Come this time of year, Jewish thoughts turn to the ancient Hebrews’ rescue from slavery and Passover traditions.
In the Muslim world, a holiday period with roots in the Pesach story ended this week: with an anti-Israel flavor. The Islamic holiday, Ashura, more prominent in heavily Muslim lands, especially Shiite countries, than in the United States, is commonly marked by fasting, flagellation, mourning processions and pilgrimages. And politicized this year, it brought Hezbollah shouts of "Death to Israel!" in southern Lebanon and insurgents’ attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Monday was the end of the 40-day Ashura observance and the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq: and the day was marked by an escalation of Shiite-Sunni fighting in Iraq, leading the U.S. military to dispatch a Kuwait-based battalion there.
In recent years, observers say, violence in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, often expressed in anger toward Israel and the West, has overshadowed Ashura’s primarily religious nature.
Ashura, Arabic for "tenth," is called the "Islamic Yom Kippur," because it falls on the tenth day of the first month (Muharram, on the Islamic calendar), as does Yom Kippur (in Tishrei). It’s the date when, according to Muslim belief, many notable events (including the Hebrews’ deliverance from bondage, Noah’s leaving the ark, Abraham’s birth and the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Muhammad, in battle in 680 CE) occurred.
According to Muslim legend, Muhammad, arriving in Medina on the 10th of Muharram in 622 CE, found the city’s Jews fasting in commemoration of the Children of Israel’s escape from Pharaoh.
Because of Ashura’s anti-injustice symbolism, it was banned by Saddam Hussein.
One Chicago-based Islamic commentator known for his moderate views says the holiday inspires him.
"It’s important to understand that Moses figures prominently in Muslim belief," Beliefnet.com’s Hesham Hassaballa writes. "The Exodus story is a happy one for Muslims; it is a tale of bitter bondage and hardship and the glory of God’s deliverance from that hardship."