Muharram marks the start of a new year in accordance with the Islamic calendar. Its timing depends upon the first sighting of the crescent of a new moon. This year, this sacred month began Nov. 4 and extends until Dec. 3. It represents the second-holiest period after Ramadan particularly for Shiite Muslims, though, to a lesser extent, for Sunni Muslims as well.
Fasting is not required during Muharram as it is during Ramadan; however, each individual fast over the course of the month has spiritual value. In fact, according to tradition, the Prophet said, “The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.”
Muharram, which means “forbidden,” has always been a month of sorrow and cleansing of sin. It commemorates a number of religious and historical events in Islam, such as the birth of many important figures. However, the most significant events of the month fall on the 10th day called “Ashura”, which is Nov. 14 this year according to the Gregorian calendar. Ashura, which means “tenth” in Arabic, is believed to be the day Allah created the heavens and earth and the day that Noah, a prophet in the Islamic belief system, reached land. Additionally, final judgment is expected to occur on Ashura. However, its historical significance brings it sanctity and gives Muharram the name “the month of remembrance.”
In 680 A.D., a small group of around 72 worshippers at Karbala, on the bank of the Euphrates, were pressured by an army to succumb to the Umayyad Caliph. Their refusal resulted in a battle. The worshippers were killed in combat, including Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, and his infant son. The remaining members of his family fell captive. Islam honors each victim of the attack as a martyr. Shiites mourn for the 10 days of Muharram leading up to Ashura.
A number of Shiite people fast on the 10th of the month because many believe that if one fasts on Ashura, Allah will forgive one’s sins from the previous year. Mohammad encouraged followers to fast on the ninth as well. Additionally, some honor the tradition of treating family members to a particular luxury by sacrificing wealth and purchasing gifts on Ashura. Traditionally, Allah grants families who participate in either of these practices abundant blessings for the remainder of the year.
Sunnis also acknowledge Muharram and Ashura. However, instead of treating it as a mourning period for the incident at Karbala, they view it as a day in memory of Musa’s (Moses’) victory over the Egyptian pharaoh. To acknowledge this triumph, they, too, typically spend the day in fasting and prayer. The circumstances of the fast vary: some people may choose to abstain from food altogether, while others fast only during sunlight hours and break fast in the evening.
The University is not offering a special service for Muharram, but students who wish to participate in prayer and meditation may visit the community mosque at 306 Taylor Avenue. Services are at 1 p.m. Fridays and the mosque is always open to the public.
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