Writer Sadia Ishtiaq
What is Muharram?
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. Instead of joy’s celebration, Muslims (Shia) marks the beginning of the New Year by taking a black attire of sorrow and participate in mourning gatherings in which the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions are commemorated.
What is Karbala?
Karbala is a city in Iraq, located about 100km (6o mi) southwest of Baghdad. In the time of Hussain (AS) ibn Ali’s life, the place is also known as al-Ghadirriyah, Naynawa, and Shathi’ul-Furaat. The city’s associations with Shi-a- Islam have made it the heart of religious and worship instruction; it has more than 100 mosques and 23 religious’ schools.
What is Ashura?
It is also called (Day of Ashura), or simply Ashura meaning (The Tenth Day) is known for being a period of mourning. It is observed with great reverence by Muslims across the globe. According to the Gregorian calendar, the Ashura date varies by a single day region to region as it depends upon the sighting of the moon. Normally a public holiday is declared for this day.10th day of Muharram as it is on this day, Battle of Karbala was fought and Imam Hussain (AS), the grandson of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was brutally massacred in Karbala alongside his family and friends.
Battle of Karbala?
The October 10,680 [10th of Muharram, AH 61], brief military engagement in which a small party led by Hussain ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali, the fourth caliph, was defeated and massacred by an army sent by the Umayyad caliph Yazid. The battle helped secure the position of the Umayyad dynasty, but among Shia Muslims (followers of Hussain) the 10th of Muharram (or Ashura) became an annual holy day of public mourning.
Yazid, I succeeded his father, Mu’awiyah I, to the caliphate in the spring of 680. In the city of Khufah (in modern-day Iraq) those who maintained that the leadership of the Muslim community right belonged to Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib and his descendants invited Hussain to take refuge with them, promising to have him proclaimed caliph there. When Yazid learned about the rebellious attitude of the Shia in Kufah, he sent Ubayd Allah, governor of Basra, to restore order. The latter did so, summoning the chiefs of the tribes, making them responsible for the conduct of their people, and threatening reprisal. Hussain nevertheless set out from Mecca with his family and retainers expecting to be received with enthusiasm by the citizens of Kufah. However, on his arrival at Karbala, west of the Euphrates River, on October 10. he was confronted by a large army of perhaps 4,000 men sent by Ubayd Allah and under the command of Umar ibn Sa’d son of the founder of Kufah. According to Arab culture, anyone accompanying women and children with him is a sign of peace. It was the place where Hussain, his family, and Shi’a (Partisans) were confronted by the army of Yazeed. Hussain refused to pledge allegiance to the tyrant and Yazeed declared war on him.
Hussain, whose retinue mustered perhaps 72 fighting men, nevertheless gave battle, vainly replaying on the promised aid from Kufah. Despite the figure of 72 men against thousands, it is recorded that the battle went on from dawn to dusk. Just imagine the courage that 72 stood in front of thousands for
such a long time. He and his family and followers were killed. Husain fell in the desert of Karbala on that Friday, the 10th of Muharram. Worse was follow. The bodies of the martyrs including the Imam
were not only refused a proper burial but were trampled under the horse’s hooves and were left for the birds. The Kufan army looted the belongings of Husain. Imam’s family including his womenfolk and
tender children were humiliated and taken captives after burning down their camps. The women were paraded with uncovered heads. The women who had accompanied Hussain, including at least one of his wives, his sister Zaynab, and his surviving children, were taken first to Kufah and then across the
desert to Yazid in Damascus. Shia’s tradition has it that Zaynab, among others,s in Kufah formally rebuked
‘Ubayd Allah and in Damasus, and her supposed tombs an important site of pilgrimage for the Shi’ah.
“If Hussain fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam.” -Charles Dickens
The severed heads of the martyrs including Husain were raised on spears. How Yazid played with Husain’s head and the emotions of Imam’s family is a well-documented fact. Karbala to this day remains a heart-wrenching story of exemplary courage and bravery to upload the real principles of Islam.
“In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of Husain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.’’-Edward Gibbon
Fasting on Ashura
The fast of Ashura is one of the most controversial acts of worship in Islam. It is an act of worship that requires thorough dissection and analyses to examine it from a variety of angles.
Abu Huraira (RA)reports that Holy Prophet (SAW) said that after Ramadan, the fast of Muharram has the greatest excellence. [Sahih Muslim]
Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan (RA) relates I heard the Prophet (SWA) said:” it is the Day of Ashura. Allah (SWT) has not made fasting obligatory for you. But I am fasting. He who likes to observe it (does not have to) observe it. “[Sahih Muslim]. The 10th day of Muharram, the Day of Ashura, marks many important events in our Islamic history; it is a day of remembrance. Many of us observe this day by taking up a fast, but why?
On the Day of Ashura, we remember the prophet Musa (as) who freed the slaves in Egypt and escaped the clutches of the Egyptian tyrant when Allah (SWT) defeated the Pharaoh and his soldiers by parting the Red Sea for them to cross into freedom. Musa(as) fought oppression and spoke out against the false worship of the Egyptian Pharaoh, who claimed that he was divine. Allah (set) rewarded the Prophet Musa’s (AS) steadfast belief and dedication by liberating him and the Children of Israel on the Day of Ashura. Each year on this day, Musa (AS) would fast as a way of giving thanks to Allah (SWT) for great liberation.
The Day of Ashura was also the day that Imam Hussain (RA). the Prophet (saw) grandson fought nobly for his innocent friends and relatives, bravely defending their dignity, and fell in battle protecting those he loved and the morality he stood for.
The 10th of Muharram is also the day that Nuh’s (as) ark landed on mount Judi when the great flood subsided. The Prophet Nuh(as) warned his people to stop their worship of false idols and the sinful ways they had taken up, but they refused to listen to him, and in doing so refused the word of Allah (SWT). As a result, Allah (SWT) told Nuh (as) to build an ark, gather pairs of every animal, and boring his family and a group of loyal believers aboard. Allah (SWT)then brought about the Great Flood.
These momentous events all occurred on the 10th day of Muharram and many Muslims fast on the Day of Ashura to commemorate the devotion of Musa(as), the death of Imam Hussain (RA), and the obedience of Nuh (as).
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) fasted on the 10th of Muharram to honour Musa’s (as)dedication to Allah (SWT) and to show devotion himself.
One of the four sacred months
Four of the sacred months in the Islamic calendar are Zil-Qadah, Zil-Hijjah, Muharram, and Rajab.
Ibn Abbas said that this phrase (so do not wrong Yourselves during them …) referred to all months, these four were singled out and made sacred so that these months are more serious and good deeds in these months bring a greater reward.
Lesson from Karbala
The Holy Prophet (S) said: Surely, there in the hearts of the Mu’mineen, for the martyrdom of Husayn (A.S), a heat that never subsides.
On the day of Ashurah, Imam Husain (A) addressed the enemy saying :O followers of Abu Sufyan! If you are not following the teaching of Islam, then as free men, be independent of judgment. On what basis do you fight me now?
Think independently and be fair in your judgment. Don’t journey in this life with your eyes closed, blindly following others.
Ashura is the national mourning day of the oppressed nation and a day of bravery and the new birth of Islam and the Muslims.
This is the blood of the Lord of Martyrs (Imam Hussain) which stirs the blood of all Islamic nations.
Refreshing the memory of Ashura is a task of high political and religious importance.
How to celebrate in Pakistan
Umar, Ubayd Allah, and Yazid came to be regarded by Ali’s supporters as murderers, and their names have since been reviled by the Shi’ah. Shi’a Muslims across the country observe the 10th of Muharram as a day of public mourning; some perform dramas (called ta ‘ziyyah in Arabic), like Christian passion plays, which commemorate the events at Karbala. Some also practice self-flagellation (matam). The tomb of Hussain at Karbala is a very holy site for Shi’ah. Security tightened in Pakistan around the observance of Ashura, Business, transports likely, terror attacks possible. security forces will be on high alert across Pakistan. worshipers stage mourning processing to and from imambargahs, mosques. All routes of worshipers will be served with cold water, juice, meal, and first aid. The Shi’ah Muslim community mourns Imam Hussain’s death by flagellating themselves with sharp objects on Muharram. They cut their bodies covered with mud and lit bonfires in the streets and enact the battle of Karbala. However, in modern times. some Shi’ah Muslims do not adhere to the practice of self – flagellation because it is dangerous. The mourning traditionally starts from the first night of Muharram and continues for ten nights. but now in these days, worshipers celebrate a complete month of Muharram. These are the most significant days. Muharram is the period of intense grief for Shi’ah Muslims and Sunni Muslims. While the Shi’ah flagellate, the Sunni Muslims fast on the 9th,10thand 11th dates of Muharram as it is believed that fasting on these days is a way to make amends for the sins of the coming year. For Sunnis, Ashura marks the day that Moses and his followers (i.e., the children of Israel) were saved from Pharaoh by God by creating a path in the Red Sea. The word Muharram means not permitted or forbidden hence, Muslims are prohibited from taking part in activities like warfare and use it as a period of prayer and reflection.