Why & How Muharram (Ashura) is Celebrated, it's History & Significance

Muharram marks the beginning of the first month of the Islamic calendar. Considered to be an important festival among the Muslim community, the Muharram celebration continues for a period of 10 days.

The 10th day of Muharram, referred to as 10 Muharram or the Day of Ashura, is celebrated and observed differently among various parts of the Muslim community.

History of Muharram

According to legends, the third Shia Imam Husayn ibn Ali was the son of Hazrat Ali and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. It is believed that in 680 AD Husayn ibn Ali protested against Caliph Yazid and led a revolution against him.

This led to the Battle of Karbala where he was beheaded and his family was imprisoned. Therefore, Shia Muslims observe the Day of Ashura as the day that Husayn ibn Ali was martyred.

On the other hand, the Day of Ashura is an auspicious day for Sunni Muslims. They believe that on the 10th day of Muharram, Moses led the people of Israel through the Red Sea and gained victory over the Egyptian Pharaoh.

Although it is celebrated differently, the festival of Muharram holds great importance among Muslims and is also considered to one of the holiest months of the year after Ramzan.

How is Ashura celebrated?

Shia and Sunni Muslims from all over the world take part in Muharram celebration. However, Shia Muslims observe the Day of Ashura in a different way.

As it is the day of remembrance for Husayn ibn Ali, Shia Muslims observe this 10-day period as a time of mourning. Dressed in black, they attend special prayer meetings at mosques and other public places.

Weddings and other celebrations are avoided as they prefer taking part in street processions. Also, they take part in chants while whipping their chests as a way of remembering the sacrifice of Husayn ibn Ali.

Sunni Muslims observe this 10-day period as a time of fasting as they remember the victory of Moses over the Pharaoh of Egypt. This period of fasting is voluntary and it believed that the people who fast will be rewarded by Allah.

Muharram celebration in India

While Muharram celebration takes place all over the country, the festival is widely celebrated in states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. The Muslim community in Kerala, known as Mappilas, celebrate Muharram by carrying out processions in memory of Husayn ibn Ali.

In Hyderabad, Shia Muslims organise parades and processions where the book of Ziarat Ashura is read. This book is known to contain salutations to the martyrs of the Battle of Karbala.

The 10 Muharram or the Day of Ashura is a public holiday in India. Government offices, institutions, post offices and banks are closed on this day.

Muharram 2020

This year, Muharram falls on 29th August, 2020. However, as the country is currently dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, all religious programmes that involve public gatherings have been banned.

The government has asked people to observe Muharram at home as there are strict restrictions on any kind of gathering. Also, different state governments have urged citizens to take part in initiatives like blood donation camps to help curb the spread of Covid-19.