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Muharram (Arabic: المحرّم) is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fighting is prohibited. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Muharram moves from year to year when compared with the Gregorian calendar.
Muharram is so called because it is unlawful to fight during this month, the word is derived from the word haraam, meaning “forbidden”. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. Some Muslims fastduring these days. The tenth day of Muharram is called Yaumu-l ‘Ashurah, which is known by Shia Muslims as ‘the day of grief’.
Many Sunni Muslims fast during this day, because Musa (Moses) and his people obtained a victory over theEgyptian Pharaoh on the 10th day of Muharram; according to them Islamic prophet Muhammadasked Muslims to fast on this day, and also a day extra either before or after, so that they are not similar toJews (since, according to him, Jews used to fast for one day due to the same reason)
Fasting differs among the Muslim groupings; mainstream Shia Muslims stop eating and drinking during sunlight hours and do not eat until late afternoon. Sunni Muslims also fast during Muharram for the first ten days of Muharram, just the tenth day or on both the ninth and tenth days; the exact term depending on the individual. Shia Muslims do so to replicate the sufferings of Hussein ibn Ali on the Day of Ashura. Shia Muslims, go further in their attempts of replication, including self-flagellation.
Muharram and Ashura
Muharram is a month of remembrance that is often considered synonymous with the event of Ashura. Ashura, which literally means the “Tenth” in Arabic, refers to the tenth day of Muharram. It is well-known because of historical significance and mourning for the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad.
Shias start the mourning from the 1st night of Muharram and continue for two months and eight days. However the last days are the most important since these were the days where Hussein and his family and followers (consisting of 72 people, including women, children and aged people) were killed by army of Yazid I at the Battle of Karbala on his orders, Surviving members of the family of Hussein and that of his followers were taken captive and marched to Damascus and imprisoned there.
Muharram is also observed by Dawoodi Bohras in the same way as Shias.They practice prayers on the sayings of the present dawah of Bohras, Mohammed Burhanuddin. On the tenth day of Muharrum, they pray for Hussein till the magrib namaz. When the namaz ends, Hussein is considered shahid by Yazid. It is also close to the day of resurrection because it said in a book that this world will one day come to an end on Friday 10th of Muharram.
With the sighting of the new moon the Islamic New Year is ushered in. The first month, Muharram is one of the four sacred months that God has mentioned in the Quran.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year, Muharram migrates throughout the solar years. The estimated start and end dates for Muharram are as follows (based on the Umm al-Qura calendar of Saudi Arabia).
Mourning of Muharram
The Mourning of Muharram is an important period of mourning in Shia Islam, taking place in Muharram which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is also called the Remembrance of Muharram (Arabic: ذكرى محرم or مناسبة محرم). Many of the events associated with the remembrance take place in congregation halls known as Hussainia.
The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when ImamHussain ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and aShia Imam, was killed by the forces of the second Umayad caliph Yazid I. The event is marked by arranging ‘majalis’ (gatherings) to review Islamic teachings and to commemorate Imam Hussain’s sacrifice. The mourning reaches its climax on the tenth day, known as Ashura, on which the forces of Yazid killed the 72 individuals who fought, including Imam Hussain and his family and supporters. The women and children left living were made prisoners and transported to Yazid’s court in Damascus.
The words Azadari and Majalis-e Aza have been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Majalis-e Aza, also known as Aza-e Husayn, includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief and above all, repulsion against what Yazid stood for.
The term majalis has both a grammatical meaning and a meaning which relates to Aza-e-Husayn. In its technical sense, a majalis is a meeting, a session or a gathering..
Shia Muslims in Amroha Uttar Pradesh, India Children on camels in front of Azakhana or Hosania Juloos as part of the commemoration of Muharram
According to Shia sources, The Azadari of Muharram was started by the family ofMuhammad (the Ahl-ul-Bayt) after the death of Muhammad’s grandson Husayn ibn Ali at theBattle of Karbala in 680 AD. Following the battle of Karbala, Muhammad’s granddaughterZaynab bint Ali and sister of Husayn, began mourning for the fallen and making speeches against Husayn ibn Ali’s opponents: Ibn Ziyad and Yazid I. News of Husayn ibn Ali’s death was also spread by Imam Zain-ul-Abideen, who succeeded Husayn as the Shia Imam, via sermons and speeches throughout Iraq, Syria and Hejaz.
Zainab and Zain-ul-Abideen informed the people that Yazid had martyred Imam Husayn and seventy-two of his companions including his six month old son Ali Asghar, and that their women and children were taken as prisoners to Syria. When word of mourning reached Yazid he decided to release the captive women and children from the prison in Damascus, out of fear of public revolt against his rule. He sent for Zain-ul-Abideen, informed him of the impending release and asked if he wished for anything further. Zain said he would consult with Zainab. She asked Yazid to provide a place where the people could mourn for Imam Husayn and others of Muhammad’s household. A house was provided, and here Zaynab binte Ali held the first Majlis-e Aza of Husayn and started the Mourning of Muharram.
The mourning and commemoration for Husayn ibn Ali originated in Iraq, as this is where Husayn was martyred. However, they were held in Iran as early as the twelfth century, when both Sunnis and Shias participated in them. In the Safavid period, the annual mourning ceremonies for Imam Hosayn, combined with the ritual cursing of his enemies, acquired the status of a national institution. Expressions of grief such as sine-zani (beating the chest), zangir-zani (beating oneself with chains), and tage-zani or Qama Zani also known as Tatbeer (hitting oneself with swords or knives) emerged as common features of the proliferating mourning-processions (dasta-gardani). Mourning for the martyred Imam also takes place in assemblies held in buildings erected especially for the purpose, known either as Hussainia or takia, as well as in mosques and private houses.
Azadari in Lucknow
The Muharram, 1795:
In Lucknow, India, the Muharram processions and rituals are known as Azadari. The processions, including the Chup Tazia, have been observed since the sixteenth century or earlier, when Lucknow was capital of the state of Awadh.
In the 20th century, beginning in 1906, Azadari became a focus of communal tension in Lucknow. In 1977, after riots broke out for the fourth time since 1968, the government of Uttar Pradesh banned the Azadari processions. Shia leaders protested the ban, and many Shia Muslims courted arrest by defying the ban each year.
In 1997 a hunger strike was launched to protest the Azadari ban. In April three Shia youths committed self-immolation and died. A noted Shia scholar called for a peace march on 18 April 1997 that reportedly drew more than 200,000 Shias.
Late in the year, after months of arrests and clashes between police and protesters, the government granted limited permission for Shias in Lucknow to hold Azadari processions.
Types of mourning
How the event is mourned differs between different branches of Shia and different ethnic groups. The event is also observed by many Sunnis, but to a lesser extent, and as a time of remembrance, rather than mourning.
In the Twelver three traditional schools (Usooli, Akhbari, and Shaykhi), mourners, both male and female, congregate together (in separate sections) for sorrowful, poetic recitations performed in memory of the death of Husayn, lamenting and grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of “Ya Husayn.” Passion plays are also performed, reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and death of Husayn at the hands of Yazid. They offer condolences to Imam-e-Zamana also known as Imam al-Mahdi whom they believe will avenge the blood of Husayn and bring justice to the world.
Twelver Alevis also mourn, and they keep themselves from eating and drinking (“fasting”) the first 10–12 days of Muharram. In this period, the Alevis wear black clothes, do not shave themselves and avoid any type of entertainment and pleasure. Originally, it was also forbidden to bathe and change clothes during this period, but today most Alevis do not follow this rule. This is called “Muharrem Matemi”, “Yas-i Muharrem” or “Muharrem orucu”. But because it is also called “fasting”, many people falsely think that Alevis celebrate the Muharram. The definition of the “fast” in this connection is different from the normal type of “fasting”.
The only Ismaili group which mourns are the Mustaali, who mourn similarly to the majority of Twelvers.
For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques to provide free meals (nazar) on certain nights of the month to all people. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Imam Husayn, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with Allah, Imam Husayn, and humanity.
In South Asia, a number of literary and musical genres, produced by both Shias and Sunnis, that have been inspired by the Battle of Karbala are performed during the month, such as marsiya, noha and soaz. This is meant to increase the peoples understanding of how the enemies foughtThe Battle of Karbala against Husayn and his followers. In Trinidad and Tobago andJamaica all ethnic and religious communities participate in the event, locally known as “Hosay” or “Hussay”. In Indonesia, the event is known as Tabuik(Minangkabau language) or Tabut (Indonesian).
Many Shia also tend to embark on a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala itself, as it is one of the holiest places for Shias outside of Mecca and Medina. Up to one million pilgrims a year visit the city to observe the anniversary of Husayn ibn Ali’s death. The shrine is located opposite that of Abbas ibn Ali.
Many of the male and female participants congregate together in public for ceremonial chest beating (matam) as a display of their devotion to Imam Husayn and in remembrance of his suffering. In some Shi’a societies, such as those in Bahrain, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Iraq, some male participants incorporate knives or razors swung upon chains into their matam. This practice has been forbidden by most shia scholars including Iran’s Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenai and the Lebanese senior cleric Sayyed Moahamd Hussein Fadlullah. Such scholars consider it to be an innovation whose practice is forbidden by Islam.
One form of mourning is the theatrical re-enactment of the Battle of Karbala. In Iran this is called taziya or taziyeh. Theatrical groups that specialize in taziya are called taziya groups. Taziyas were popular through theQajar dynasty until the early twentieth century, but the re-enactments slowly declined until they were mostly abandoned in the large cities by the early 1940s. Nonetheless, taziyas continued to exist in Iran on a smaller scale especially in more rural and traditional areas. Reza Shah, the first of the Pahlavi dynasty, had outlawed taziyas. Despite some attempts since 1979, Muharram processions and various forms of the rawza khani are still more common.
In South Asia where dramatic commemorations are less significant, ta’zīya came to refer specifically to the miniature mausoleums used in processions held in Muharram. It all started from the fact that the great distance of India from Karbala prevented Indian Shi’is being buried near the tomb of Imam Husayn or making frequent pilgrimages(ziyarat) to the tomb. This is the reason why Indian Shi’is established local karbalas on the subcontinent by bringing soil from Karbala and sprinkling it on lots designated as future cemeteries. Once the karbalas were established on the subcontinent, the next step was to bring Husayn’s tomb-shrine to India. This was established by building replicas of Husayn’s mausoleum called ta’zīya to be carried in Muharram processions. Thousands of ta’zīyas in various shapes and sizes are fashioned every year for the months of mourning of Muharram and Safar; and are carried in processions and may be buried at the end of Ashura or Arbain.
A banner (alam) being carried in a procession during the Remembrance of Muharram in Bahrain.
Surely, there exists in the hearts of the Mu’ mineen, with respect to the martyrdom of Husayn, a heat that never subsides.
O Fatimah! Every eye shall be weeping on the Day of Judgment except the eye which has shed tears over the tragedy of Husayn for surely, that eye shall be laughing and shall be given the glad tidings of the bounties and comforts of Paradise.
Ali ibn Hussein said:
Every Mu’min, whose eyes shed tears upon the killing of Husayn ibn’ Ali and his companions, such that the tears roll down his cheeks, God shall accommodate him in the elevated rooms of paradise.
Ali said to Ibn Abbas:
Once when he happened to pass by Karbala), Isa (Jesus) sat down and began to weep. His disciples who were observing him, followed suit and began weeping too, but not comprehending the reason for this behaviour, they asked him: “O’ Spirit of God! What is it that makes you weep?” Isa (Jesus) said: “Do you know what land this is?” The disciples replied: “No.” He then said: “This is the land on which the son of the Prophet Muhammad shall be killed.
Reason for Mourning
Zaynab binte Ali Sister of Imam Hussain after Karbala vowed that as long as the people do not recognise the actual cause of Karbala, the followers of Hussain will continue to protest on the streets and in the dwellings as to what happened in Karbala. Though besides Sunnisseveral Shias do not know that it’s a protest and invitation to people to come and listen to mourners as to what happened in Karbala.
It is believed by many that Hussain’s journey to Karbala was to claim his Imamat over the people of Kufa who had written letters inviting him to Kufa. Where as per Shia’s belief Husain knew he was to be killed there. He undertook this journey to deny his approval or Bait to Yazidbecoming Caliph because he considered Yazid to be a danger to the Muslim Ummah and a threat to Islam. His sacrifice and revolution were to preserve Islam and his Grandfather’s Ummah against the innovation, hypocrisy, wickedness as well as the attempts to destroy and alter Islam and the quest for worldly pleasures and worldly gains by Yazid and his people. It was a matter of right and wrong, just and unjust and Hussain chose what is just, despite the consequences.