What is it?
This month is a period of mourning as well as the New Year for Muslims. It is the first month of the year in the Isalmic calendar. The Shias observe a period of mourning in remembrance for the martyrdom of Hussain (Ali’s son and Muhhammad’s grandson). It is considered to be the second holiest of months behind Ramadan. It is also known as Ashura (the tenth day).
When is it?
Muharram or the sacred month marks the beginning of the Muslim year. Muharram begins on Saturday 1st October and ends on Monday 31st October, 2016. The celebrated work holiday is on Wednesday 12th October in 2016.
Hussain was brutally murdered by the troops of Ummayyad Caliph Yazid on the tenth day of Muharram (meaning “forbidden”). Hussain fought bravely and was the last on the battlefield before he was murdered. Hussain’s violent death is remembered by the faithful who mourn his martyrdom.
How is it remembered?
As soon as the new moon appears devotees gather in the imambara ( a building or rooms used by Shi’ites for ceremonies, especially during the first ten days of Muharram). In some places a pit is dug in which a fire is lighted every evening. Devotees run around it calling out: “Ya Ali! Shah Hasa! Dulha! Haie Dost! Rahiyo! Oh Ali!”
Every evening devotees hold gatherings and remember the events of the life of Hussain. They dress in black and attend the solemn assemblies to listen to speeches about the bloody battle of Karbala. They avoid music and refuse to attend any joyful events (e.g. weddings). Muslims are forbidden from engaging in warfare.
On the tenth night there are processions in the streets with colourful banners and depictions of the martyr. They walk barefoot, chant and weep whilst dancers re-enact the Battle of Karabala. On the twelfth night devotees sit up all night reading the Quran. On the thirteenth day food is cooked and given to the poor.
Sunni Muslims will fast and pray from the 1st until the 10th or 11th.