Regarded as one of the four Islamic sacred months of the year, Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calender, thereby making it the Islamic New Year. During this month, Muslims are forbidden to fight or engage in any other 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 Shias.
Many important events have occurred during this month, but one of the most important ones 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 took place because Hussein ibn Ali refused to take an oath of allegiance to Yazid I. As a result, the battle erupted and Hussein, and all his forces, were killed, and their women and children taken as prisoners. This battle has become the centerpiece of Shi’a tradition and has been recounted many times in the 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 different fashions. For instance, Sunni Muslims can 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 Shi’a Muslims fast by not eating during the day, but only eating in the late afternoon. Often this is done on only the tenth day to commemorate the death – and subsequent martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali on the Day of Ashura. Shi’a Muslims in parts of Bahrain, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and India often participate in remembrance parades during this time.
Shi’a Muslims in Iraq also often make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine, which is located on 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.