By Aafaque Hussain
Muharram is observed at the advent of the Islamic New Year by Muslims around the globe. It is regarded as a pious and important month by the community.
This month is the second holiest divine month, right after Ramadan. Muharram is also one of the four sacred months which are mentioned in the Quran, with the seventh month of Rajab and not forgetting the eleventh and twelfth months of Dhu al-Qi’ dah and Dhu al-Hijjah.
Muharram, means “forbidden” and since it is considered to be holy, many Muslims use it as a period of prayer and reflection and it is for people in the community to fast during this holy month.
Muharram marks the anniversary of the battle of Karbala, where the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussain Ibn Ali was killed.
Muslims throughout the world remember the massacre on the 10th day, Ashura, with some choosing to fast.
Going back fourteen centuries on the day of Ashura, Imma Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and his little son were brutally murdered by a cruel ruler in the battle of Karbala.
It was troubling times for his family, as well. After the death of Imma Hussein, the remaining members of the family were imprisoned and treated harshly.
Even though Hussein died in the battle, his message of justice, equality and kindness was spread among the people who loved him and hence commemorate this day in his honour.
During the tenth day of the month, which is also known as Day of Ashura, Muslims mourn, and observe fasts throughout the world.
The Shia Muslim sect are often seen practicing chest-beating, which is referred to as Latyma and some also self-flagellate and cut their foreheads. Sunni Muslims consider Ashura as a day of respect for the Prophet Moses but do not partake in the ritual.
During this solemn time of Muharram, observing Muslims refrain from taking part in joyous events and it is customary to read Ziarat Ashura – the book containing salutations to the martyrs of Karbala, on the Day of Ashura.
Muslims celebrate the new year by visiting the mosque, praying to the Almighty for their well-being and by spending time with their family and near and dear ones on the holiday.
The Shia Muslims mourn in memory of Hussein and his 72 followers who were killed by an army of an unjust ruler known as Yazid. This martyrdom and the honour of the martyrs is marked by prayers and abstinence from pleasure.
It is also believed that fasting during this festival atones the sins of the coming year.
As the D-day is only a few days away, hectic preparations are on in different localities of Shillong where Muharram is observed.
During Muharram, religious processions are taken out in the city by different Muharram Akhara Committees from Mawbah, Jhalupara, Police Bazar and Laban.
Speaking with the Secretary of the Jhalupara Muharram Akhara Committee, Jalaluddin Akbar, recounted that Muharram first started being observed in Shillong since 1947 when India attained its Independence.
“The flags and the drums that are taken out and played during the procession were first brought by our forefathers to celebrate the country’s freedom in 1947 and since then, we have been observing Muharram in Shillong”, remembers Akbar.
He recalled that Jhalupara Muharram Akhara Committee was the first committee to commence this procession in Shillong after which even the Laitumkhrah Muharram Akhara Committee took to our parade, followed by other localities too.
Elaborating on the many demonstrations during the march, Akbar says, “The faithful perform these exhibits with sticks and swords which is an art just like martial arts.”
He also recalled that way back in the 1970’s, different Akhara Committees from different parts of Shillong would assemble in Police Bazar and would execute this performance the entire night.
In concluding words, Akbar also added that from 1st Muharram to 10th Muharram, people also organise religious meetings as a way of earning rewards for themselves from God.
In reflection, Muharram marks a crucial month among the other 12 lunar months similar to all faiths.