What is Muharram?
What is Muharram?
The months of Muharram and Safar offer the yearly opportunity to commemorate the martyrdom of al‑Husayn ibn `Ali (A), the grandson of the Prophet (S) and the third Imam of the Shiite Muslims, at Karbala’ on the tenth of Muharram in the year 61. The tragedy and heroism of the event, the resistance and self‑sacrifice of the martyrs, are remembered during these days by the Shi`ah and the Ahl al‑Sunnah alike, and by the Shi`ah with a special ardour, fervour and enthusiasm.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the ardour and enthusiasm inspired by the martyrs of Karbala’ is something unsurpassed in the history of religions. No individual or group in the history of the world has attracted such sustained admiration and love in the hearts of their followers as the martyrs of Karbala’ and in particular the figure of al‑Husayn ibn `Ali (A), an admiration which has not dwindled in the course of more than thirteen and a half centuries that have elapsed since that event.
Significance of the Months of Muharram & Safar in Islam:
Mourning ceremonies are held by Muslims throughout Muharram and Safar, and in gatherings which are called `majalis’ (sing. majlis) elegies are recited and sermons are delivered from the minbar, the Islamic pulpit, in which the sufferings undergone by al‑Imam al‑Husayn, the members of his household and his companions are narrated. For the Shi’ah sect, the majlis and the sermons delivered therein are the primary source of religious education for the children, the illiterate and even educated adults. However, with the general decline and deterioration in the Muslim Ummah, of which the Shi’ah community is a part, the great educative potential of the majlis has slowly eroded, to the extent that not only the great educative purpose that lies behind mourning for al-Imam al‑Husayn has been forgotten, the majalis has become a platform for intensification of sectarian animosities and propagation of misconceived beliefs that conflict with the spirit of the Islamic faith. With the general decline of the Islamic culture there has been a parallel deterioration in the educative level of the sermons that are delivered from the minbar. The spreading ignorance and inertia of the majlis audience has laid diminishing demands on the learning and capacity of the religious speaker, called `dhakir’ in India and Pakistan and rawdeh khan in Iran and Iraq. The lamentable ignorance of the masses and the deplorable negligence or absence of the sense of duty on the part of many dhakirs have converted most majalis into mere sources of nourishment of sectarian conceits and delusions. Shi’ism, which implies a voluntary and aware choice to shoulder greater responsibility as member of the Ummah and devoted obedience to the wajib al‑’ita’ah (i.e. those whose obedience is obligatory) Imams of the Household of the Prophet (A), its meaning has gradually degenerated into a mere emotional attachment for the Ahl al‑Bayt (A), devoid of any sense of ethical or social responsibility for the present‑day condition of Islam and Muslims. We, the self‑declared Shi’ah of al‑Husayn ibn `Ali (A), should pause and meditate at the answer given by him to a man who proclaimed to the Imam, “O son of the Prophet, I am one of your Shi’ah.” Al‑Husayn ibn `Ali (A) said to him:
Fear God, and do not make such a claim that God, the Almighty, should say to you, “You lied insolently by making this claim.” Indeed our Shi’ah is one whose heart is free from every kind of deception, adulteration, hatred, malice, and corruption. If you are not such then say, “I am one of your admirers and supporters.”
The Responsibility of the Dhakir
The Qur’an repeatedly calls its audience to meditate about its verses and to draw instruction from them,
What, do they not meditate in the Quran? …. (4:82)
What do they not meditate in the Quran? Or is it that there are locks upon their hearts? (47:24)
A Book We have sent down to thee, blessed, that men of understanding may ponder its verses and so remember.(38:29)
Whereas the Holy Book calls the believers to emulate the Prophet (S) as the sublimest model of humanhood,
You have a good example in God’s Messenger for whosoever hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembers God oft. (33:21)
the dhakir struggles to project the Prophet (S) and the Imams (A) as supernatural beings to be admired and extolled, not to be imitated and obeyed. He strives to drive home the point that the Qur’an is understandable only for God or the Holy Prophet (S) or the Imams (A), a book of sacred and abstruse meanings opaque to human understanding, a book so holy that it is impertinent even to try to understand it.