RELIGION
11/12/2013 04:15 pm ET

Ashura 2013: Dates, Rituals And History Explained (PHOTOS)

A Shia Muslim walks across burning embers during the Ashura festival in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. Shia Musli
A Shia Muslim walks across burning embers during the Ashura festival in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. Shia Muslims mark the Day of Ashura as a day of mourning for the death of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. Devotees recite prayers, flagellate themselves and walk on fire to mark the day of mourning. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

WARNING: Some images of Ashura observance are graphic:

PHOTO GALLERY
Ashura 2013

Ashura, an optional fast day for Muslims that commemorates different things for Sunnis and Shiites, falls on Nov. 13-14, 2013. The word itself, ashura, means 10, and the holiday is the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram. The Islamic calendar is lunar, so the date of Ashura can vary depending on sighting of the moon.

Ashura marks many things: the creation of the world, Noah's departure from the ark, Moses' flight from Egypt and the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein ibn Ali, in 680 A.D.

Sunni Muslims consider Ashura a fast day for two reasons: Muhammad fasted then and Moses fasted in appreciation of the successful Exodus for Egypt. Shiite Muslims mark Ashura as a day of mourning for the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. In fact, Hussein's martyrdom is one of two major events that led to the Sunni-Shiite split in Islam. Shiites, who constitute Islam's second-largest denomination (about 10-15 percent of the world Muslim population), consider Hussein to be the one true heir of Muhammad's legacy.

Shiite Muslims observe Ashura through mourning rituals such as self-flagellation and reenactments of the martyrdom. Many travel to Karbala in Iraq, where Hussein was killed, as a pilgrimage on Ashura. Most observers wear black and march through the streets chanting and hitting themselves in the chest. Some use whips and chains -- or cut themselves on the forehead -- to ritually punish their bodies. This practice has been condemned by some Shiite leaders, so Ashura blood drives are often organized as a substitute.

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