We’ve reached the close of the holy month of Moharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar.
In Islamic history, the most significant day of this month is the tenth of Moharram – Ashura – in which various momentous events have taken place. Each of these events has demonstrated our shared humanity, as well as the similarities between the world religions, particularly the idea of God’s mercy and deliverance.
For many millions of Muslims, the venerated pilgrimage towards Karbala in Iraq takes place on the Arba’een which means “fortieth” day after the tenth of Moharram. It is a time of deep reflection and prayer where many people commemorate the passing of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) – Imam Hussain – who was massacred alongside his family when he refused to pledge allegiance to the ruler of the day. He is believed to have saved the message of Islam from distortion. His loving sacrifice is remembered as a stand for truth and justice, and many seek to emulate his stand in their lives.
But the commemoration is also based on events that took place long before the Battle of Karbala 1335 years ago, and before the coming of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), for both Sunnis and Shias.
Ashura, which means “tenth” in both Arabic and Hebrew, is also believed to be the day that God rescued the Children of Israel from the Pharaoh by splitting the Red Sea, according to Islamic historical narrations. Many Muslims fast on this day to remember God’s mercy towards Moses’ followers and in spirit of commonality with the people of the scripture, because the Jews at the time of the Prophet would also fast on this day.
Other historical sources cite Ashura as the day that Adam was forgiven for his offence, Noah was saved from the flood, Job was healed from his illness, and Jesus was resurrected.
Even before Islam, fighting of any kind was strictly forbidden in the holy month of Moharram and this instruction continued with the advent of the religion.
Remembrance around Moharram, especially on Ashura day, has additionally seeped into cultural traditions. In the case of Egypt, for instance, communities distribute a sweet dish on Ashura of the same name, which is a wheat pudding with nuts, raisins and rose water. It is believed that this tradition originated from the time of the Prophet Noah. When the waters of the great flood began to recede, Noah and his family are said to have put together all the food remaining on the ark and transformed it into a delicious pudding.
Although the occasion is also mourned by many, some organisations in the UK have developed innovative projects in the spirit of Imam Hussain’s sacrifice. Among these, the Imam Hussain Blood Donation Campaign takes place in mosques, community centres and clinics in various towns across the UK initiating regular blood donation from members of the community.
For all of us, it is a time to come together as one and turn to the essence of faith – kindness towards all human beings and the determination for justice.