Mourning of Muharram

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See also: Day of Ashura
Mourning of Muharram
Ashura mourning in Karbala by Tasnimnews 01.jpg
Pilgrims gather for the Ashura mourning in Karbala, Iraq, 2016. About 6.5 million people are estimated to have gathered in Karbala this year.
Type Islamic
Significance Marks the death of Hussein ibn Ali (Shi'a Islam, Sunni Islam[citation needed])
Observances Mourn and derive messages from Hussein's Sacrifice (Shi'a Islam); Fasting (Sunni Islam)
2015 date October 14
2016 date October 2
2017 date September 21
2018 date September 11

The Mourning of Muharram, Remembrance of Muharram, or Muharram Observances, is a set of rituals associated with both Shia and Sunni,[1][2] which takes place in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Many of the events associated with the ritual take place in congregation halls known as Hussainia.

The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I at Karbala. Family members, accompanying Hussein ibn Ali, were killed or subjected to humiliation. The commemoration of the event during yearly mourning season, from first of Muharram to twentieth of Safar with Ashura comprising the focal date, serves to define Shia communal identity.[3] At present, Muharram observances are carried out in countries with a sizable Shia population.


The words Azadari (Persian: عزاداری) which mean mourning and lamentation; and Majalis-e Aza have been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Majalis-e Aza, also known as Aza-e Husayn, includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief and above all, repulsion against what Yazid stood for.[2]

Expression of grief with thumping of the chest by Shia Muslims is known as Latmya, Latmaya or latmia in Arabic-Persian countries. In India and Pakistan it is called Matam or Matam-Dari/Sina Zannee (chest beating).[4]

Muharram rituals was often called by European observers "the Feast of Hasan and Hosayn," as the participants shout "Hasan! Hosayn!."[1]

The term majalis has both a grammatical meaning and a meaning which relates to Aza-e-Husayn. In its technical sense, a majalis is a meeting, a session or a gathering.[5]


According to Shia sources, The mourning of Muharram was started by the family, specially womenfolk, of Muhammad (the Ahl-ul-Bayt) immediately after the death of his grandson and even before entering Damascus.[6] Following the battle of Karbala, Muhammad's granddaughter Zaynab bint Ali and sister of Imam Husayn, began mourning for the fallen and making speeches against Imam Husayn ibn Ali's opponents: Ibn Ziyad and Yazid I. News of Imam Husayn ibn Ali's death was spread by Imam Zain-ul-Abideen, who succeeded Imam Husayn as the Shia Imam, via sermons and speeches throughout Iraq, Syria and Hejaz.[7]

Due to the History of the Prophets and Kings, when Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin gave the sermon in presence of Yazid, he let them held mourning of Husain ibn Ali for three days in a formal manner. [8]

During the Umayyad Caliphate , the mourning of Husain ibn Ali’s Killing was performed furtively in the homes of shia Imam and their followers, but during the Abbasid Caliphate this mourning was observed in public mosques by the Abbasid rulers to draw a people’s attention .[6]

10th of the month of Muharrem - The Day of Ashura: Huseyn bin Ali was murdered at Kerbela [9] Remembrance by Jafaris, Qizilbash Alevi-Turks and Bektashis together in the Ottoman Empire.

Reliable evidence of public mourning rituals dates back to 963 CE: historian Ibn Kathir recounts how Mu'izz al-Dawla ordered his people to wail over Husayn ibn Ali. The mourning rituals evolved differently in different places, until the Safavid dynasty established a centralized Shia state in the 16th century:[10]:118 the annual mourning ceremonies and ritual cursing of Husayn's enemies, acquired the status of a national institution. According to popular belief, Shia rituals spread to South Asia starting at the end of the 14th century with the conquests of Tamerlane.[10]:120 Observance has since spread to countries such as India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Yemen, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Lebanon.[11][12][13]

Types of mourning[edit]

Main articles: Marsia, Noha, and Soaz

After almost 12 centuries, five types of major rituals were developed around the battle of Karbala. These rituals include the memorial services (majalis al-ta'ziya), the visitation of Husayn's tomb in Karbala particularly on the occasion of the tenth day of Ashura and the fortieth day after the battle (Ziyarat Ashura and ziyarat al-Arba'in), the public mourning processions (al-mawakib al-husayniyya or the representation of the battle of Karbala in the form of a play (the shabih), and the flagellation (tatbir).[6]

How the event is mourned differs between different branches of Shia and different ethnic groups. The event is observed by many Sunnis, but to a lesser extent, and as a time of remembrance, rather than mourning. The Nizam of Hyderabad/Deccan Mir Osman Ali Khan, was not only a Sunni Muslim and the famous powerful ruler of Hyderabad Deccan State till 1948 but also a great lover of Ahle Bait and promoter of Azadari.[14]

Expressions of grief such as sine-zani (beating the chest), zangir-zani (beating oneself with chains), and tage-zani or qama-zani –also known as tatbir (hitting oneself with swords or knives)– emerged as common features of the proliferating mourning-processions (dasta-gardani) during Safavid rule. Mourning rituals take place in assemblies held in so-called Hussainiya or takia, as well as in mosques and private houses. In Iran, Husayn's funeral is reenacted by carrying a huge wooden structure (nakhl), which is usually carried by several hundred men.[15]

In the Twelver three traditional schools (Usooli, Akhbari, and Shaykhi), mourners, both male and female, congregate (in separate sections) for sorrowful, poetic recitations performed in memory of the death of Husayn, lamenting and grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of "Ya Husayn." Passion plays are performed, reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and death of Husayn at the hands of Yazid. They offer condolences to Imam-e-Zamana also known as Imam al-Mahdi whom they believe will avenge the blood of Husayn and bring justice to the world.

Bektashis and Alevis also mourn, and they keep themselves from eating and drinking ("fasting") the first 10–12 days of Muharram. In this period, the Alevis wear black clothes, do not shave themselves and avoid entertainment and pleasure. Originally, it was forbidden to bathe and change clothes during this period, but today most Alevis do not follow this rule. This is called "Muharrem Matemi", "Yas-i Muharrem" or "Muharrem orucu". But because it is called "fasting", many people falsely think that Alevis celebrate the Muharram. The definition of the "fast" in this connection is different from the normal type of "fasting". Bektashis greet each other by saying "Ya Imam! Ya Husayn."

The only Ismaili group which mourns are the Mustaali, who mourn similarly to most Twelvers. Although, Nizari Ismaili commemorate Muharram through the tradition of not celebrating marriages, birthdays, and other religious celebrations during this time to show respect to their other Muslim brothers who are mourning.

For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques to provide free meals (nazar) on certain nights of the month to all people. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Imam Husayn, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with Allah, Imam Husayn, and humanity.

In South Asia, literary and musical genres produced by both Shias and Sunnis, that have been inspired by the Battle of Karbala are performed during the month, such as marsiya, noha and soaz. This is meant to increase the peoples understanding of how the enemies fought The Battle of Karbala against Husayn and his followers. In Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica[16] all ethnic and religious communities participate in the event, locally known as "Hosay" or "Hussay". In Indonesia, the event is known as Tabuik (Minangkabau language) or Tabut (Indonesian).[17]

Pilgrimage to the shrine of Husayn[edit]

Main articles: Imam Husayn Shrine and Ziarat

Many Shia go on a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala, one of the holiest places for Shias apart from Mecca and Medina. Up to one million pilgrims visit the city annually to observe the anniversary of Imam Husayn ibn Ali's death.[18] The shrine is located opposite that of Al-Abbas ibn Ali.


Shi'a Muslims in Bahrain strike their chests during the Remembrance of Muharram.

The Arabic term matam refers in general to an act or gesture of mourning; in Shia Islam the term designates acts of lamentation for the martyrs of Karbala.[19] Male and female participants congregate in public for ceremonial chest beating (matam) as a display of their devotion to Imam Husayn and in remembrance of his suffering.[20] In some Shi'a societies, such as those in Bahrain, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Iraq, male participants may incorporate knives or razors swung upon chains into their matam. There are two basic forms of matam:[21][22][23]

  • matam using one's hands only, that is, sineh-zani or breast-beating
  • matam with implements like chains, knives, swords and blades, that is, zanjeer-zani, qama-zani, etc.

Matam in South Asia is the most significant and sensitive Shia identity marker.[22]


Ta'ziya procession on Ashura in Barabanki, India (January 2009)
Main article: Ta'zieh

One form of mourning is the theatrical re-enactment of the Battle of Karbala. In Iran this is called taziya or taziyeh. Theatrical groups that specialize in taziya are called taziya groups.[24] Taziyas were popular through the Qajar dynasty until the early twentieth century, but the re-enactments slowly declined until they were mostly abandoned in the large cities by the early 1940s. Nonetheless, taziyas continued to exist in Iran on a smaller scale especially in more rural and traditional areas. Reza Shah, the first of the Pahlavi dynasty, had outlawed taziyas. Despite attempts since 1979, Muharram processions and various forms of the rawza khani are still more common.[25]

Around the world[edit]

Azadari in Lucknow[edit]

Main article: Azadari in Lucknow

In Lucknow, India, the Muharram processions and rituals are known as Azadari. These, including the Chup Tazia, have been observed since the sixteenth century or earlier, when Lucknow was capital of the state of Awadh.

In the 20th century, beginning in 1906, Azadari became a focus of communal tension in Lucknow. In 1977, after riots broke out for the fourth time since 1968, the government of Uttar Pradesh banned the Azadari processions. Shia leaders protested the ban, and many Shia Muslims courted arrest by defying the ban each year.

In 1997 a hunger strike was launched to protest the Azadari ban. In April three Shia youths committed self-immolation and died. A noted Shia scholar called for a peace march on 18 April 1997 that reportedly drew more than 200,000 Shias.[citation needed]

Late in the year, after months of arrests and clashes between police and protesters, the government granted limited permission for Shias in Lucknow to hold Azadari processions.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Calmard, Jean (2012). "ḤOSAYN B. ʿALI ii. IN POPULAR SHIʿISM". Iranica. 
  2. ^ a b Jean, Calmard (2011). "AZĀDĀRĪ". iranicaonline. 
  3. ^ Martín, Richard C. (2004). Encyclopedia of Islam & the Muslim World. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 488. 
  4. ^ "Latmiyat". 
  5. ^ Rahimi, Babak (2011). A History of (Safavid) Muharram Rituals. BRILL. ISBN 9789004207561. 
  6. ^ a b c Nakash, Yitzhak (1 January 1993). "An Attempt To Trace the Origin of the Rituals of Āshurā¸". Die Welt des Islams. 33 (2): 161–181. doi:10.1163/157006093X00063. Retrieved 17 July 2016.  – via Brill (subscription required)
  7. ^ Nafasul Mahmoom. JAC Developer. pp. 12–. GGKEY:RQAZ12CNGF5. 
  8. ^ al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir. Tarikh al-Tabari. 4. p. 353. 
  9. ^ Turkish Alevis are mourning on this day for the remembrance of the death of Huseyn bin Ali at Kerbala in Irak.
  10. ^ a b Cornell, Vincent J. (2007). "The Passion of 'Ashura in Shiite Islam". Voices of Islam: Voices of the Spirit. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-98734-3. 
  11. ^ Claus, Peter J.; Diamond, Sarah; Mills, Margaret Ann. South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415939195. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  12. ^ Chelkowski, Peter (1 January 1985). "Shia Muslim Processional Performances". The Drama Review: TDR. MIT Press. 29 (3): 18–30. doi:10.2307/1145650. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  13. ^ Akhtar, Iqbal. The Khōjā of Tanzania: Discontinuities of a Postcolonial Religious Identity. BRILL. ISBN 9789004292888. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  14. ^ Syed Hashim Razavi, Hyderabad, India. "The King Who Loved Azadari of Imam Husain". Imam Reza Net. Retrieved Feb 25, 2015. 
  15. ^ Don Rubin; Chua Soo Pong; Ravi Chaturvedi (2001). The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Asia/Pacific. Taylor & Francis. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-415-26087-9. 
  16. ^ Shankar, Guha (2003) Imagining India(ns): Cultural Performances and Diaspora Politics in Jamaica. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin pdf
  17. ^ Bachyul Jb, Syofiardi (2006-03-01). "'Tabuik' festival: From a religious event to tourism". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 2007-01-27. 
  18. ^ [1] Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ Shīʻite Heritage: Essays on Classical and Modern Traditions By Lynda Clarke, Global Academic Publishing, 01-Jun-2001
  20. ^ Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras By Jonah Blank, University of Chicago Press, 15-Apr-2001
  21. ^ Pinault, David (15 Aug 1993). The Shiites. Palgrave Macmillan. 
  22. ^ a b Reliving Karbala: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory By Syed Akbar Hyder, Oxford University Press, 01-Sep-2008
  23. ^ Sharing the Sacred: Practicing Pluralism in Muslim North India By Anna Bigelow, Oxford University Press, 28-Jan-2010
  24. ^ Chelkowski, Peter (ed.) (1979) Taʻziyeh, ritual and drama in Iran New York University Press, New York, ISBN 0-8147-1375-0
  25. ^ Martin, Richard C. (ed.) (2004) "Taziya" Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World Macmillan Reference USA, New York, p. 691 ISBN 0-02-865912-0

Further reading[edit]

  • Aghaie, Kamran S. (2004). The Martyrs of Karbala: Shii Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran. Univ. of Washington Press. 
  • Aghaie, Kamran S. (2005). The Women of Karbala: Ritual Performance and Symbolic Discourses in Modern Shi'i Islam. Univ. of Texas Press. 
  • Beeman, William O. (2010). Iranian Performance Traditions. Mazda Press. 
  • Chelkowski, Peter J. (2010). Eternal Performance: Ta'ziyeh and Other Shiite Rituals. Seagull Books. 
  • Chelkowski, Peter J. (1979). Ta'ziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran. New York University Press & Soroush Press. 
  • Homayouni, Sadegh (2002). Ta'ziyeh in Iran. Navid Publishers. 
  • Malekpour, Jamshid (2004). The Islamic Drama. Routledge Press. 
  • Riggio, Milla Cozart (1994). "Ta'ziyeh in Exile: Transformations in a Persian Tradition". Comparative Drama. 28: 115–140.  Reprinted in European volume (1997)
  • Riggio (1988). Ta'ziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran. Trinity College Press. 

External links[edit]