By Sadia Dehlvi
Nov 22, 2012
This month of Muharram, which means “sacred” ushers in the Islamic New Year. Even in pagan Arabia, Muharram was one of the four sacred months in which war and bloodshed were forbidden. Prophet Mohammed endorsed the tradition, encouraged his followers to meditate, reflect, engage in charitable acts and keep voluntary fasts during this month. He said, “The best of fasts besides the month of Ramadan is the fasting in Allah’s month of Muharram.”
The 10th of Muharram, traditionally called “Ashura” is said to be amongst the most blessed of days. It is associated with many important prophetic events in Islam. It is believed that on this day God accepted Adam’s appeal for forgiveness, rescued Prophet Jonah from the fish’s abdomen, restored the health of Job, saved Abraham from the fire of Nimrod, granted Solomon his kingdom, anchored Noah’s ark at Mount Judi after it had been sailing for six months; parted the Red Sea for Moses to save his followers from the tyrannical rule of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
The 10th of Muharram also marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. This tragedy, the biggest in Islamic history, took place at the battleground of Karbala, now in Iraq. In 680 AD, Yazid declared himself as the head of the Islamic Caliphate and demanded allegiance from Imam Hussain.
Imam Hussain, the son of Hazrat Ali and the beloved grandson of Prophet Mohammed, refused to submit to a debauch and corrupt tyrant. He preferred a noble death to accepting a reign of terror, rising against those acting falsely in the name of religion. The Prophet had said that his followers would never unite in supporting corruption. Imam Hussain revolted to reform the nation of his grandfather. This confrontation resulted in the epoch of Karbala. Imam Hussain and 72 of his followers, along with wives, children and infants, were besieged by Yazid’s army of thousands and massacred after being deprived of food and water for days. Imam Hussain bravely faced the volley of arrows till his head was severed from his body.
Imam Hussain’s stand against injustice remains eternal and his martyrdom provides an impetus to the communities of the world that are fighting for human rights. Imam Hussain did not battle evil with worldly power, but with his remarkable courage and spiritual and moral strength.
Karbala represents the eternal clash between the forces of truth and falsehood. Through centuries the heart-breaking events of Karbala are remembered every Muharram. Imam Hussain’s values of justice, truth, courage and sincerity to God are commemorated. Throughout Muharram, particularly in the first 10 days, Muslims have religious gatherings at homes and in public spaces to remember the story of Karbala. Elegies are recited in both Urdu and Persian.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer.