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Muharram Custom

Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. 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. The tenth day of Muharram is known as the Day of Ashura, part of the Mourning of Muharram for Shia Muslims and a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims.

The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala, when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph. Family members accompanying him were killed or subjected to humiliation. The commemoration of this event during the yearly mourning season, with the Day of Ashura as the focal date, serves to define Shia communal identity. Muharram observances are carried out in countries with a sizable Shite population.


Imam Hussain (A.S.) was beheaded by order of the caliph Yazid-ibn-Muawiah (Yazid I), the second caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate. He disapproved of Yazid’s tyrannical rule and explicitly proclaimed that Yazid’s nomination went against the spirit of Islam. He believed that the Caliphate should uphold the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah, thus being vigilant in the pursuit of justice and proclaiming the truth in dedication to God. Accordingly, Imam Hussain (A.S.) refused to give his oath of allegiance to Yazid.


For the Shi’ites, the tragic death of Ḥosayn overshadows all other human tragedies and has assumed almost cosmic proportions. The 1982 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, Elias Canetti (1905-94), writes in his masterpiece Crowds and Power (p. 148): “Emotionally the contemplation of the personality and fate of Husain stands in the center of the faith; they are the mainspring of the believer’s religious experience. His death interpreted as voluntary self-immolation, and it is through his suffering that the saints gain paradise.”

Hussain's Message and its Relevance Today

Hussain said, "Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves." There is no such thing as being neutral when something wrong is being done in front of you. If people follow this mantra, it would solve most of the problems being faced by our society today.

Hussain could have easily saved his life. But he stood up against the so-called Islamic State of those times. He sacrificed his life for humanity, not for any particular sect or religion.

For the Shi’ites, the Muharram tragedy of Husayn is the greatest act of suffering and redemption in history. It acquired a timeless quality, and, therefore, apart from the yearly Muharram observances, Shi’ite continually try to measure themselves against the principle of the paradigm of Husayn whenever they regard themselves as deprived, humiliated, or abused.


A term used for the Shiʿite passion play performed in Persia. It is the sole form of serious drama to have developed in the world of Islam, with the exception of contemporary theater, which was introduced to Islamic countries, along with other Western influences, in the mid-19th century.


According to tradition, Ḥosayn was brutally murdered, along with 72 of his male children, brothers, cousins, and companions, as he contested his right to the Caliphate. The bloody massacre took place in the sunbaked desert of Karbala (Karbalāʾ), about 100 km southwest of present-day Baghdad, on the ʿĀšurāʾ day, the tenth day of the Muslim month of Moḥarram, in the 61st year of the Muslim era, corresponding to 10 October 680 CE.


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