Saturday, December 1, 2012


  One of the two holiest Islamic occassions, Muharram shares its name with the first month of the Islamic calendar when it is observed. The event serves to remind Muslims of the brutal assasination of Husayn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his entire family thousands of years ago. Take a tour of our beautiful section on Muharram that includes thematic e-cards, wallpapers, puzzle activities and a whole range of interesting articles covering the different aspects of the occassion. 

History, Traditions and Observance of Muharram

   Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the first day of Muharram, the Islamic New Year is observed by Muslims. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year. Hence it is a little different from the Gregorian calender that is used in the western nations. When compared with the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar, the lunar month of Muharram shifts from year to year.
   The month of Muharram is of great religious significance to Islamic people the world over. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. The word "Muharram" is often considered synonymous with "Ashura", the tenth day of the Muharram month.

"Ashura" is a highly important day for both sects of Islam - the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shia muslims believe that Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, became a martyr at the Battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram in 61 AH(680 AD).
   The pre-Islamic period in the Arabian peninsula was the era of warring tribes. In the absence of a strong leadership, there were conflicts and battles on minor issues. But fighting was prohibited in four months of the year. These months, of which Muharram was one, were considered sacred. Muharram is so called because it was unlawful to fight during this month; the word is derived from the word ‘haram’ meaning forbidden. This period of inactivity was a necessity in heavily decorated replicas of the tomb of the Imam and his family are made for Muharram the era of warring tribes. The tradition was maintained even after the advent of Islam, though provisions to accommodate and accept war in special situations, like a threat to the sovereignty of an empire, were introduced. The gory battle of Karbala was fought against this law and tradition of Islam. The inhabitants on the banks of rivers Euphrates and Tigris were traditional rivals. Their animosity was contained to some extent by Muhammad. But when his son-in-law Hazrat Ali was the Caliph(Muslim civil and religious leader considered to be Allah's representative on earth), the old enmity re-surfaced. Hazrat Ali had two descendants, Hazrat Imam Hussain and Hazrat Imam Hassan. Hussain was the ruler of the part of the empire known today as Iran. The other part in modern Iraq was ruled by the Umayyads. Hussain was called upon by the Shiahs of Kufa, a small town in the Umayyad kingdom, to accept their allegiance and claim his place as the leader of the Islamic community. This was against the wishes of the ruler of Kufa, Yazid, who instructed his governor, Ibn-e-Ziad to take appropriate action. Meanwhile, in response to the call of the Shiahs, Hussain accompanied by his family members, headed for Kufa. When they reached Karbala, en route to Kufa, the forces of the governor surrounded them and their 70 men. Hussain, his family and his troops were tortured and killed, and Hussain's head was severed and presented to the king. They received no help from the Shiahs of Kufa.

   As this tragic incident happened on the tenth day of Muharram, Shia Muslims consider this a day of sorrow. They commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain as a religious occassion called "Muharram" (named after the month of its observance). The occassion starts on the 1st day of Muharram and lasts for 10 days until 10th of Muharram. As Muharram approaches, they put on black clothes, as black is regarded as a color of mourning. During the entire 10 day period, they keep themselves away from music and all joyous events (e.g. weddings) that can distract them in anyway from the sorrowful remembrance of that day. During each of the first nine days of Muharram, "Majalis" (assemblies) are held where Shia orators vividly depict the incident of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his party. Mainstream Shia Muslims fast until the evening. On "Ashura", devoted Muslims assemble and go out in large processions. They parade the streets holding banners and carrying models of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his people, who fell at Karbala. Some Shia sects observe "Ashura" by beating themselves with chains in public, cutting themselves with knives and sharp objects and holding mournful public processions. This is an expression of their grief on the death of their favourite leader Hussain, considered to be the representative of Allah. (But no Shiite scholar affirms any extreme behavior that harms the body and Shia leaders consider such acts as "Haram", or forbidden.) It is a sad occasion and everyone in the procession chants "Ya Hussain", wailing loudly. Generally a white horse is beautifully decorated and included in the procession. It serves to bring back the memory of the empty mount of Hazrat Imam Husain after his martyrdom. Drinking posts are also set up temporarily by the Shia community where water and juices are served to all, free of charge.
   While Shia Muslims consider "Muharram" to be a sorrowful occassion, Sunni Muslims observe it as a festival and look at "Ashura" as a happy day though the religious aspect remain intact. Pious Sunnis keep a fast("roja") on "Ashura" as per the "Hadith"(a tradition based on reports of the sayings and activities of Muhammad and his companions) of Prophet Muhammad. According tothe "Hadith", the Prophet saw the Jews fasting on the 10th of Muharram to commemorate their liberation from Egyptian slavery and the extermination of the army of the Pharoah in the waters of the Red Sea. Prophet Mohammed liked the custom for he believed that it was Allah who saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. He started to fast on the same day as the Jews but he planned to fast on the 9th and 10th from the following year. But death came in between him and his pious wish. Usually, Sunni Muslims are recommended to fast either on the 9th and 10th of Muharram or on the 10th and 11th of Muharram.

The Blood of Truth and sacrifice of Hussain

   It is, of course, precisely relevant. It is said that 'Every day is Ashura and every place Karbala'. That is the unique relevance of life itself. This was a terrible time for Islam - a time when the arrows of the tyrant plunged deep into the body of the offspring of the Last Prophet, Muhammad (peace be with him and his progeny). When the water was denied to the youngest babe-in-hands, Ali Asghar. When the defender of the faith, Abbas, had both arms sliced off for bringing water to the thirsty women and children.
   Husayn was required to submit to a dictator who was the son of a dictator and a grandson of one whose heart was filled with greed and jealousy and who would befriend those whom he knew would support, either blindly or knowingly, his enmity to the Household of the Holy Prophet.
   Rule by Muslims had become tyrannical and rested in the hands of people who were hostile to Islam and who would instigate a slanderous and wicked propaganda campaign against the family of the Holy Prophet and their followers - a slander that would continue for many centuries.
   The remembrance of Hussain is a message to those who wanted to destroy Islam and those who still, blindly or knowingly, follow the path of those that wished to destroy the original Islam as practised by the Holy Prophet , his immediate family and their faithful. Today the spirit of Hussain lives on in every enlightened soul whose motto is: Live like Ali Die like Hussain. Because Ali's life was the Prophet's mirror image and he was closest to the Holy Prophet and Hussain's death is the supreme example of worship and sacrifice.
In this month of Muharram true believers become absorbed in the spirituality of Husayn. In this pure month tears flow forth in anguish for the memory of Husayn. There is just one Husayn. The eternal Husayn. The universal Husayn. Husayn the Redeemer of man and the ultimate example of sacrifice for the truth upon which is mankind's very dependence.


Fasting, Rules, Rites and Recommendations for the tenth day of Muharram, the Asura

   Fasting is advocated in the month of Muharram. The Prophet is believed to have said: The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.” Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet one who fasts in these days out of his own will is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. Fasting on the tenth day of Muharram, called Ashura, is particularly important, as it supposed to lead to great rewards. A person does not have to fast for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit.

Here are some activities that are recommended for the day of Ashurah

1. To observe fast on this day.
2. To give as much charity as you can afford.
3. To perform Nafl Salat prayers.
4. To recite Surah Ikhlas 1000 times.
5. To visit and be in the company of pious Ulema.
6. To place a hand of affection on an orphan’s head.
7. To give generously to one’s relatives.
8. To put surma in one’s eyes.
9. To take a bath.
10. To cut one’s nails.
11. To visit the sick.
12. To establish friendly ties with one’s enemies.
13. To recite Dua-e- Ashurah
14. To visit the shrines of Awliyas and the graves of Muslims.

Muharram - an auspicious time 

   The month of Muharram is also associated with many auspicious events in Islamic history. Allah is supposed to have created the heavens and the earth on this blessed day. On this day He give His infinite blessings and bounties to many of His Prophets and delivered them from the clutches of their enemies. Allah created Hazrat Adam in this month and pardoned him of his mistake. Hazrat Noah’s Ark landed successfully on Mount Judi during this time centuries ago. God is also said to have saved Hazrat Ibrahim from fire and rescued Hazrat Musa from the Pharaoh during the month of Muharram. You must be wondering what there is to mourn about then? The tenth day of Muharram or Ashura is of supreme importance for Shia Muslims as they celebrate the death anniversary of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

The tragedy at Kerbala

   In the month of Muharram many centuries ago, (approximately October 20th 680 A.D.), an event took place in Iraq at a place known as Kerbala on the bank of the river Euphrates. A large army, which had been mobilised by the Umayyad regime, besieged a group of persons numbering less than a hundred and put them under pressure to pay allegiance to the Caliph of the time and submit to his authority. The Caliph was a man much taken with earthly pleasures that deviated from the Islamic way of life. The small group resisted and a severe battle took place in which they were all killed. The leader of the small band of men who were martyred in Kerbala was none other than Imam Husain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet. Imam Husain’s martyrdom at Kerbala represents a conscious confrontation with anti-Islamic forces and a courageous resistance for a sacred cause. The tragedy was that the one who stood up to defend Islam was cut down in so cruel a manner. It is for this reason that the death of Imam Husain is mourned annually in the Muslim world.

Mourning rites

   On Ashura, the Muslims take out processions carrying colourfully decorated taziyas (bamboo and paper replicas of the martyr’s tomb) embellished with gilt and mica. Colourful replicas of Imam Husain’s tomb at Kerbala are also carried in procession and buried at an imitation Karbala. The mourners walk barefoot to the beat of drums. In a frenzy of grief, they beat their chests and cry out the name of Husain. They sometimes even flagellate or whip themselves, drawing blood. Wrestlers and dancers enact scenes depicting the battle at Kerbala. While many Muslims take to the streets to mourn, there are some families that retain personal mourning houses. Lucknow, being the centre of Shia culture and religious activities, observes the rites of mourning with great passion. In places other than Lucknow, the taziyas are taken out and buried in the local burial ground known as Karbala. Sunni Muslims may also commemorate Husayn's death but in a less demonstrative manner, concentrating instead on the redemptive aspect of his martyrdom.


   The Festival of Sacrifice This three-day Muslim festival is celebrated in the month of Dhul Hijjah to pay tribute to Prophet Ibrahim'swillingness to sacrificehis son at god's instruction. Id-ul-Zoha is one of the most important festivals of the Muslims. It is called Id-ul-Adha in Arabic and Bakr-Idin the Indian subcontinent, because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat, orbakr in Urdu. It is celebrated from the10th to the 12th day in the month of Dhul Hijjah. The word id derived from the Arabic iwd means 'festival' andzuha comes from uzhaiyya which translates to 'sacrifice'. Id-ul-Zoha commemorates Prophet Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice hisson on god's orders. According to Islamic belief, to test Ibrahim, Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son Ismail. He agreed to do it but found his paternal feelings hard to suppress. Sohe blind-folded himself before putting Ismail on the altar at the mount of Minanear Mecca. When he removed his bandage after performing the act, hesaw his son standing in front of him,alive. On the altar lay a slaughtered lamb. Joyous festivities and somberrituals mark this event. The main celebrations are on the first day of the three-day festival. According to therules laid down for Id by Prophet Muhammad, every Muslim is expected to take a bath, wear new clothes, applyitr or perfume, walk to the mosque before eating anything, and recite the Takbir aloud. After the prayers which are held in an open space in deference to the directive of the Quran, he is to return home.
   Celebrations on the first day include Do Rakat Namaz, which can beper formed any time from sunrise to just after noon. The prayers during this festival are considered more rewarding than other daily or weekly offerings. Every Muslim owning property worth 400 grams of gold or more is expected to sacrifice a goat, sheep or any otherfour-legged animal during one of the three days of the festival. This symbolises devotion to Allah and his desires. The sacrifical meat is then distributed and partaken of after the Idprayers. Prophet Muhammad had decreed that Id be celebrated for three days to facilitate participation by the entire community. Prayer meetings and Id milans arepart of the festivities. People visit friends and relatives wearing new clothes and jewellery. Children are given idi or gifts and money. In the Indian subcontinent sweets are exchanged. Vermicelli or seviyan, a traditional sweet, is prepared specially for this festival.
   I'd also coincides with the anniversary of the day when the Quran was declared complete. It is the time when many Muslims undertake Hajto Mecca.
During Haj, pilgrims symbolically go through several events in the life of Prophet Ibrahim and his son, Ismail, while building the Kabah. On reaching Mecca, devotees walk around the Kabahs even times and run seven times between the Safa and Marwa hills. After a night halt at Mina, they go tothe Arafat plain, where Muhammad preached his last sermon. They pray together till dusk, spend the night there, then return to Mina to enact the'stoning of the devils' ritual, in which seven stones are thrown at three stone pillars commemorating Ibrahim'srejection of Satan. After sacrificing ananimal, they have their hair shorn off and go around the Kabah seven times,to complete the rites of the pilgrimage. During Haj, men and women are expected to adhere to a very strict code of conduct. Male pilgrims wear only two white sheets of cotton, so thatall of them, whether rich or poor, lookalike. Women have no special dress. They must be covered from head totoe, except that their face is unveiled.The use of cosmetics and soap is prohibited, as is cutting hair and nails. Physical relations are also not permitted. Every Muslim is expected to go for Haj at least once in his life time.The poor and the sick are however,pardoned. Those who cannot undertake the pilgramage are expected to celebrate Id-ul-Zoha.

Muharram Day Dates From 2012-2020

201215th of November-13th of December.
20135th of November-3rd of December.
201425th of October-22nd of November.
201514th of October-11th of November.
20162nd of October - 30th of October
201721st of September - 19th of October.
201811th of September - 9th of October.
201931st of August - 28th of September.
202021st of August - 18th of September.

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