Muharram 2017 and 2018
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar.
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It also refers to the Islamic New Year celebration or the first 10 days of the month, which hold great historical significance for Muslims all over the world. Both Sunnis and Shias observe the days of Muharram, though not always in the same manner. The month of Muharram is considered the second-holiest of months, only Ramadan “outranking” it.
While only one in seven Indians are Muslim, this adds up to over 170 million, making Islamic holidays like Muharram widely kept in India. Most of India’s Muslim population is Sunni, but about a quarter of Indian Muslims are Shias, and some members of both groups consider themselves Sufis (Muslim mystics).
While there are other marked days during Muharram, the most important day of Muharram that Muslims in India and elsewhere observe is the 10th day, known as the Day of “Ashura” (“tenth” in Arabic). On Ashura, Muslims believe that Muhammad’s grandson, Imman Hussain, died fighting in the Battle of Karbala in A.D. 680. Karbala is a city in central Iraq, and the battle concerned a dispute over who was rightful Caliph in the area. It is also believed that this is the day on which Adam an Eve were created and on which Musa (Moses) led Israel through the Red Sea, while the sea collapsed onto Pharaoh and his army of war chariots.
Shias mourn on Ashura and throughout Muharram. They dress in black, attend solemn assemblies called “majlis,” listen to speeches on the bloody Battle of Karbala, avoid music, and refuse to attend joyful events like weddings. On the 10th of Muharram, they take to the streets with colorful banners and bamboo-and-paper martyr depictions. During the processions, they walk barefoot, chant, and weep. Some even whip themselves until it draws blood, while dancers reenact the Battle of Karabala.
Sunnis, on the other hand fast and pray. They do not observe the day with the fanfare of the Shias and even regard the fasting as purely voluntary. Those who do choose to fast are thought to be rewarded by Allah, and only Ramadan is considered to be a higher fast than Muharram. The fasting continues from the first until the end of the 10th or 11th day of the month.
Muharram’s name is the Arabic word for “forbidden,” and during this month, Muslims are forbidden from engaging in warfare. Many Indian government buildings are also “forbidden” from opening for business as usual on the Day of Ashura, which is a public holiday in India. Tourists should be ready for post offices to be closed and for public transport to operate on reduced timetables. Visitors should also expect to see increased traffic, parades on the streets, crowds around mosques, and much activity.
Three activities tourists in India this time of year may wish to take part in are:
- Watch a Muharram parade. In India, many non-Muslims take part in Muharram celebrations, and it is no unusual sight for tourists to crowd in to watch the parades along with the locals. You will have to go to Muslim areas of India, however, such as Hyderabad, Mumbai (Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), and Delhi and on the 10th of Muharram.
- Visit the Taj Mahal, which is a beautiful piece of Islamic architecture. It is located in the city of Agra and houses the remains of a Muslim Mughal emperor’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who was entombed there in 1632.
- Tour the Qutb Minar, the tallest brick minaret tower in India and in the world. It is nearly 400 feet (120 meters) tall, was built in stages by rulers of the Sultans of Delhi between A.D. 1200 and 1369. Besides the minar itself, there are interesting Ancient and Medieval monuments on the same site.
India is a land too vast to explore in only one trip, but if one wants to travel there during Muharram, there is no better time to learn of the traditions and history of India’s Muslim population.
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