Muharram is so called because it was improper to fight during this month; the word has stemmed from the word ‘haram’ meaning prohibited. Muharram is not a festival in the celebratory sense as it mourns the Karbala tragedy when Imam Husain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was martyred in the early days of Islamic history. Their death is a sad day for all Muslims, especially the Shi’a, who hold grieving rituals to recall the virtuous qualities for which the brave martyrs stood and the grave calamities that they thus had to bear. The remembrance of this brutal massacre (Battle of Karbala) begins on the first day of Muharram and reaches its highlight on the 10th of Muharram, the day of the battle, known as ‘Ashurah’.
The massacre of Hussain took place on the tenth day of the month of Muharram; hence, the occasion is called Ashura. It is perceived as a day for public expression of grief. These episodes brought about the division of the community into two sects - the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shias consider Ali, Hassan and Hussain as the just heirs of Prophet Mohammed and mourn their death during Muharram. At the appearance of the moon, people clad in black assemble and recite sorrowful verses over sweetened cold drink, in memory of Imam Hussain. They observe the entire month as a period of mass mourning. There is no celebration or expression of joy of any kind. Women are expected to abandon all adornments. Public enactments of grief, portraying scenes from the Battle of Karbala, are carried out in Shia mosques on the first ten days. This is done to express the brutalities that Hussain suffered during the battle of Karbala. The Sunnis, on the other hand, celebrate the occasion on a quieter note and indulge in calm and silent offerings.
Profusely decorated Taziyas (bamboo and paper replicas of the martyr's tomb), elaborated with gold and mica are carried through city streets. Mourners beat their back mourning and weeping over the murder, accompanied by drum beats. Young men beat their back crying "Husain! Husain!" in collective sorrow.
To conclude I would like to say is the best tribute that we can pay to them is to do some soul-searching. Do we have the right to be called the followers of the Prophet Mohammed? Have we really understood the message of Imam Husain? Are the tears for Husain drawn merely by the scenes of mere bloodshed? Are we ready to shed aside our differences and respect each other’s views during our religious talks during Moharram?
When we will have all the answers and when we will follow the path that they have told us to, only then will we be able to comprehend the significance of Karbala.