Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year, but it is a period of mourning where Muslim Shia community commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the son of Hazrat Ali and grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
On the tenth day of the month, Imam Hussain Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the third Imam of the Shia community, was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
The word ‘Muharram’ means forbidden and sinful. Some Muslims observe fast during those days and the tenth day of Muharram is known as the day of Ashura which is the mourning session.
Shias men mourn the death of Imam Hussain Ali by working themselves into a frenzy and whipping themselves with sharp objects. There are cries of ‘Ya Hussain’ and recitation of marsiyas (elegies) and noha-khwani (poems which express sorrow).
Mourners use various objects such as knives, chains which have blades attached to them and other weapons in acts of self flagellation to show solidarity with the martyrs. Others cry and beat their chests in mourning. This exemplifies the suffering Imam Hussain Ali experienced shortly before his beheading. The day stands as a symbol of struggle against injustice and oppression. In recent years, some Shia clerics have been discouraged the bloodletting, saying it creates a negative image of their community.
Sunni Muslims observe the day in a much quieter way by fasting and holding gatherings to remember the sacrifices of Imam Hussain.
More Facts About Muharram
1- Ashura is the 10th day of the of Muharram when Imam Hussein was killed in battle in 680 AD.
2- On the first day of Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar, the army of Caliph Yazid laid siege to Hussain and followers in the desert near Kerbala (in present day Iraq). Hussain was killed in battle 10 days later after he had refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid.
3- Hussain was decapitated and his head was taken to Damascus, the seat of the Ummayad dynasty to which Yazid belonged.
4- Hussain’s followers were those who believed that Ali, as Prophet’s son in law, was his natural successor and his sons after him. They believed that Allah chose Ali to be the Prophet’s successor and the first caliph.
5- After Ali’s death, his younger son Hussain led his followers in a battle against Yazid and was martyred on the 10th day of Muharram.
6- The death of Hussain eventually led to the division of Islam into the two main Sunni and Shia sects.
7- Shias, which literally means followers, mourn his death every year by bloody self-flagellation or cutting themselves by sharp objects such as blades and knives to signify the suffering Imam Hussain experienced shortly before his death.
8- Muharram is a period of intense grief and mourning where people from the community gather to mark the day.
9- 10th Muharram also marks the day when Prophet Musa (Moses, who is believed to be an ancestor of Prophet Muhammad) was saved from the Pharaoh of Egypt by God.
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