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Muharram

Muharram 2017 and 2018

Muharram refers to the Islamic New Year celebration or the first 10 days of the first month in the Muslim calendar. In 2017, the Muharram holiday will be celebrated on Sunday 1 October.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
20171 OctSunMuharramNational except AR, AS, DD, GA,
JH, KL, MN, ML, NL, PY,
PB, SK, TR, UK & WB
201821 SepFriMuharramNational except AR, AS, DD, GA,
JH, KL, MN, ML, NL, PY,
PB, SK, TR, UK & WB

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 colourful 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.