Worldwideâ€“Muharram, which began on the evening of Wednesday, November 14th, 2012, is the first month of the Islamic calendar.
Ashurra has been a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims since the days of the early Muslim community. It marks two historical events: the day Prophet Noah left the Ark, and the day that Prophet Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God. Shiâ€™a Muslims use the day to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (S) that happened in 680 CE. Shia Muslims from every part of the world observe it. In places in India such as Lucknow, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and in France, grand scale processions are held where people make drum sounds by patting their chest in mourning to the tune of beating drums, as they chant â€œYa Hussain.â€ Some communities even host play re-enactments of the martyrdom.
According to BBC news, every year in London, Shiâ€™a Muslims gather for a mourning procession and speeches at Marble Arch. Attracting up to 3,000 men, women and children from many different ethnic backgrounds, they all come together just to mourn Hussain, and his 72 companions who fought for the religion of Islam; as well as for the women of his family who were taken as prisoners of war after their sons, husbands, brothers and nephews were martyred.
The mourning starts from the eve of the 1st day of the month, lasting for 10 days. The incident happened at a place called Karbala, which is in present day Iraq, in the 61st year after Prophet Muhammadâ€™s (S) Hijra (migration from Mecca to Medina). While on their way to help Muslims who were under an oppressive regime, Imam Hussain, his family members, and a number of his followers were surrounded by the army of Yazid, who was the Muslim ruler at that time. During the 10-day siege, Imam Hussain and his family, the family of Prophet Muhammad (S), were deprived of food and water.
On the 18th of Dhuâ€™l-Hijjah of the year 10 AH, after completing his last pilgrimage (Hajjatul-Wadaâ€™), the Prophet [S] was leaving Makkah toward Madinah. He and the crowd of his people reached a place called Ghadir Khumm. It was a place where people from different provinces used to greet each other before taking different routes for their homes. On this day, the Prophet (S) gathered all the Muslims together, including Abu Bakr, â€˜Umar, â€˜Uthman, and Ali.
In this place, the following verse of the Holy Qurâ€™an was revealed:
â€œO Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and if you donâ€™t do it, you have not delivered His message (at all); and Allah will protect you from the people …â€ (Qurâ€™an 5:67)
This verse indicates that Allah was saying to Prophet (s) not to worry, for He will protect His Messenger. Upon receiving the verse, the Prophet (s) stopped on the pond of Khumm, which was extremely hot. Then he sent for all people who have been ahead in the way, to come back and waited until all pilgrims who fell behind, arrived and gathered. He ordered his companion Salman to use rocks to make a pulpit (minbar) so the Prophet (s) could make a speech. On this day, the Messenger of Allah (s) spent approximately five hours in this place; three hours of which he was on the pulpit. He recited nearly one hundred verses from the Holy Qur`an, and reminded the people seventy three times of their deeds and their future, then began his speech.
The following is a part of the Prophetâ€™s (s) speech that has been widely narrated by Sunni traditionalists, specifically from Sahe al Buharki (G 3 in tabat 67), and from Ahmed bin Hanbalâ€™s book of translations (in his masnad), on page 370:
â€œIt seems the time approached when I shall be called away (by Allah) and I shall answer that call. I am leaving for you two precious things and if you adhere to them both, you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and my Progeny, that is my Ahlul Bayt [my family]. The two shall never separate from each other until they come to me by the Pool (of Paradise).â€
Then the Messenger of Allah continued: â€œDo I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves?â€ People cried and answered: â€œYes, Oâ€™ Messenger of God.â€
Immediately after the Prophet (S) finished his speech, the following verse of the Qurâ€™an was revealed: â€œToday I have perfected your religion and completed my favor upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion.â€ (Qurâ€™an 5:3)
To commemorate the tragedy of Karbala, some sects of Muslims hold nightly gathers where speeches are made of the events of Karbala, and on the lives of the martyrs. Assemblies (majalis) are held every night for all ten nights leading to the day of Ashurra where orators relate the incident of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his assembly in detail. In some countries, such as Iraq, India, Iran, France, and the United Kingdom, on the 10th day of Muharram, large processions are formed where the followers march the streets holding banners and carrying models of the shrine of Imam Hussain and his people who fell at Karbala. In this procession, there are heartening, yet energetic chants â€œYa Hussain.â€ Commonly, you may even see a white horse in the procession decorated for the remembrance of the martyrs, to mark the empty mount of Imam Hussain after his martyrdom.