Ashura is celebrated in Bahrain like nowhere else. Most Bahrainis are Shia Muslims, though the rulers of the Kingdom of Bahrain are Sunni. The public processions and mourning that is common in Bahrain for Ashura is not common in other Gulf countries. Therefore this day brings in thousands of Shias from neighbouring Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and elsewhere to join in the events every year.
Ashura comes on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, a month during which Shias mourn. Both the 9th and 10th day are kept as a public observance in Bahrain, but the 10th day is most important, for that is the anniversary of the death of Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussain, in the Battle of Karbala in A.D. 680.
All month long, Shias teach about Imam Hussain’s life example in sermons at their mawatim (Shia mosques, singular is matam). Food is also given out by mawatim to people out on the streets, as well as to the poor, and the Bahraini government donates both food and money to mawatim for this purpose every year.
The Bahraini flag, normally white with red at the right end is transformed into a white-and-black flag of mourning for Ashura purposes, and these flags are hung up over public streets, along with other Ashura Day banners. The right to hang up these flags and banners is included in Bahrain’s constitution, and Ashura Day processions in Bahrain date back at least to 1891, when the first such celebrations was put on the historical record.