Regarded as one of the four Islamic sacred months of the year, Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, thereby marking the Islamic New Year. During this month, Muslims are forbidden to fight or engage in any form of sin. The most sacred day within this month is the Day of Ashura. It falls on the tenth day of this month, and many people consider it synonymous with the month of Muharram, especially among Shia Muslims.
Many important events have occurred during this month, but one of the most significant was the Battle of Karbala on the day of Ashura in 61 AH. This battle took place in what is now modern-day Iraq and featured a conflict between Hussein ibn Ali and the much larger force of Yazid I, caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate.
The battle occurred because Hussein ibn Ali refused to pledge an oath of allegiance to Yazid I. As a result, the battle erupted, and Hussein and all his forces were killed, with their women and children taken as prisoners. This battle has become the centerpiece of Shia tradition and has been recounted many times in Islamic literature of the Shia.
Customs And Observations
Many Muslims choose to fast during the first ten days of this month. Of course, during this period of fasting, different Muslim groups fast in various ways. For instance, Sunni Muslims may choose to fast during the entire ten days, only on the ninth or tenth day, or only on the tenth day, according to personal preference.
Some Shia Muslims fast by not eating during the day but only eating in the late afternoon. Often this is done only on the tenth day to commemorate the death – and subsequent martyrdom - of Hussein ibn Ali on the Day of Ashura. Shia Muslims in parts of Bahrain, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and India often participate in remembrance parades during this time.
Shia Muslims in Iraq also often make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine, which is located at the grave of Husayn ibn Ali. In many parts of the United Arab Emirates, India, and Jordan, Muharram is a public holiday. In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia, it is not a public holiday.