You must have seen self-flagellating images, people flogging, whipping oneself and weeping on Muharram. You must have wondered, what has self-harm to do with a religious occasion? A deeper dive into this occasion will change it from a day meant to express pain and self-harm to a day for hailing heroes and celebrating victory.
Muharram falls on the first month of the Islamic, lunar calendar. This religious festival is celebrated as the second holiest month after Ramadan. And every year, Muslims from all the world participate together with great enthusiasm. Muharram is derived from the word ‘haram’ which means ‘forbidden’. It is believed that the history of 'shared-pain' started as a commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. 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. He is believed to have died suffering a great deal while dying for the rights of whole Muslim community.Hence, the mourning.
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As such, Muslim people of Shia community, mourn and beat their chest to express their sorrow and to commemorate all the sufferings of the Imam Hussain and his followers. The community wears black clothes on the opening day of Muharram and submits prayers till the end of this month. The colour black denoting the colour of grief. And on the tenth day they take their processions out on the streets. The followers walk barefoot on the roads, singing and weeping as an act of mourning for their beloved leader Hussain.
During the whole month of Muharram, the first ten days of this festival are dedicated to mourning for the sacrifices and sufferings of Imam Hussain.
Although, both the Sunnis and the Shias have a different aspect of belief. The Sunni sect believes in fasting and offering ‘namaz’ on the day of Muharram.
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The importance of this religious festival in a secular country like India is shown by it being marked as a gazetted holiday. As such, post offices, banks and government offices remain closed as a mark of respect for this religious occasion.