Muharram: What is Its Significance and Why Do Some Muslims Indulge in Self-flagellation?
Muharram commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
Muharram is the first month, which marks the beginning of a new year in Islamic calendar. Muslims all across the world begin the Islamic New Year with the month of Muharram, which started on September 1 this year. In fact, the month of Muharram is considered the second most holy month after Ramzan.
The tenth day of Muharram is known as the Day of Ashura. On this, as part of the Mourning of Muharram, Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims practice faqa (partial fasting) on Ashura. This year the 10th day of Muharram, also known as Ashura or 'Youm-e-Ashura', falls on Tuesday, September 10.
Ashura is the day when Imam Hussein Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was martyred. He was believed to be the third Imam of the Shia community. He was killed in 680 AD, during the battle of Karbala (in present day Iraq) by soldiers of Caliph Yazid. Since then, the Muslim community mourns the death of Iman Hussein and his relatives.
How is the day observed?
There is a difference in the way the Shia and the Sunni Muslims observe Muharram. The Shia sect observes a fast to mourn the death of Imam Hussein, and his family members and to honour the sacrifices made in the Battle of Karbala. Shia Muslims also refrain from attending and celebrating all joyous events in this period.
On the tenth day of Muharram, many Shias participate in processions and self-flagellation. Mourners use sharp objects such as knives or chains which have blades attached to them and other weapons in acts of self-flagellation while chanting 'Ya Hussein' loudly.
On the other hand, Sunni Muslims observe this day with a peaceful fast that lasts from sunrise to sunset. They also hold gatherings to remember the sacrifices of Imam Hussein and attend special prayers in mosques.