Muḥarram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year. It is held to be the second holiest month, after Ramadan . Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Muharram moves from year to year when compared with the Gregorian calendar.
The tenth day of Muharram is known as the Day of Ashura, part of the Mourning of Muharram for Shia Muslims and a day of fasting for Sunni Muslims. The practice of fasting during Ashura stems from the hadith that Musa (Moses) and his people obtained a victory over the Egyptian Pharaoh on the 10th day of Muharram; accordingly Muhammad asked Muslims to fast on this day and on the day prior, the Day of Tasu’a.
Shia Muslims mourn the death of Imam Hussein and his family, respecting the sacrifice of the martyrs by praying in abundance and refraining from all joyous events. Shia muslims don’t fast on the 10th day of Muharram, but some don’t eat or drink until zawal (afternoon) to show their sympathy with Imam Hussein. In addition there is an important Ziyarat book, the Ziyarat Ashura about Hussein ibn Ali. In the Shia sect it is popular to read this ziyarat on this date.
Muharram and Ashura
With the sighting of the new moon, the Islamic New Year is ushered in. The first month, Muharram, is one of the four sacred months that Allah has mentioned in the Quran: Muharram, Rajab, Dhu al-Qi’dah, and Dhu al-Hijjah. Even before Islam came, Quraish and Arabs as a whole knew the sanctity of the months and were forbidden to wage war on those months.
Muharram is a month of remembrance and modern Shia meditation that is often considered synonymous with Ashura. Ashura, which literally means the “Tenth” in Arabic, refers to the tenth day of Muharram. It is well-known because of historical significance and mourning for the murder of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad.
Shia’s begin mourning from the first night of Muharram and continue for ten nights, climaxing on the 10th of Muharram, known as the Day of Ashura. The last few days up until and including the Day of Ashura are the most important because these were the days in which Imam Hussein and his family and followers (including women, children and elderly people) were deprived of water from the 7th onward and on the 10th, Imam Hussain and 72 of his followers were killed by the army of Yazid I at the Battle of Karbala on Yazid’s orders. The surviving members of Imam Hussein’s family and those of his followers were taken captive, marched to Damascus, and imprisoned there.
Timing for Muharram
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 10 to 11 days shorter than the solar year, Muharram migrates throughout the solar years.