Muharram and its Significance

The Holy Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Calendar. Muslims observe the Islamic New Year on the first day of Muharram. This is the Lunar calendar and is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar calendar. It is a little different from the calendar that is used in Western nations, i.e is from the Gregorian calendar. Gregorian calendar is the solar calendar. Because of the lunar calendar, the month of Muharram shifts back every year.

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There is a great significance of the Holy month Muharram to Muslim around the World. It is the second sacred month for Muslim after Ramadan. The tenth day of the Muharram is named as “Ashura”. The word “Muharram” is often considered synonymous with Ashura.

“Ashura” is a very important day for both the Shias and the Sunnis. Sunnis & Shias are two sects of Islam. On the tenth day of Muharram in 680 AD (61 AH) the grandson of Islamic prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) Hussain ibn Ali, was Martyrdom at the battle of Karbala.

During the Arabian Peninsula, the pre-Islamic period was the era of warring tribes. Because of poor leadership, peoples were fighting on their minor issues. But even in those conditions, fighting was prohibited in four months of the year. Muharram is one of these four months. Muharram is so called because it was unlawful to fight during this month; the word is derived from the from the word ‘haram’ meaning forbidden. There is provision to accommodate and accept war in some special situations like a threat to the sovereignty of an empire.

The historical battle of Karbala was fought against this un-Islamic law and tradition of Islam. After the death of the fourth Caliph (Muslim Civil and religious leader) of Islam, his Son Hazrat Imam Hussain was the ruler of the part of the empire known today as Iran. The other part was ruled by the Umayyads. Kufa was a small town in the Ummayyad Kingdom, where there was the majority of the Shiah. Imam Hussain asked the Shiahs of Kufa to accept their allegiance and claim his place as the leader of Islamic Community. But the Governor of Kufa, Ibn-e-Ziad with the ruler of Kufa, Yazid did not accept Hussain’s allegiance and called him for battle. 
In response to the call of the Shiahs, Hussain with his family members headed for Kufa. When Hussain and their 70 troops reached Karbala, en route to Kufa, they were surrounded by the men of the Governor. Hussain along with his family and his troops were tortured and Killed by the force of the Governor. The Hussain’s head was severed in front of the King. They received no help from the Shiahs of Kufa.

Because this incident happened on the tenth day of Muharram, Shia considers this day as the ‘the day of sorrow’. They commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain as a religious occasion. This occasion starts on the first night of the Muharram after the moon sight. The occasion lasts for 10 days, the tenth day of Muharram. The tenth day of Muharram is termed as “Ashura”.

As Muharram approaches, the Shias put on black clothes, because black color is the symbol of mourning. From the first day of Muharram to the tenth day they keep themselves away from all the joyous events and also from music. Special assemblies (Majlis) are held on the first nine days of Muharram in which they orators vividly depict the incident of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his party. On the day of “Ashura”, devoted Muslims assembled and parade the streets with banners and carrying models of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his friends who fell at Karbala.

Some Shia beat themselves with the chain in public, cut themselves with knives and the sharp object, and holds mournful public processions. They express their grief over the death of Imam Hussain with these activities. But no such activities are accepted in Islam and Shia leaders consider such acts as Haram. The Muslims who attend the procession chants loudly “Ya Hussain. It is a sad occasion. A white horse, named “Dul-Dul” is beautifully decorated and included in the procession. For the Muslims who attend the procession are served with water and juices by the Shia community.

Sunnis keep a fast on the day of “Ashura” as per the “Hadith” of Prophet Muhammad. Jews also fasted on the tenth of the Muharram so Prophet Muhammad planned to fast on the 9th and 10th from the following year. Usually, Sunni Muslims are recommended to fast either on the 9th and 10th of Muharram or on the 10th and 11th of Muharram.


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