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You are here : home > Indian Culture > Indian Festivals and occassions > Muharram

Muharram

The first month in the Islamic calendar

Contrary to popular belief, Muharram is not a particular day, but the name of a month that marks the beginning of the year according to the Islamic calendar. Muharram is one of four months that have been designated as holy according to the Islamic calendar, the other three being - Dhul-Qa'adah, Dhul-Hijjah and Rajab. 
 

Fasting in the month of Muharram

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.
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