The Islamic calendar begins with Muharram-ul-Haram, the month of Muharram. It is among the four sacred months of Islam for Muslims across the globe. The term Muharram (meaning forbidden) is the second holiest month after Ramzan for Muslims in the Islamic calendar. The first day of the first month marks the beginning of the new year. The 10th day is known as the Day of Ashura. It is observed as a day of mourning, marking the death of Imam Hussein and his family. Hazrat Imam Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet.
The month of Muharram is dedicated to fasting and praying. During this month, Muslims refrain from involving in any joyous event. They come together on this day to mourn the death of Imam Hussein (peace and blessings are upon him). They also express sadness and grief in different ways to honor his martyrdom.
Since Muharram is the beginning of the Islamic New Year, it is widely celebrated by Muslims around the globe. It is treated as one of the sacred and important festivals by the community. This is also a religious month, next only to Ramadan. Muslims indulge in spiritual acts such as prayer and fasting in this sacred month.
Many historical and religious events highlight the importance of the month. For Muslims, the first 10 days of the month are for mourning. They honor this period of the month, as during this period Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was martyred in the Battle of Karbala. Thus, the 10th day is known as the Day of Ashura. They remember the sacrifice of their humble army of Hussain, which consisted solely of his friends and family, including women and young children. Prophet Muhammad also migrated from Mecca to Medina in the month of Muharram. The migration is known as Hijrah.
The history of Muharram dates to around 14 centuries back when Prophet Muhammed and his companions were forced to move from Mecca to Medina. This happened on the first day of Muharram in Circa 622 AD. The holy Prophet was debarred from spreading the message of Islam in Mecca. It is then that Imam Hussain, the son of Hazrat Ali and the grandson of the Prophet led a revolution against Caliph Yazid which resulted in the Battle of Karbala. Hence, it is on the 10th day of Muharram in 680 AD that during the battle he was martyred. And this day is celebrated by Muslims in remembrance of his sacrifice. Although Imam Hussain was martyred in the battle, his victory and message of justice, kindness, and equality still live among his followers.
There is another historic interpretation where it is believed that on the 10th day of Muharram, Moses (an important prophet in Islam) led the people of Israel through the Red Sea and gained victory over the Egyptian Pharaoh. Hence, this day of the Muharram month is observed without any sadness and grief by certain sections of Muslims.
- Fasting is among the traditional Ibadat or worship during Muharram. During Muharram fasting was also obligatory but was later made optional after Ramadan.
- As Muharram is believed to be a month of mourning, different forms of grief and penance are practiced by various sects. Muslims refrain from dressing up and wearing jewelry as a symbol of mourning over the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. They wear only black colored clothes.
- Some Muslims also participate in processions and lash themselves.
- Muharram is a month of non-violence. It is not encouraged for Muslims to be involved in a war or involve themselves in any form of violence.
- Muslims attend prayer sessions in mosques and spend time with their family during this time. Special dishes are cooked on the 10th day of Muharram or the last day of the fast.
- The traditional serving of Muharram food is through sharing. Food is also served in large quantities suitable for family and communal meals.
Muharram is amongst the blessed months in the Islamic calendar, as it is also the month when the Hijri year begins. Muharram fasting is emphasized and is said to be better than any other month after Ramadan. Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast during the 9th and 10th days of the month. As per him fasting on the Day of Ashura wipes out the sins of the previous years. The first day of the month marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year. Muslims celebrate it by visiting the mosque and spending time with their family and friends. They also exchange homemade sweet rice with near and dear ones.