Muharram, the month of ‘mourning’

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and regarded as a mourning month.

Image source- Vivas own work

Muharram is held to be the second holiest month, after Ramadan . Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Muharram moves from year to year when compared with the Gregorian calendar. The tenth day of Muharram is known as the Day of Ashura, mourning day for Shia Muslims and a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims.

Origin of Muharram and Ashura

Image – The battle of Karbala

Image source

Muharram is referred to as the month of no fighting, it is actually unlawful to fight during this month. The word is derived from the word ‘haram’ which means forbidden. It is regarded as the second most sacred month of all the months after Ramadan. Hussein Ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was brutally massacred in Karbala along with his family and friends during this month.

Their martyrdom is a sad day for all Muslims, especially the Shia, who hold mourning ceremonies to recall the righteous virtues for which the valiant martyrs stood and the grave calamities that they thus had to bear. The commemoration of this brutal massacre begins on the first day of Muharram and reaches its climax on the 10th day of Muharram, the day of the battle, known as Ashura and continues for 40 days or 69 days.

Traditions and rituals

The Shia traditions are very different from that of the Sunni. Hussein Ibn Ali is regarded highly by the Shia people, since he was a descendant of Muhammad. The Sunnis fast on both ninth and tenth of the month to show respect. The Shias dedicate this month to mourn the memory of the son of Hussein. Out of difference, they choose to avoid any festivity and celebration. The Shias do not fast on Ashura. They make a conscious attempt to recite the Ziyarat Ashura in the holy month, which is a prayer to Hussein Ibn Ali, however, they do try to read this text throughout the year as well.

The reading of the Ziyarat is not the only activity performed on the Ashura since for 1300 years Shia men have taken part in self-flagellating themselves during Ashura.

Image- Self-flagellation of Shia Muslims

Image source – AP

Image source- AP

This ritual is performed all over the world in countries like India, Iran, Iraq, Greece and Pakistan. While some hurt themselves by cutting themselves with knives, blades or even chains, others cover themselves with mud and light bonfires. The use of knives to cut bodies is banned in Iran and Lebanon but is practised in countries like Bangladesh and India. The battle of Hussein Ibn Ali is said to be against oppression and tyranny. It is seen as a symbol of struggle against injustice.

Image- Muharram parade in Pakistan

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There are parades and marches all over the world. The Sunnis fast on the ninth and tenth day of Muharram. They are not allowed to listen to music, groom hair and wear new clothes on the day of Ashura. People cannot cook good food celebrate birthdays or even marriages during this month. According Salik Ali Khan, a resident of Chennai, “It is the month of sadness for us, we do not celebrate anything during this month. We are supposed to fast on the ninth and tenth day of Muharram. We also do not marry during this month of the year. But nowadays many people do not follow this traditions.”

There are many rituals and traditions regarding this month, but people nowadays tend to follow the traditional and ritualistic aspects they like to follow.