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Fasting is advocated in the month of Muharram. The Prophet is believed to have said: The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.” Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet one who fasts in these days out of his own will is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. Fasting on the tenth day of Muharram, called Ashura, is particularly important, as it supposed to lead to great rewards. A person does not have to fast for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit.
Here are some activities that are recommended for the day of Ashurah:
1. To observe fast on this day.
2. To give as much charity as you can afford.
3. To perform Nafl Salat prayers.
4. To recite Surah Ikhlas 1000 times.
5. To visit and be in the company of pious Ulema.
6. To place a hand of affection on an orphan’s head.
7. To give generously to one’s relatives.
8. To put surma in one’s eyes.
9. To take a bath.
10. To cut one’s nails.
11. To visit the sick.
12. To establish friendly ties with one’s enemies.
13. To recite Dua-e- Ashurah
14. To visit the shrines of Awliyas and the graves of Muslims.
Muharram - an auspicious time
The month of Muharram is also associated with many auspicious events in Islamic history. Allah is supposed to have created the heavens and the earth on this blessed day. On this day He give His infinite blessings and bounties to many of His Prophets and delivered them from the clutches of their enemies. Allah created Hazrat Adam in this month and pardoned him of his mistake. Hazrat Noah’s Ark landed successfully on Mount Judi during this time centuries ago. God is also said to have saved Hazrat Ibrahim from fire and rescued Hazrat Musa from the Pharaoh during the month of Muharram. You must be wondering what there is to mourn about then? The tenth day of Muharram or Ashura is of supreme importance for Shia Muslims as they celebrate the death anniversary of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
The tragedy at Kerbala
The event of Karbala deals with the collision of the good versus that of evil, the virtuous versus that of wickedness, the collision between Imam Al- Husain (the head of virtue) and Yazid (the head of impiety). Imam Al- Husain was the most virtuous and righteous man of the time. He was the Imam of the Muslim Ummah. Being the representative of his grandfather Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Imam Husain's main concern was to protect and safeguard Islamic virtues and guide his fellow Muslims. But on the other hand, the power of the rulers (Mu'awiya and his son Yazid) depended solely on the might of the sword. They used to rule over the Muslim empire by using illicit means and ways.
Being the head of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.), Imam Husain never recognized Mu'awiya nor his followers. Before him Imam Ali (a.s.) had fought battles against Mu'awiya because Mu'awiya continually debased the Islamic principles. But, in order to safeguard the security of the Ummah, which was at stake, Imam Al-Hasan had to swallow the bitter pill of making a peace agreement with Mu'awiya. Soon Yazid, the son of Mu'awiya declared himself as a ruler over the Ummah. He demanded Imam Al-Husain's loyalty which Imam Husain flatly rejected since he felt there was no way by which Yazid could represent Islam, it would be blasphemy. But Yazid, the tyrant ruler over the Ummah, was adamant, and thus tension between the two parties increased day by day. Imam Husain then quickly realized that giving his loyalty to Yazid would serve no purpose but to endanger the survival of Islam. Thus to safeguard the religion of Islam, the Imam had no choice but to confront and collide with Yazid's tyranny irrespective of consequences. Since by then Yazid had already ordered his commanders to seize the Imam's allegiance of loyalty at any cost, even by brutal force, the commanders had no choice but to assemble a relatively large army, surrounding Imam Husain's camps in a desert called Karbala where he lived with his family and friends. Soon the commanders, as per direction cut off the basic necessities to the camp, including access to water. Thus this brave heart along with his fellow friends and family faced the torment and stood firmly throughout, for these braves would rather face death for the noble cause of Islam, than to submit to the outrageous tyranny and the un-Islamic ways of Yazid.
Thus, the event of Karbala tells a tale about a clash involving Islamic truths against that of falsehood, belief versus disbelief, right versus wrong, faith against that of brute force and between the oppressed and the oppressor. Hence the event at Karbala touches every Muslim heart since the 57 year old grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Al-Husain, had to sacrifice everything just to attain only one goal which was to let the truth triumph over that falsehood, which is to foil the plan that Mu'awiya had expertly developed for his son, Yazid, which was to establish a permanent Benu Umayya ruler ship over the Muslim Ummah (even by sacrificing the Islamic principles). And he excelled brilliantly in achieving his goals. Imam Husain successfully succeeded in foiling this plan and he exposed the disreputable nature of Benu Umayya at the expense of his life.
On Ashura, the Muslims take out processions carrying colourfully decorated taziyas (bamboo and paper replicas of the martyr’s tomb) embellished with gilt and mica. Colourful replicas of Imam Husain’s tomb at Kerbala are also carried in procession and buried at an imitation Karbala. The mourners walk barefoot to the beat of drums. In a frenzy of grief, they beat their chests and cry out the name of Husain. They sometimes even flagellate or whip themselves, drawing blood. Wrestlers and dancers enact scenes depicting the battle at Kerbala. While many Muslims take to the streets to mourn, there are some families that retain personal mourning houses. Lucknow, being the centre of Shia culture and religious activities, observes the rites of mourning with great passion. In places other than Lucknow, the taziyas are taken out and buried in the local burial ground known as Karbala. Sunni Muslims may also commemorate Husayn's death but in a less demonstrative manner, concentrating instead on the redemptive aspect of his martyrdom.