Muharram is the sacred month of the Islamic calendar. The word ‘Muharram’ is derived from the word ‘haram’ which literally means ‘forbidden’. It symbolises the beginning of the Muslim New Year. The tenth day of Muharram is the day of ‘Ashura’. Unlike any other Islamic festival, Ashura is not a festival of joy and celebration. It is a sacred festival in remembrance of the death of Husayn Ibn Ali. Muslims observe the day by wearing black color clothes and visiting mosques and shrines. Ashura is observed differently among Shi’a and Sunni Muslims.
For Shi’a Muslims, it is the day of remembrance and commemoration of the death of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali in the Battle of Karbala. He was killed in Karbala, a popular place for pilgrimage in Iraq. In a bid to recreate the pain suffered by Husayn people of the Shi’a community organise parades flagellate themselves and beat their chest to express their grief. They also visit their relatives and friends to offer condolences to the martyr Husayn. The day is observed as the public holiday in several Islamic countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, and Bahrain.
Sunni Muslims fast on the day to show gratitude to God. They believe it is the day when God parted the Red Sea for Moses and his followers to escape from the tyrannical rule of Egyptian Pharaoh. Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast on Ashura and on a day before that is on the ninth day, called Tasu’a.
The date keeps changing every year as per the Islamic lunar calendar. In 2018, Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, will be observed on September 20.