Welcome to the David Victor Vector Blog

Welcome to the David Victor Vector blog. This is blog that covers religious observances around the world international affairs and global business. This blog describes religious holidays for most major religions as well as raising issues dealing with globalization, international business ethics, cross-cultural business communication and political events affecting business in an integrated world economy. I look forward your discussion and commentary on these articles and subjects. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



The winter solstice – or Yule -- is celebrated on December 21.

Yule is seen as an important sabbat (religious celebration) in Wicca and Thelema. In some Neo-Pagan traditions such as the Scandinavian Asatru Folk Assembly, the holiday extends for twelve days in a period called Yuletide.  Yuletide starts on the winter solstice and ends on January 1.

Additionally, the winter solstice is celebrated in Zoroastrianism (or Parseeism) as Shab-e Yalda or (more simply) just Yalda.

Origins of Yule

The Wiccan and Neo-Pagan holidays of Yule and Yuletide should not be confused with the Christian use of these terms, as they have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. The traditions of Yule were practiced in Britain, Scandinavia and northern Germany long before the introduction of Christianity to these regions. Rather, during the conversion of these regions, the Roman Catholic Church simply co-opted the use of the terms Yule and Yuletide in these same northern European Christian traditions to make Christianity feel more familiar.

Like Yule, the Zoroastrian Yalda long predates Christianity. Yalda has been celebrated as the victory of light over dark for at least 1000 years before the birth of Christ. Zoroastrians themselves, however, place the date somewhere around 1600 BCE. There may be a connection to Christmas, though remotely so. Some scholars argue that the early Church set the date of Jesus’ birth to coincide with the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia (for more on this theory, please see my earlier post at

Saturnalia, in turn, arguably has its roots the mid-winter celebration of ancient Persian Empire.  The mid-winter celebration of ancient Persia, in turn, is Yalda, since the primary religion of the ancient Persian Empire was Zoroastrianism.

A Note on Neo-Paganism

The number of adherents to Neo-Pagan religions is notably difficult to estimate for several reasons. First, many nations (including the United States and France) do not conduct census data on religion. Second, because of prejudice and persecution, many adherents of Neo-Pagan religions do not openly identify as such while continuing to practice rituals. Finally, in Europe many Neo-Pagan rituals are practiced alongside Christian ones among those self-identifying as Christian. These are especially evident with Yuletide practices and the observation of the midwinter solstice, but are also present in the Midsummer Night’s bonfires of the summer solstice, Halloween practices, and Eastertime practices that take on a syncretistic overlay of Neo-Pagan Ostara practices.

That said, estimates for those self-identifying as Wiccan, Druid, Pagan, neo-Pagan, Goddess Worship, New Age or related faiths range from one to six million worldwide. The data vary greatly. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the Office for National Statistics in 2001 found only 42,262 self-identified as such while Oxford historian Ronald Hutton in 1999 estimated 250,00 practitioners (which would place the number larger than Hinduism in the UK). Based on this, for the 2011 Census the UK’s Pagan Federation encouraged pagans to self-identify as such, with the result that the number came to over 80,000. This suggests either that neo-Paganism roughly doubled in size over the preceding decade (making it the fastest growing faith in the UK) or that (as Hutton suggested) official data are grossly underreported for neo-Pagan self-identification.

The recognition of neo-Pagan practices by various nations may provide some idea of the growing recognition of their importance. For example, Wicca has since 1990 been included in the Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains.  Since 2007, Wicca and “earth-based relgions” have been formally recognized by the US military as an official religion, including pentacles for gravestones and the 2011 inclusion of an “outdoor worship center” at the US Air Force Academy.  In Iceland, the Ásatrúarfélagið (Asatru Fellowship) has been recognized formally since 1973 and is the second largest faith in the country.

Yule Traditions

Yule Altar

As with all sabbats, an altar is set up in honor of Yule. The Yule altar is part of virtually all Yule celebrations whether Wiccan, Neo-Pagan or Neo-Druidic.  For Wicca in particular, the Yule altar is arguably the most important observance of the holiday.

Yule altar
The Yule altar is set up facing north, the direction associated with winter in all of these traditions. In Wicca, at the center of the altar is a bowl (or cauldron). Usually, a candle is placed in the bowl to symbolize light over darkness.

The colors of the Yule season are white, red and green. As a result, the altar usually is decorated with things of these colors. These often include tablecloths of these colors as well as red fruit, pine branches, holly leaves and holly berries.

Yule altars are usually decorated with symbols of the sun in some form.  This usually involves candles, often placed in the central bowl (in Wicca) or using gold-colored candleholders.  Other common sun decorations may include pictures of the sun drawn by children, sun ornaments or gold disks and coins.

Yule Food and Drink

Traditional Yuletide foods often include roast poultry and game (such as venison), squash, and root vegetables. Items that include the colors of the season (red, white and green) are common, such as candy canes and fruits of those colors.

Yule log dessert
Often desserts take the form of chocolate or nut bread rolls made to look like Yule logs. One recipe for a Wiccan Yule log can be found at

A collection of other Yule desserts can be found at

Traditional drinks include cider, mulled wine and Wassail. Wassail is a mix of sherry and brandy with various juices (often citrus) and berries (sometimes left whole) blended with eggs and completed with spices such as cloves, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

A recipe for Yule wassail can be found at

Yule Traditions Shared with Christmas

Many Yule traditions are familiar within the Christmas traditions of northern Europe. These include the mistletoe, the use of evergreens (holly, ivy and pine trees), and the burning of the Yule log.


In Norse mythology, the god Baldur’s death and rebirth provided the explanation for winter and the apparent death of much of nature each year. As described in the Prose Edda Gylfaginning, Baldur was the god of all things fair and beautiful, and was associated with the sun. Baldur had a prophetic dream in which he predicted his own death. His mother Frigga (or Fraya) was so troubled by this that she went about asking all things on earth to vow that they would never harm Baldur. Frigga asked this vow from every object from which a weapon might be made.  She neglected, however, to ask the mistletoe, because she thought it was too insignificant to be made into a weapon.

Every god in Norse mythology was associated with a plant. The mistletoe was the plant associated with Loki, the god of mischief. Loki felt jealous of the attention given to Baldur and slighted that his plant was not considered significant enough for Frigga to ask in her quest to protect Baldur. As a result, he crafted an arrow (or dart) from the mistletoe’s wood and poisoned it with the mistletoe’s berries. 

Death of Baldur

To celebrate Baldur’s indestructibility, all of the gods assembled to throw weapons at Baldur. Because the material from which each weapon was made had vowed that they would not harm Baldur, every weapon either bounced off of Baldur or failed to hit him no matter how hard they were thrown. When it was Loki’s turn to throw his weapon, he shot his poisoned mistletoe arrow, killing Baldur. At once, the world was plunged into cold and snow, and all plant life died.

All of the gods were cast into mourning and so sent the messenger Hermod to carry a message from Frigga to plead with the death god Hel to allow Baldur to return.  Hel himself was distressed by Baldur’s death and agreed to allow Baldur to return on one condition. That one condition was that all objects and creatures weep for Baldur. All did with one exception: the giantess Thok (who, in turn, was presumed to be Loki in disguise). The result was that Baldur was allowed to return but only for part of the year, returning to the realms of Hel for the other part of each year, causing winter.

The Norse and Germanic pagans remembered this story by hanging mistletoe in the house at the midwinter solstice. By kissing under the mistletoe, they demonstrated that love and warmth (Baldur) was stronger than mischief (the mistletoe of Loki) or death – and that the rebirth of the world would come with Baldur’s return in Spring.

In neo-Pagan traditions in general and the Asaturu Folk Assembly custom in particular, this is still the reason for kissing beneath the mistletoe in the house at Yule. It should be noted that for Wicca, the mistletoe is not a associated with these traditions.


Linked to this same story, the plant associated with the sun god Baldur were evergreens in general and the pine tree in particular. It is from this association that the Yuletide custom of hanging evergreen wreaths amd decorating pine trees derives.

Yule wreath
In pre-Christian Viking and Germanic traditions, evergreens were used to symbolize the continued presence and eventual return of the sun since they retained their full life when all other plants were barren in the dead of winter.   The hanging of evergreen boughs on one’s doors protected those living inside.

In Druidic traditions in Britain and Ireland, the evergreens, though not associated with Baldur, were similarly hung on doors as a talisman to protect against evil spirits in wintertime.

In modern Wicca, the use of evergreens has no association with the Baldur story, regardless of its origins. This is true to of most other modern Yule traditions, although in some neo-Pagan traditions, these associations may still hold. In any case, in most Wiccan, neo-Pagan and neo-Druidic traditions for Yule, decorations of holly and ivy are still hung on doors and over hearths.
Yule trees in an English forest
For Wiccans and for most modern traditions, these decorations serve as symbols of everlasting life and the coming rebirth of the world with the growing length of days as Spring approaches. Similarly, a Yule tree is decorated for the same reason. Unlike the Christian tradition of cutting down a tree, though, many Wiccans and neo-Pagans decorate a live tree either still standing outside or set in a pot indoors which is then replanted once the ground thaws.

Yule Log

Yule log
The burning of the Yule Log is the central tradition of most Wiccan, neo-Pagan and neo-Druidic customs today. The Yule log is a short log of wood, decorated with evergreens or candles (or both).

The practice of burning a Yule Log indoors symbolizes the victory of light over dark and Spring over Winter. The Yule log is lit each year on the eve of the mid-winter solstice.

People traditionally keep a piece of charred wood from the previous year’s Yule Log throughout the year. Some do this as a talisman to protect the house and others simply as reminder of the happy celebration of Yule. Whatever the reason, it is customary to use the saved piece from the previous year’s Yule Log to start the fire for the present year’s Yule Log.

As with the mistletoe and evergreen, the burning of the Yule log has an ancient pedigree long pre-dating Christianity. The plants burned were often associated with Baldur (evergreen, pine, holly) but could also be the oak which was the tree associated with Wodin (or Odin) the god of wisdom. Those venerating other deities would use woods associated with these other gods.

It is important to emphasize here that in Wicca, there is no association of the Yule Log with the Norse gods at all but rather as a symbol of the Goddess.  Even in most modern neo-Pagan and neo-Druidic traditions (Asaturu Folk Assembly excepted), the Yule Log has less to do with worship of any particular deity than as a way to encourage the coming of longer days.


As with all posts, this overview is meant only to give a brief overview of some practices. Yule is celebrated in many traditions, and this is not meant to endorse or specify any one practice. If I have left out a practice from your own tradition, please share them with me.

Blessed Yule!

Want to Read Further?

Skye Alexander, “Winter Solstice or Yule,” Net Places: Wicca and Witchcraft,  http://www.netplaces.com/wicca-witchcraft/the-wheel-of-the-year/winter-solstice-or-yule.htm

Tor Age Brinsvaerd, "Norse Mythology," http://www.fornsidr.no/2011/01/norse-mythology/

H. R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Pelican Books.

Erin Frost, “Yule Traditions,” Examiner.com, http://www.examiner.com/article/yule-traditions

Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft,  University Press, 1999. 

Andrea Kannapelli, “Celebrations: It’s Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa: Let There Be Light!” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/21/nyregion/celebrations-it-s-solstice-hanukkah-kwaanza-let-there-be-light.html

Gwydion Cinhil Kirontin, “Wiccan Study: Yule History and Rituals,” http://herbalmusings.com/yule.htm

Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (2016) , "Polls estimating the number of U.S. adult Wiccans in the U.S.," http://www.religioustolerance.org/estimated-number-of-wiccans-in-the-united-states-5.htm

K. M. Midgley, Legends of the Northmen. http://midgleywebpages.com/northmen.html

“Pagan Christmas Traditions,” The Pythorium, http://pythorium.com/sabbats/yule/pagan_traditions

Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda "Death of Balder," http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/balder.html#death

Calvin Thomas, An Anthology of German Literature, D. C. Heath & Co.

Patti Wiggington, “All AboutYule,” About.com: Paganism, http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/yulethelongestnight/a/About_Yule.htm

Patti Wiggington, “History of Yule,” About.com: Paganism, http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/yulethelongestnight/p/Yule_History.htm

Patti Wiggington, “Setting Up Your Yule Altar - What to Put on a Yule Altar,” About.com: Paganism, http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/yulethelongestnight/p/YuleAltarDecs.htm

Mackenzie Wright, “How to Decorate a Wiccan Yule Altar,” Ehow.com, http://www.ehow.com/how_4578105_decorate-wiccan-yule-altar.html

Andrah Wyrdfire, “Celebrate the real reason for the season with Novices of the Old Ways,” Examiner.com, http://www.examiner.com/article/celebrate-the-real-reason-for-the-season-with-novices-of-the-old-ways

“Yule,” The Pagan and Wiccan Parenting Page, http://paganparent-ivil.tripod.com/yule.html

Clip Art Sources

Monday, December 3, 2012

Bodhi Day

December 8 is the major Buddhist religious holiday of Bodhi Day. 

Bodhi Day is one of Buddhism’s three major holidays, and Buddhists in the workplace and school should be accommodated for worship.

Bodhi (बोधि) means "awakening" or more generally interpreted as "enlightenment" in both Sanskrit and Pali (the Buddha's own language), and some variant of the phrase "Bodhi Day" is used in most Buddhist traditions. That said, in Zen Buddhism, Bodhi Day is known as Rohatsu and in Tendai and other Japanese Buddhist traditions, it is known as Shaka-Jōdō-e.

The Buddha's Attainment of Bodhi

 The Enlightened Buddha
Wall hanging, Kuro-Shoin, Goten, Ninna-ji, Kyoto
Bodhi Day commemorates the day in 596 BCE on which the 35-year-old Prince Siddhartha Gautama after searching for Dharma (the truth) for six years, attained Bodhi (which in both Sanskrit and Pali roughly translates as "awakening" or “enlightenment”). Following 49 days of unbroken meditation beneath a pipul fig tree, discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path that are the basis today Buddhism. 

For the last seven of those days, Prince Siddhartha stared at the tree without blinking, after which he was attained Bodhi. From this point Prince Siddhartha became the first Buddha (which in both Sanskrit and Pali means “the Awakened One”).

It should be noted that while Bodhi Day is important in both branches of Buddhism, the holiday is often held to be especially important in Mahayana (vs. Theravada) Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is most traditionally associated with the Buddhist traditions of China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Bhutan, Vietnam and north India.

Even among Theravada Buddhists, however, Bodhi Day is a significant holiday. Moroeover, in the United States, Canada and Europe, because of Bodhi Day’s proximity to the majority culture’s emphasis on Christmas, some Theravada Buddhists may place greater emphasis on Bodhi Day than in other countries where Theravada Buddhism is practiced.

The Bodhi Tree and Its Descendants

The original Bodhi Tree grows near the banks of the Falgu River under which the Buddha sat to attain enlightenment once grew at the site of what is now the Bodh Gaya.  The site itself is Buddhism's most sacred point of pilgrimage.

The Mahabodhi Tree
Sri Mahabodhi Temple
Bodh Gaya, India
The direct descendent of the tree -- called the Mahabodhi Tree -- is now located on the grounds of the Buddhist religious complex of the Mahabodhi Temple in the Indian state of Bihar. Additionally, there are three other trees grown from  cuttings of the original tree.

Sri Mahabodhi Temple Tree at Bodh Gaya
The tree marking the spot of the Buddha's enlightenment has had a temple surrounding it for over 2200 years. The original temple called the Bodhimanda Mahabodhi Temple was built in about 250 BC by the Maurya Dynasty Buddhist Emperor Ashoka the Great.

That said, the tree presently growing at the site of the Buddha's enlightenment dates only to the year 600 AD and is the fourth tree to have stood on the spot. Soon after King Ashoka build the Sri Mahabodhi Temple, his queen -- Tissarakkha -- became jealous of the attention given to the tree, and had the first tree destroyed. As recorded in the Nibbana of the Thera, "the treacherous Tissarakkha" did so with the thought

Forsooth, the king worships the great Bodhi-tree to my cost!' drawn into the power of hate and working her own harm, caused the great Bodhi-tree to perish by means of manduthorn.
         -- Nibanna of the Thera, Chapter 20 http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/chap020.html
The tree miraculously resprouted on the same spot.

After the death of Asoka, the Hindu Sunga Dynasty came to power in northern India, ruling the area including Bodh Gaya. Some say that King Pushyamitra Sunga, founder of the Sunga Dynasty, had the Bodhi Tree chopped down sometime in the 2nd Century BCE. It should be noted that conflicting historical opinions exist as to whether this actually occurred. Both sides of this debate, however, believe that the tree dates back to the original tree either because it still was the original tree (i.e., it was never chopped down by Pushyamitra Sunga) or because it was propagated from a cutting of the original tree.

Shashanka of Gauda
cut down the original Bodhi Tree
in 600 CE
There is no debate regarding the next cutting down of the Bodhi Tree  In 590 CE, the religious intolerant monarch Shashanka founded the Gauda Kingdom (the first unified Bengal kingdom). He carried out a series of attacks on Buddhists in his lands, paying 100 gold coins for the head of each Buddhist monk brought to him and destroying all of the stupas in his lands. During this period of persecution of Buddhism, Shashanka had the Bodhi Tree chopped down in the year 600 CE. The tree that stands at the site today was planted soon after from cutting of the original tree.

The Bodhi Tree at Svrasti

Following the Islamic invasions of India -- especially following those of Muhammad bin Qasim (695-715 CE) -- the original temple was largely abandoned and fell into disrepair. In the 1880's during the British rule in India, the current temple was restored and expanded.  Since 2002 been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other Descendants of the Bodh Gaya Bodhi Tree
Two cuttings from the Bodh Gaya tree were transplanted and grown at two other temples within the first two centuries following the Buddha's death. One of these is at Sravasti in Uttar Pradesh in India. The city (called Savatthi in Buddha's lifetime), was the sixth largest city in South Asia at the time that the Buddha preached. It was the center of area where most of his teachings were given. The site remains an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists ever since, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
The other cutting of the original Bodh Gaya is at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. The Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura was planted in 288 BCE, where it was brought by Ashoka the Great's daughter Sangamitta Thera at the request of the Buddha's disciple Ananda. Called the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi or simply the Ananda Bo Tree, it has been continuously protected and monitored. This makes the Anuradhapura tree the world's oldest known angiosperm tree with a verifiable history. It is a major Buddhist pilgrimage site and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In modern times, one other descendant of the Bodhi Tree has been transplanted. In 1913, the Sri Lankan Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala brought a cutting of the Sri Lankan Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he gave it to the American Mary Foster. Anagarika Dharmapala was the first major Buddhist speaker to preach internationally in both Europe and North America as well as in Asia, and Foster funded much of his efforts. The Honolulu tree was planted in the gardens Foster and her husband Thomas had bought from the Hawaiian royal family in 1884. When Mary Foster died in 1930, she left the gardens including the Bodhi Tree to the public as Foster Botanical Gardens.

Bodhi Day Observance and Customs

Bodhi Day is often celebrated through intensive day-long meditation, prayer and study. In the Japanese Zen tradition, the week leading up to Bodhi Day is devoted to intense meditation.

For 30 days beginning with Bodhi Day, Buddhists often bring a ficus or a sacred fig tree into their house in remembrance of the Bo (or Bodhi) Tree under which the Buddha sat during his 49-day meditation. The tree is often decorated with three brightly colored ornaments representing the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the way of Truth) and the Sangha (the community of those seeking enlightenment, or of the followers of Buddhism as a whole, a concept similar to the Muslim notion of the Ummah).

Heart-shaped leaves of the pipul fig
Traditionally on Bodhi Day throughout all Buddhist traditions, believers will eat (often as the morning meal) some combination of milk and rice. This has the following religious significance. The Buddha had spent the last seven of the 49 days of meditation without eating or drinking. On seeing Venus rising in the morning, the Buddha announced his attainment of Bodhi by proclaiming: "That's it! That's it! That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!" At this point, the Buddha’s great disciple Sujata knew that the Buddha’s fast had ended and quickly brought the Buddha milk and rice to sustain Him.

Buddha with origami pipul leaves

In some traditions, Buddhists make sweet food (often cookies or candy) in the shape of a fig tree or in the shape of a heart with their children.  This helps the children associate sweetness with the goal of enlightenment. 

A "Bodhi Tree"
from the website of the
Eugene Buddhist Priory
During these 30 days, it is also common to decorate one's house. It is common to do so pipul fig leaves. These can be real leaves from living pipul figs or representative ones. In some Bodhi Day traditions, people make origami pipul leaves. The heart shape represents the heart-shaped leaves of the sacred pipul fig tree (ficus religiosa), the species of fig tree under which the Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment.

Many Buddhist decorate their house with colored lights. Others light a candle each day for 30 days. In both cases, the lights or candle represent the enlightenment attained by the Buddha.

Some Buddhists (especially in North America) have repurposed the Christian Christmas tree as a Bodhi Tree to serve a Buddhist end, with the lights on the tree representing the enlightenment of the Buddha.

Concluding Comments

As with all of my blog posts on religion, this is not an attempt to indicate proper practice, but merely to inform in a very general way. Buddhism is a rich and varied tradition, and there are many ways to observe Bodhi Day, none definitive.

Finally, there is no traditional greeting on Bodhi Day, although many people do wish each other a "Blessed Bodhi Day" or a "Happy Bodhi Day."

Happy Bodhi Day!

Further Reading

Eugene (Oregon) Buddhist Priory, "Buddhist Holiday Ideas": http://buddhistfaith.tripod.com/beliefs/id32.html

Family Dharma Connections, "Happy Bodhi Day":

Amanda Roby, Suite 101, "How to Celebrate Bodhi Day": http://suite101.com/article/how-to-celebrate-bodhi-day-a318371

Merlyn Seeley, Examiner.com, "Bodhi Day: What It Is and How To Observe It": http://www.examiner.com/article/bodhi-day-what-it-is-and-how-to-observe-it

Fa Dao Shakya, "Bodhi Day: The Day of Enlightenment":

Alden Smith, “How to Celebrate Bodhi Day,” http://www.doityourself.com/stry/bodhi-day

 Clipart Sources

Opening "Happy Bodhi Day" greeting: "40 Oz. of Bad Karma" blogsite:

The enlightened Buddha, wall hanging, Kuro-Shoin, Goten, Ninna-ji, Kyoto, Japan: My own photograph 

Mahabodhi Tree: Photo by Ken Wieland, Wikipedia site free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bodhgaya_3639641913_f4c5f73689_t.jpg

Shashanka gold coin (ca. 700 CE): http://jewellery.indianetzone.com/1/coins.htm

The Bodhi Tree at Sravasti, Wikipedia site free access photo:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anandabodhi2.jpg

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: Photo by Joerg Reuter, Wikipedia free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jaya_Sri_Maha_Bodhi.jpg

Pipul fig leaves: Photo by Eric Guinther, Wikipedia free access photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ficus_religiosa_Bo.jpg

Bodhi Day pipul leaf origami: http://suite101.com/article/how-to-celebrate-bodhi-day-a318371

Bodhi Tree from Eugene (Oregon) Buddhist Priory website: http://buddhistfaith.tripod.com/beliefs/id32.html

Closing clip art "Blessed Bodhi Day": http://fc05.deviantart.net/fs12/f/2006/335/6/8/Happy_Bodhi_Day_by_Tutankhamun.jpg

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ashura 2015

At sunset on the night of Thursday October 22 (for 2015) and lasting through the sunset on Friday, October 23 is the Islamic holiday of Ashura. Some Muslims in North America follow a different interpretation of when the holiday starts and observe it from Friday evening October 23 through sunset on Sunday October 24. This post in no way is meant to indicate the interpretation for which of these is correct; I simply want to make readers aware of the dates possible. 

As part of the religious observance discussions, I would like to share a bit on the holiday with you. Because Arabic does not transliterate consistently into other languages, Ashura is also commonly spelled as Ashoura or Ashurah. In India, where it is a national holiday, it is often known as Moharram and in the Caribbean (especially Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica) the holiday is called Hosay.

Sadly this holiday has often been marked by sectarian violence. With this in mind, I have given below a list of the many Ashura attacks since 1994.
Religious Significance

While Ashura is celebrated by all Moslems, it is of particular importance to Shi’ites for whom it is one of the most important holidays of the Moslem calendar.

For most Moslems – Shi’a and Sunni alike -- Ashura is believed to be the date that Nuh (Noah in the Jewish and Christian tradition) had his ark come to rest after the Flood.   It is also believed to be the birthday of the Moslem Prophet Ibrahim (who is the same person as the patriarch Abraham of the Jewish and Christian Bible). Some Moslems believe that Ashura will be the date on which Qiyaamah (doomsday) will take place (although this position is rejected by many others).  Finally, Ashura is widely believed to be the anniversary of the creation of the Ka’aba, the holiest structure in Islam and the center point of the haj to Mecca.

For Shi’a Moslems, Ashura is the anniversary of the murder of Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala  
Husayn ibn Ali (626-680)

in the year 680 (61 AH in the Moslem calendar).  Husayn ibn Ali (born in 626) was the grandson of the Prophet Mohamed and is considered by Shi’ites to have been the Third Imam and thus the rightful successor to the Prophet.  As this is one of the centrally defining beliefs of Shi’a Islam, Shi'ites believe that (what they view as) the martyrdom of Husayn is symbolic of the sacrifices needed in the face of all that is unjust, oppressive or  repressive.  

For Shi’ites, Ashura is a mandatory fast day and a day for mourning.  Many Shi’ite traditions also include public gatherings of men who beat themselves on the chest, cut their heads and similar activities to share in the pain that Husayn ibn Ali experienced. The Ashura page on the Holiday Year website has a selection of some (moderately graphic) images of worshippers cutting themselves in worship at

Many Shi’ite traditions include special chants accompanied by drumbeats and stage performances reenacting the Battle of Karbala.

Most Sunni Moslems also celebrate Ashura, although they do not usually recognize anything to do with Husayn ibn Ali.  For Sunnis, Ashura marked the 10th day (Ashura actually means 10th in Arabic) of the Hejirah, when Mohamed fled with his followers to Medina.  He found the Jews there (on Yom Kippur) fasting in what the Moslem tradition considered to be in remembrance of Moses (a prophet for Islam as well as Judaism).  It is for this reason (with nothing to do with Husayn ibn Ali) that Sunnis have an optional fast on Ahurah.  It should be noted that Sunnis – while they feel no religious importance with the death of Husayn ibn Ali -- do regard his death as a sad incident of
historical significance.   


Imam Husayn Shrine, Karbala, Iraq
Karbala, Iraq (also spelled Kerbala, Kerbela and Karbela) is the site of the Battle of Karbala. It remains a major pilgrimage destination for Shi'ites in particular, although often visited by other Moslems as well.  In the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala are the tombs not only of Husayn ibn Ali but also of the 72 martyrs of the Battle of Karbala.
Indeed, because of its significance, for centuries, worshippers have gone on pilgrimage to Karbala, Iraq to the shrine of Husayn’s martyrdom there. 

As a side note, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Ashura pilgrimages were banned because Saddam (probably at least in part rightly) interpreted the demonstrations at Karbala as expressions of protest against not just tyranny in general, but as specifically against those who considered his own rule tyrannical.  Only in 2004, with the fall of Saddam Hussein, were Shi’ites allowed again to make the pilgrimage to Karbala.  Sadly, 2004’s pilgrimage was marred by widespread violence including bomb attacks among the pilgrims which killed 170 people and wounded over 500 others.

History of Violence

 Rawalpindi Ashura Attack, 2013
Because of tensions between Shi’ites and Sunni Moslems, Ashura has sadly been marked by violence between the two groups in recent years.

Ashura last year in 2013 was no exception. Several attacks including a suicide bombing left 41 worshippers dead in Karbala, Iraq. At the same time, a suicide bomber in Diyala Province, Iraq left 32 dead and 80 injured.  In Pakistan a Sunni mob attacked a Shi'ite procession in Rawalpindi, Pakistan leaving 10 dead and 80 injured.

In recent years, in 2012, a bomb attack on a Shi'ite procession in Dera Ismail Khan in Northwest Pakistan  left seven people dead (including three children) and over 30 injured. On Ashura, 2011, in two separate attacks in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, Shi'ites were targetted. In an unusual targeting of Shi'ites in Afghanistan, 63 people were killed and over 100 injured in separate attacks in Kabul and the normally peaceful Mazar-i-Sharif.  Meanwhile in Iraq, in Hilla, two car bombs targeted Shi'ites. Hilla is a city on the pilgrimage route to Karbala. The first hit a crowd of mostly women and children killing 16 and injuring 46; the second (involving two coordinated bomb explosions) killed at least six more and wounded 18.  Seven additional bombs were set off among Shi'ites in three separate locations in Baghdad killing at least 8 and injuring 18 more. Finally, a gunman on the outskirts of Baghdad opened fire on Shi'ites marching in a procession toward Karbala, killing two and wounding four.

For coverage of the 2013 attack in Pakistan, please see:
For coverage of the 2013 attacks in Iraq, please see:
For coverage of the 2012 attack in Pakistan, please see:
For coverage of the 2011 Afghan attacks, please see 
For coverage of the 2011 Iraqi attacks, please see

The modern history of sectarian killings on Ashurah began with the 1994 attack in MasshadIran when a prayer hall bombing murdered 25 worshippers.

Over the last decade, a partial list of violent sectarian attacks on Ashura would include:

  • 2004, Karbala and Baghdad, Iraq – Over a dozen coordinated suicide attacks, 178 killed, at least 500 injured
  • 2005, Baghdad, Baqouba and Latifiya, Iraq – Coordinated suicide bombing, 27 killed, 60 wounded
  • 2006, Hangu, Pakistan – Attacks on Shi’ite worshipers, 36 killed, over 100 injured
  • 2006, Herat, Afghanistan -- Two Shiite mosques burned to the ground accompanied by mob attacks, 4 killed and 27 injured
  • 2007, Balad Ruz, Iraq – Suicide bombing of Shi’ite procession, 23 klled, 57 injured
  • 2007, Baghdad Iraq – Coordinated bombing and gunfire attacks on Shi’ite pilgrims, 9 killed, 24 injured. 2007, Hafriya, Iraq
  • 2008, Basra, Iraq and Nasiriya, Iraq -- Clashes between the Iraqi military and the militant Shi’ite sect Jund As-Samaa (Soldiers of Heaven), 263 people killed -- Security checkpoint protecting worshippers attacked, 2 killed
  • 2009, Karachi, Pakistan – Procession bombing, 43  killed, 60 injured; additionally, police arrested five terrorists as they thwarted a plot to hand out cyanide-laced water to Shi’ite pilgrims in the procession
  • 2010, Chabahar, Iran – Double suicide bombing attack on Shi’ite procession, 33 killed, 95 injured 
  • 2011, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan – Two suicide bombings, one at the Abu Fazi Mosque in Kabul during services left 70 people dead and at the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif left 4 dead.
  • 2011, Mahmoudiya, Iraq -- Bombing kills one and injures 3
  • 2011, Latifiyah, Iraq -- Bombing kills 2 and injures 4
  • 2011, Mosul, Iraq -- Twin bombings kill 2 policemen and kills 3 civilians and injures x 
  • 2011, Baghdad, Iraq -- Eight separate attacks killing 34 and injuring 64
  • 2012, Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan --  Procession bombing killing 7 people (including 3 children) and injuring 90
  • 2012, Sanaa, Yemen --  Bombing killing 4 people and injuring13
  • 2013, Karbala, Iraq -- Suicide bombing killing 41    
  • 2013, Diyala Province, Iraq -- Suicide bombing in Diyala Province, killing 32 and injuring 80 
  • 2013, Rawalpindi, Pakistan -- Sunni mob attacked a Shi'ite procession killing 10 and injuring 80  
  • 2013, Karbala, Iraq – Suicide bombing kills 41
  • 2013, Diyala Province, Iraq – Bombing kills 32 and injures 80 injured. 
  • 2013, Tikrit, Iraq – Car bombing kills 3 policemen and 8 civilians
  • 2013, Fallujah, Iraq – Three policeman’s houses bombed killing four
  • 2013, Baquba, Iraq – Triple bombing killing 28
  • 2013,  Rawalpindi, Pakistan -- Sunni mob attacks Shi'ite procession in Rawalpindi, Pakistan leaving 10 dead and 80 injured.
  • 2014, Buraida, Saudi Arabia -- Gunmen kill 5 and injure 9 during prayer services
  • 2014, Baquba, Iraq -- Three coordinated bomb attacks kill 8 and injure 28
  • 2014, Tikrit, Iraq -- Car bombing kills 11 including 3 police officers
  • 2014, Fallujah, Iraq -- Three coordinated car bombs target homes of police officers, killing four

As in past messages, I am summarizing a complex and deeply held set of beliefs here, but I still hope that you continue to find these messages of value.

Further Reading\
For more information, Al Jazeera has good article from 2008 on Ashura at

Ashura.com is an entire website devoted to the holiday:

Islam House presents some information (though with a strong position taken against traditional beliefs such as the belief that it will be the date on which Qiyaamah will take place) on Ashura at

Other sources that may prove of interest are at


Philadelphia Dialog Forum


BBC Religions website

Clipart sources

Opening clip art "Every day is Ashura Day":From Teqe America's website: http://teqeamerica.com/events/holidays

The image of Husayn ibn Ali is from the Damascus in History and Pictures website (Husayn's skull was for many years preserved in Damascus' Ummayad Mosque):

The image of the Imam Husayn Shrine is from the free-usage files at Wikipedia at

The image of Rawalpindi Ashura Attack, 2013: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-11/16/c_132892310.htm