, the last remaining member of the Prophet Mohammed’s immediate family. They beseeched him, demanded even, that he journey to Kufa and uphold the cause of Islam, truth and justice. Imam Husain answered their call and with his family — including women and young children — and a contingent of faithful companions set out for Iraq. This was Imam Husain’s final earthly journey, a path that many Muslims believe he was destined to take for the sake of Islam and one foretold by his grandfather the Prophet Mohammed. It was at Karbala, near the Euphrates river, where the armies of Yazid, thousands strong, intercepted Imam Husain and his small band of followers. Unable to proceed forward, and betrayed by those who had petitioned him to come, Imam Husain gave orders to set up camp at Karbala on the 2nd of Muharram, 61 AH (October 2, 680 CE).
After several days of besiegement, on the 7th of Muharram, the Umayyad armies denied Imam Husain and his encampment access to the Euphrates, the only source of water in that parched land. Imam Husain conveyed to his aggressors that if his presence in Kufa was no longer wanted, he would simply go elsewhere. His request, however, fell on deaf ears. Yazid’s commanders demanded that Imam Husain surrender and capitulate to the Umayyad ruler, yet for Imam Husain, knowing Yazid’s transgressions, his inhumanity and his disdain for the true message of Islam — ‘death was more preferable’. He was fully aware that if he were to surrender to Yazid, word of this would spread, and Islam as established by his revered grandfather the Prophet Mohammed would cease to exist. So Imam Husain stood his ground and rejected the Umayyad demands.
On the 9th day, when Yazid’s armies began to mobilise their forces for assault, Imam Husain sought one night’s respite. He and his companions spent the eve of the 10th of Muharram, the day known as Ashura, in worship and prayer and as the morning of Ashura dawned, they prepared for battle. One by one, Imam Husain’s companions and kin, after three days without a drop of water, headed into battle striking down many a foe, yet ultimately being slain to the greatly outnumbering Yazidi forces. Finally, as an ultimate expression of sacrifice, devotion and commitment to Islam and the causes of loyalty, truth and righteousness, Imam Husain prostrated before the Creator praying for the salvation and deliverance of humanity when he was beheaded by the wretched Shimr, a disgraceful commander in Yazid’s army.
News of Imam Husian’s martyrdom and the cruelty and tyranny inflicted upon the household of the Prophet spread across the Islamic world, rallying Muslims and fortifying their belief in the true message of Islam. His principled stand against oppressors and his sacrifice for truth have over centuries inspired Muslims and non-Muslims alike, for they represent the very noblest of human virtues and the very essence of humanity. Imam Husain stood for the universal principles of justice, compassion and kindness; his steadfastness and resoluteness in the face of severe oppression against him and his loved ones is perhaps the single greatest example of fortitude, valour and sacrifice in the history of mankind. Remembering him, lamenting the tragedies that befell him and grieving upon his sacrifice and the sacrifice of his family and companions, is at its core a journey towards understanding ourselves and ultimately our role as human beings on this earth.
THE BLESSED TEN
Muslims across the world commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain during Ashara Mubaraka with the belief that doing so is a source of blessings and a means to spiritual purification. This is why the ten days are considered mubaraka, or ‘blessed.’ Like millions of Muslims across the world, the Dawoodi Bohra community under the guidance and leadership of the 53 rd al-Daʿi al-Mutlaq, His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, dedicates these days to the remembrance and lament of Imam Husain and seeks blessings from this deeply spiritual event. For the Dawoodi Bohra community, Ashara Mubaraka is akin to a spiritual, educational and material journey of growth and development.
Every single Dawoodi Bohra community centre across the world hosts the event for its local congregation with a series of majalis (sing. majlis) or assemblies in the morning and the evening. In the morning majlis the congregation leader delivers a sermon while the evening majlis is usually spent in collective recitation of elegies in which all those gathered for the occasion participate. With each subsequent day, having progressed through various themes in Islamic history and philosophy, the assembly moves closer to the day of Ashura when Imam Husain’s final journey to Karbala is narrated in great detail. Community members close shops and take leave from school and work to participate in these assemblies thereby committing themselves to this remembrance as a humble tribute to Imam Husain’s sacrifice.
In 2020, due to the global pandemic, the community embarked upon this journey of remembrance from within the confines of their homes, connected to His Holiness and the rest of the community through the internet and interactive online sessions. Households decorated their homes as they had their masjids in previous years, ensuring that the blessings they were so accustomed to gathering collectively, were obtained at a more personal and intimate level. The commitment and devotion to Imam Husain is so strong, and the ability of his remembrance to purify and cleanse the soul is so potent, that the majalis that commemorate his martyrdom could not be compromised in any way.
The Prophet Mohammed states:
He who sheds tears upon [the tragedy of] my son Husain, or causes another to shed tears, or if unable to cry, reveals his grief through his facial expressions, is guaranteed jannat (heaven).
The largest gathering within the Dawoodi Bohra community takes place at the venue where His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the head of the Dawoodi Bohra community, leads the commemoration. The Ashara Mubaraka majalis led by His Holiness himself are conducted at a scale like no other and offer a truly unique experience for the tens, and sometimes, hundreds of thousands who attend. His Holiness conducts a series of ten sermons in which he recalls the hardships and tribulations faced by Imam Husain and describes the courage and fortitude shown by him, his family and companions.
The remembrance of Imam Husain is inherently linked to Islamic history and philosophy, which His Holiness expounds upon in his sermons. He ultimately relates his topics to contemporary life, contextualising thousands of years of Islamic history with issues facing the Dawoodi Bohra community and humanity at large today. The sermons serve as a means for community members to reinvigorate their faith and navigate the complexities of modern life.
His Holiness’ counsel and guidance throughout the year, and especially during Ashara Mubaraka, are the source and foundation of the community’s ethos: the expression of a strong Islamic identity that resonates with values of loyalty, patriotism, lawfulness and generosity — values which encourage Dawoodi Bohras to be exemplary citizens of the countries they live in and ideal members of today’s global society. The intense grief and emotion inspired by the remembrance of Imam Husain’s tragedy cleanses the soul providing mental and spiritual relief, and also re-sensitises attendees to contemporary global travesties and inequities thereby generating a greater sense of communal empathy.
A view of the congregation listening to Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s sermons in the Hakimi Masjid
complex, Dar es Salaam.
Continuing the time-honoured tradition of his forefathers, His Holiness chooses a different city as the venue for where he leads Ashara Mubaraka each year. Among the numerous advantages of such a practice, one major benefit is the transformation of the selected location into a cultural hub for the Dawoodi Bohra community. The presence of Syedna, the influx of thousands of visitors and the coordination and cooperation with local, state and national governmental bodies cements the local community’s standing. Since the event is replete with spiritual, economic, cultural and social impact, cities vie for the honour of hosting it. Written and oral petitions on behalf of host cities, often at large community events, begin several months prior to Muharram and they present Syedna with reports of their preparations and planning. Prior to Muharram and before the start of the new year, after having taken all the various proposals into consideration, Syedna makes his decision. This announcement of each year’s venue is an eagerly awaited moment for the whole community; within minutes of the formal declaration, the host city is engulfed in a flurry of final preparations and prospective attendees are busied finalising their travel and accommodation arrangements.
Using the community’s online management portal, registration for Ashara Mubaraka begins immediately after His Holiness’ announcement. Data fed into the system allows for organizers to accurately ascertain the number of expected guests, their travel arrangements, accommodation preferences and special needs and requirements. After securing necessary permissions, the host town begins transforming the Ashara venue in order to properly accommodate the influx of guests. Washroom facilities, information points, communication centres, a vast complex of offices and several large dining areas to feed tens of thousands of people at a time are set up in the central masjid area and outlying satellite sites. The seating capacity of the central masjid where His Holiness delivers the sermon is also augmented while carefully adhering to safety and fire regulations and construction codes.
The Ashara Mubaraka event led by His Holiness is a marvel of logistics and planning. With accurate information in the system, including accommodation details, hosts are able to organise transport for guests from across the city. Passes are issued to all attendees that detail their exact seating location, entry point and dining area. In a little under an hour after gates open in the morning, everyone is seated in their spots in the main masjid and surrounding areas ready to listen to Syedna’s sermon. After the culmination of the sermon and afternoon prayers, attendees are served meals in the various dining halls erected for the event in the community’s distinct communal style of eating with 8 or 9 individuals sat together to share a meal from a large steel platter known as the thal.
Perhaps the single most impressive element of Ashara Mubaraka is that it is almost completely organised and executed by a volunteer force of community members. From technical tasks such as steel fabrication and software programming to artistic endeavours such as calligraphy and mural painting, Dawoodi Bohras from across the world converge on the host city and join forces with their hosts in preparation. The entire community comes together in a unique display of esprit de corps which demonstrates the great extents to which people are inspired and mobilised by their love for Imam Husain.
In 2020, Syedna conducted the sermons at his residence, though recordings of his sermons from previous years, and those of his respected father and grandfather, were broadcasted worldwide to each and every Bohra household. The Dawoodi Bohra community had the distinct privilege of listening to the sermons of three generations of their leadership during a single Ashara Mubaraka on a daily basis – an unprecedented milestone in the history of the community.
In 2022, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin selected London, United Kingdom, as the venue for his Ashara Mubaraka sermons. Nearly four decades in the making and with several years of preparation in place, His Holiness’ announcement was welcomed with great fervour and enthusiasm by the British Dawoodi Bohra community and the international team of volunteers who attend every year. As the first ever Ashara Mubaraka to be hosted in the United Kingdom and the whole of Europe, the event marked the fulfilment of His Holiness’ respected father, Syedna Burhanuddin’s long standing aspiration for this most significant event to take place in London. The city had always held a special place in His Holiness’ heart, not least because it is where his beloved wife, Amatullah Aisaheba, is laid to rest. The London borough of Northolt houses Husainy Masjid in the Mohammedi Park gated community, a centre for nearly 800 Dawoodi Bohra families in the area and the venue for this year’s momentous gathering.
Ashara Mubaraka London was a milestone in the history of the Dawoodi Bohra community. Despite the complexities of peak summer travel and visa requirements for many travellers, more than 12,500 community members were able to attend this historic event in London and participate in the commemoration of Imam Husain’s sacrifice with His Holiness. In order to meet various health and safety requirements and to ensure the most comfort for attendees, a number of consultancy agencies and event management firms were brought on. Ashara Mubaraka London, was a remarkable example of how community volunteers and hired professionals can come together to organise high-attendance, international events, efficiently and within a short period of time. Thanks to tremendous assistance from various Offices and Ministries within the British government and support from a wide variety of local councils, neighbourhood organisations and well-wishers, the event was a huge success.
In 2021, Syedna Saifuddin chose the Nairobi campus of Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah as the venue for Ashara Mubaraka. The event was historic in many aspects as it marked the first time that Ashara Mubaraka was hosted by Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, the community’s premier educational institute. Students and faculty of Aljamea, local community members and a limited number of international guests observed the occasion in strict compliance with Covid-19 protocols including full vaccination, mandatory quarantine, social distancing and regular testing. Syedna’s sermons were also relayed live to numerous locations in Eastern and Central Africa where small groups of community members gathered in compliance with local Covid-19 regulations to partake in the blessings of this auspicious and historic event.
Community members observed Ashara Mubaraka in 2020 within the safety of their homes.
The Ashara commemoration of 2020 was no less historic. In yet another first, and once again demonstrating the community’s ability to pull together in times of difficulty and adversity, His Holiness’ administration mobilised thousands of volunteers across the world to help individual households prepare for the ten-day event. Sermons were broadcast to every single Bohra household and hundreds of thousands of Dawoodi Bohras participated in this event in a manner never witnessed before. Syedna presided over the event at his own residence in Khandala on the outskirts of Mumbai with his close family, but was very much present in the homes of his followers across the world.
The majalis of Ashara Mubaraka extend beyond the masjid where the sermons take place. The Dawoodi Bohra faith encompasses all aspects of community members’ lives and similarly, Ashara Mubaraka, arguably the truest manifestation of the Dawoodi Bohra faith, provides numerous opportunities for growth for the community in its personal and social lives. It is where the values and guidance disseminated in the sermons are first put into practice. Throughout the ten day period, a host of community organisations take advantage of the enormous attendance and learning-conducive environment to educate, create awareness and provide various services to the attendees and the city.
Medical camps staffed by volunteer doctors and medical professionals from around the world offer consultations, testing and medicine free of charge. The camps also offer emergency medical aid to community and non-community members. Individuals can walk-in or take appointments with highly qualified specialists where they are offered free tests and diagnosis. Often, the camps help attendees uncover existing but hidden ailments or provide a more effective treatment for known conditions. The medical camps also conduct sessions on healthy eating and living.
A doctor from San Francisco, USA, volunteering his services in the Ashara medical camp.
After the sermons students engage in counselling sessions with teachers and other professionals.
At its core, the Ashara sermons are about growth in knowledge, understanding and wisdom. This environment is ideal for discussions regarding education. Organisations affiliated to the community’s premier educational institute, Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, offer student counselling sessions conducted by professionals from various fields. The conversations help young students and professionals identify career paths and study options in line with His Holiness’ counsel and guidance. Apart from individual counselling, discussion groups are held where participants, collectively and individually, reflect upon core concepts from Syedna’s sermons. During Ashara Mubaraka, as in life, learning is continuous.
CLEANLINESS & HYGIENE
Purity is a fundamental tenet of Islam originating in the soul and extending outwards to every aspect of an individual’s life: purity of thought, word and deed. Inspired by this spirit and understanding of purity, the nazafat, or cleanliness committee, helps local sanitation departments in keeping the Ashara venue clear of litter. The committee also tries to educate attendees about green practices and the small lifestyle changes that make the environment better for all. The event in Indore went one step further in environmental conservation. In keeping with the city’s reputation for being one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly in India, the organising committee successfully made Ashara Mubaraka a zero waste event. Separate bins were placed for waste segregation and the cumulative waste of the event was recycled in its entirety. Two hundred tonnes of organic waste were converted into fertilizer and distributed to farmers in the region, free of charge. Paper was sent to local recycling facilities, and plastic use was drastically limited, with single-use plastic bags completely banned during the event. All these efforts resulted in a religious event that set the benchmark for environmental awareness and cleanliness.
A young attendee recycles his plastic bottle.
Thousands of community members gather in the mawaid in Dar es Salaam to partake in a
communal meal during Ashara Mubaraka.
IN THE NAME OF HUSAIN
The aspect of Ashara that requires the most logistics and is, perhaps, most emblematic of the event is the mawaid. Mawaid is an Arabic word meaning platters filled with food, and thus it is used as the name for the large dining areas where thousands of guests partake in communal meals. Hosting another for a meal is a tradition deeply rooted in the Islamic faith and observed by the Bohra community with great fervour. Attendees voluntarily fund the millions of individual meals provided during the event and make the most of this opportunity, according to their individual capacities, to be hosts to their fellow community members in the name of Imam Husain. Despite the vast amounts of resources required and almost impossible logistics, breakfast, lunch and dinner is served in a couple of hours to thousands of people, on a daily basis. Perhaps the greatest exemplar of feeding others in the love of Imam Husain is His Holiness. On the 8th of Muharram each year, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, like his revered father before him, hosts a meal not only for the large number of community members present with him, but for all Dawoodi Bohras attending sermons in their local centres the world-over. In remembrance of Husain Imam and his family’s thirst and hunger, community members not only contribute monetarily towards feeding their brothers and sisters, but also volunteer time and effort in preparing and serving the meals. Despite these large numbers and vast amounts of food, great care is taken to ensure that not even a single morsel of food is wasted.
For the hosts of the event and their sleepless nights, for the volunteers who sacrifice their time and resources and for the guests who arrive in their thousands in the love of Husain Imam, attending Ashara Mubaraka with His Holiness is a journey like no other. For each participant, it is a journey of transformation and reinvigoration. Whether it is the knowledge we gain during the sermons, the realisation that dawns upon us in a discussion group after a communal meal, or the satisfaction we experience in feeding another or lending them a helping hand, each moment of Ashara Mubaraka brings us closer to an ideal version of ourselves. And as the days pass and we grow closer to the culmination that lies in the day of Ashura, the milestones of thought, mourning and service to one another that we cross each day remind us of who we are and enlighten us with the possibilities of who we can become. Ashara Mubaraka is a journey towards the depths of human meaning and the heights of human possibility. We are constantly and continuously reminded of Imam Husain’s loyalty, his sacrifice, his steadfast ability to stand up to tyranny and most importantly, the love he bore for us in his heart, and we are forever changed.
WHY I ATTEND
I look forward to Ashara Mubaraka each year with great anticipation. In addition to experiencing His Holiness’ sermons first hand, the event acts as a yearly reunion for our family which is spread throughout the world and seldom meets. Although we come together in the love of Husain, our love for each other grows and the bonds of our family are strengthened.
- Ummesalama, New Jersey
અશરા મુબારકા મૌલા સાથે કરવુ એ મારા સૂખી જીવનની ચાવી છે
Being with Syedna during Ashara, is the key to happiness in my life.
- Abdulhusain, Kapadvanj (India)
At a deeply personal level, Imam Husain’s sacrifice was for me, for my today and eternal tomorrow. Attending Ashara and listening to Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin’s sermons puts this into focus, draws me away from the hurly burly of everyday life into contemplation of what is really important, reminds me of my values and helps me set my priorities. I go back to my everyday life from each Ashara with a greater understanding of who I am, where I want to go, how I will get there and who will be by my side. I have a blueprint that helps me navigate the challenges of the year ahead.
- Duriya, Singapore
نتبرك بالحضور في معية فخامة السلطان مولانا المنان كي نستفيد من مواعظة الجزيلة وتطمئن نفوسنا باقتناء أدعيته المباركة مما نلقيه في هذا الوضع الراهن بين الحروب الطاحنة، وذلك حقا سبب الأمن لنا خاصة لأهل اليمن عامة
Surrounded by war and distress in Yemen, I attend Ashara with Syedna so that I may benefit from his sermons and find peace in his prayers for our well-being.
- Abdulqadir, Sana’a
There is no clearer expression of one’s humanity than in the experience of grieving the martyrdom of Imam Husain with his daʿī Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. Ashara is a time when an individual can understand himself in the context of creation and see and live the purpose for which he is created. There is nothing more humbling; there is nothing more meaningful.
- Ibrahim, Boston
Je vais faire Ashara Mubaraka avec Maula car durant ces 10 jours Maula me donne la chance de méditer et de me purifier grâce au sacrifice de Imam Husain mais aussi d’apprendre d’avantage sur ma raison d’être. En ces dix jours, nous vivre une vie entière.
I attend Ashara Mubaraka with Maula because during these 10 days Maula gives me the chance to meditate and purify myself through the [remembrance of the] sacrifice of Imam Husain but also to learn more about my purpose. In these ten days, we live an entire life.
- Sherebanu, Paris