By Afreen Amin
Muharram marks the start of the Islamic New Year. In terms of its significance and importance, Muharram is considered a solemn time and one of the holiest months after Ramadhan. During this month, Muslims- especially the Shia’s- across the world mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein Ibn e Ali(AS), his family and companions. While ,from a certain perspective some associate new year as a time and moment for celebration , Shia Muslims take recourse to mourning congregations ( called Azadari) and chest beatings (seena zani) . These are expressions of grief and sorrow and a passion play in memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein(AS) at Karbala.
Karbala is a complete institution which teaches us about standing against the oppressors and oppression at any time and resisting it; it teaches us about patience and steadfastness against the vicissitudes of life. Karbala’s significance goes beyond time and space; without it, the pillars of Islam would have been destroyed. The essence of Karbala was the odyssey and resistance of Imam Hussein (AS) who being a man of principles refused to back down in the face of great injustice and tyranny. The message implied in Karbala and Imam Hussein’s( AS) resistance and martyrdom are universalistic. They are not confined to ethnicity or sect.
With the coming of this Holy month, Shias all over the world start raising flags, banners on their homes ,lanes, streets, and so on . Azadars (mourners) are seen reciting Noha or elegy. Azadari is the way to express resentment against oppressors. Every mosque, Imam Bara, Holy shrine witnesses the gathering of people and a religious scholar delivers Islamic lectures about Islam, humanity , the message and the tragedy of Karbala. Azadars are dressed in black because black color is adopted universally as a sign of sorrow and grief. Another aspect of Muharram is Nazr-o-niyaz, which is done for a religious cause. People from different communities also participate in the mourning congregations and provide food and water to the mourners on the roadside as they feel highly privileged in serving them. Meals are provided to the Azadars by people coming from far flung places. Also, on the eve of Ashura (10th Muharram), people observe fa’qa(fasting) and donate blood .
One can also hear Marsiya (elegy/hymn) in Muharram processions. The most important role in this month is that of the Zakir(recitor). The Zakir is the one who recites Marsiya (elegy/hymn) by expressing the events of Karbala to the masses. People from various places come to hear the Zakirs.
According to Mohammad Safdar, who is a teacher at an Islamic institution, and a Zakir , “ Marsiya has been divided into four parts –Hamud (praising the Almighty ), Na’at (praising the Prophet Muhammad [SAW]), Manqabat (praising the Ahlulbayt [AS]) and Masaib ( the tragedy of Karbala). It is pertinent to state here that marsiya recited in Kashmir is a bit different from marsiya recited elsewhere as the local culture affects it and the Zakir tends to give it a Kashmiri flavor.
To conclude, one fact that needs to be pointed out is that Azadari is not only about mourning of Imam Hussein (AS). It is in the nature of a saga which has a message for the whole world. As the 10th of Muharram passes , one enduring lesson we must absorb and imbibe is the fundamental nature and premise of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein(AS) and the Karbala. This will not only stand us good in this life but also in the Hereafter.
—The author can be reached at: email@example.com