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Home > Religious Festivals > Muslim Festivals > Muharram
MuharramIt is the tenth day of the first Muslim month, Muharram. The observance is also called Muharram. It commemorates the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Hussein and the battle at Karbala in 680 CE. The long Muharram processions with their Taziahs (gorgeous replicas of the martyr’s tomb), masked dancers and colourful crowds, give the appearance of a gay festival. But, in reality the apparent pageant is an expression of grief and distress.

After the death of the Prophet, the question of succession arose. Islam believes in the finality of Muhammad in the prophetic tradition. As the spiritual head of Muslims, there could be no successor to the Prophet. The Koran is considered the final word in revelation. Any dispute about doctrine and practice was to be settled by a reference to this book of books, which was comprehensive in all respects. But, the question of temporal succession to the position of the Caliph or the Commander of the Faithful, had to be decided by the Prophet`s followers. Muhammad himself named no successor. He had no sons but only a daughter named Fatima who was married to Ali and had two sons, Hasan and Hussein.

MuharramAmong the Arabs, clan loyalties were generally stronger than heredity. After the Prophet`s death, disputes arose as to who should succeed, him as the Caliph. One faction maintained that succession could remain only in the Prophet`s family while another faction rejected this. In the end, Abu Bakr, who had been a staunch ally of the Prophet during the early days of his mission and had enjoyed his confidence, was elected Caliph. He was an able man. During his reign and that of his successors, Umar and Uthman , there was no serious trouble about succession. They both were assassinated. But, when Ali was elected the fourth Caliph, there was open rebellion. Ali too was assassinated. His son Hasan, who succeeded him, was poisoned. Now the war of succession assumed serious proportions. Hussein, Ali`s other son, was killed in action in very tragic circumstances at the battle of Kerbela. The hope that Ali`s descendants would lead the Muslim world was crushed. This for the time being, settled the question of succession, but it left a bitterness that divided the Muslim world, into two: Sunnis and Shiahs. The latter accept validity of succession by heredity alone, and consider Ali, Hasan, Hussein and their descendants the rightful Caliphs, and some of those who reigned in their lifetime and after as usurpers, which contention the Sunnis reject.

While all sections of Muslims mourn the murder of the martyrs, the Shiahs consider the killing of Hussein at Kerbela a particularly heinous crime and give themselves up to public lamentations during Muharram.
Hussein was martyred on the tenth day of Muharram, the first ten days are spent in fasting, prayer and mourning. A procession is taken out on the 10th day, and the mourners give themselves up to frenzied expressions of grief. A horse is led in the procession, along with the Taziahs, in memory of Husseins’s horse Dul Dul. Some parts of India masked dancers lead the procession. After the procession, the Taziahs are buried or sunk in tanks, rivers or the sea.

A person does not have to fast for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit. Muslim observes fast on this day; give as much charity as he can afford; performs Nafl Salat prayers and recites Surah Ikhlas 1000 times.

KarbalaSome sects of Muslims hold meetings where speeches are made on the happenings of Karbala and on the lives of martyrs. The Shias, however, observe this festival in a different fashion. They put on black clothes, as black is regarded as a color of mourning. Majalis (assemblies) are held every day during the first nine days where Shia orators relate the incident of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussein and his party in a great detail. On the 10th day of Muharram, large processions are formed and the devoted followers parade the streets holding banners and carrying models of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussein and his people, who fell at Karbala. They show their grief and sorrow by inflicting wounds on their own bodies with sharp metal tied to chains with which they scourge themselves. This is done in order to depict the sufferings of the martyrs. It is a sad occasion and everyone in the procession chants "Ya Hussein", with loud wails of lamentation. Generally, a white horse beautifully decorated for the occasion is also included in the procession, to mark the empty mount of Hazrat Imam Hussein after his martyrdom. Mourners, both male and female, congregate together (in separate sections) for sorrowful, poetic recitations performed in memory of the martyrdom of Hussein. Passion plays are also performed, re-enacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and death of Hussein at the hands of Yazid. It is not a festival - the event is the saddest event for Shia Muslims and it is a period of intense grief and mourning.

Some of the elegies sung by the Shias (specially, in Uttar Pradesh) in their Muharram procession include uncomplimentary references to certain Caliphs, held in honour by the Sunnis who register the protest by pelting the singers with stones.

Mosques provide free meals (nazar) on certain nights of the month to all people. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Hussein, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with God, Hussein and humanity.

The Muslims also believe that Allah created Adam and Eve on the tenth day of Muharram.
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