What is Muharram? Five Things to Know About Mourning on Ashura

Hussain is #HopeForHumanity.

4 min read
What is Muharram? Five Things to Know About Mourning on Ashura
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(This article was first published on 30 September 2017 and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives.)

What do Bollywood movies such as Gangs of Wasseypur, PK, and Raees have in common? Each one of these has depicted Muharram processions in its own way, though Muharram is much more than what we see movies.

In this post, we bring to you five things that you must know about Muharram:


What is Muharram?

A Muharram procession in Srinagar, 2015.
(Photo Courtesy: Witness: Kashmir 1986-2016/Syed Shahriyar)

Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year, but it is a period of mourning where Muslim Shia community commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the son of Hazrat Ali and grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

Similar to last year, Dussehra and Ashura (10th day of Muharram) will be celebrated consecutively this year too. Both events in the history marked the battle of similar virtues — right versus wrong.

Around 14 centuries ago, on the day of Ashura, Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was brutally killed by the tyrant ruler of those times for standing for justice and equality. Although Imam Hussain was killed in the battle of Karbala, his message lives on, hence pronouncing his victory.

Hindus and Christians Were on Imam Hussain's Side

Imambara during Muharram. 
(Photo: iStock) 

According to legend, there was a Brahmin family who were staunch supporters of Hussain. They reached Karbala to stand with him, but sadly only after when Hussain was killed in the battle.

Later on, these Brahmins from Indian subcontinent laid down their lives for his cause. Their descendants are known as Hussaini/Dutt Brahmins. Not only this, there was a Christian man named John who was also killed in battle along with Imam Hussain.


Marsiyas – A Form of Urdu Poetry Much Intense Than Ghazals

Marsiya rendition in a majlis.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Asad Haider Zaidi)

We have grown up listening to Mirza Ghalib's ghazals in the voice of the Late Jagjit Singh sahab. But did you know that there is an entire treasure of Urdu poetry which you have been missing out on?

Marsiyas are lamentation poems that are based on the battle of Karbala. Imagine innumerable poems that have been written so far, which in turn have hundreds of couplets about the same battle, and each poem being exquisite and of course different from all others — such is the treasure of Marsiya.

Many of these Marsiyas and couplets are recited with tunes based on different ragas. Lata Mangeshkar, Shreya Ghoshal, Ustaad Raza Ali Khan, and Anoop Jalota are some of the singers who have recited famous Marsiyas by the renowned Urdu poet Mir Anis.


Why do People Mourn his Death?

The story of Karbala is a very tragic one.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Asad Haider Zaidi)

The story of Karbala is a very tragic one. It incites the feeling of empathy and sadness in people every time they listen to it. Imam Hussain was accompanied by his friends and family, including women and young children. They were surrounded by an enemy army of thousands, who had kept them deprived of water and food in the desert heat for three successive days before being brutally killing them.

You cannot resist tears when the story of Hussain’s water-deprived six-month-old son’s killing is told in the traditional renditions during a majlis.


Hussain's Message and its Relevance Today

Hussain said, “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.”
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Asad Haider Zaidi)

Hussain said, "Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves." There is no such thing as being neutral when something wrong is being done in front of you. If people follow this mantra, it would solve most of the problems being faced by our society today.

Hussain could have easily saved his life. But he stood up against the so-called Islamic State of those times, unlike todays ISIS which has nothing to do with Islam. He sacrificed his life for humanity, not for any particular sect or religion.

Hussain is #HopeForHumanity.


(Nida Zehra is an art lover, writer, and poet by heart, she has worked for the corporate sector and publishing houses. She is passionate about bringing a positive change in the society through her social work, and often expresses herself through her poetry and writings in English, Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi on her blog.)

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Topics:  Shia   Muslim   Muharram 

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