year the Shia Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. For
ten days the people mourn the death of the Imam, his family and
followers. They wear black, attend meetings and carry out
processions to express their grief.
the Shia Muslims around the world Muharram is like a season-dark,
somber and sacred. The colour of the season is black. For Muharram
is the month of mourning. For the first ten days of Muharram, which
begins this year on July 13, Muslims gather in mosques and shrines,
in mosques and shrines, dressed in black to mourn for Imam Hussein,
grandson of the Prophet Muhammed who was slain with his family and
followers in the battle of Karbala in the year 680. Islamic history
recounts that Hussein with a band of seventy-two came to deliver Iraq
from the pretender. They came under siege by the Ommayad army of
Yazid and were deprived of food and water for the first ten days of
the month. On the tenth, known as the day of Ashura, Hussein was
killed. One by one the defenders fell, writes Amer Ali,
a historian of this century. Until at last there remained the
grandson of the Prophet. Wounded and dying, the dragged himself to
the riverside for a last drink; they turned him off with arrows from
there. As he re-entered his tent he took his infant child in his
arms; him they transfixed with a dart; he lifted his hands to the
heavens-they were full of blood
(after he died) they cut off
his head, trampled on his body
. They carried the martyrs
head to the castle of Kufa, and the inhuman Obaidullah struck in on
the mouth with a cane. The story of Husseins martyrdom
is told in parts during the first days of Muharram, in gatherings
known as majlises where the Shias gather, dressed in black. During
these ten days hundreds of thousands of Muslims converge on Karbala
and Najaf in Iraq where rest the shrines of Hussein and Ali, his
father. Others take to the streets, beating their chests and
chanting the tragedy, in Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, parts of Saudi
Arabia, in Azerbaijan in the Soviet Union and in our own cities, most
vehemently in Bombay, Luckhnow and Hyderabad. Islam zinda hota hai
hur Karbala ke baad is a chant that rings in the gatherings of Shias
was in Karbala where Hussein fought his last battle and died. Put
your trust in God and know that man is born to die, and that the
heavens shall not remain, everything shall pass away, except the
presence of God. Those were Husseins passing words to
his old weeping sister before he washed, anointed himself with musk
and rode his horse into the face of thousands of soldiers. The place
where the water of Euphrates was cut off to Hussein and his family
came to be known as Kerbala (Kerb meaning anguish and bela vexation.
Hussein refused to bow to the forces of evil choosing a bloody death.
His spirit rose like a phoenix and flew across lands away from the
desert of his home. Evoking the strength and humility of Hussein
wrote Anees, the poet, master of elegy: Yeh to na keh sakey
Shah-e-zulmanain hoon, Maulana ne sur jhuka ke kaha main Hussein
hoon` (He never could say he was master of earth and sky. He merely
bent low his head and said I am Hussein).
first heard the epic tale of Karbala as a child hiding behind a row
of women frenetic in black. Through the ten days the story would
unfold-of Hussein arriving in Karbala, pitching tents on the banks of
the river Euphrates whose waters flowed in front of their eyes but
were denied to them, even to the six-month old baby Asghar, the four
year old Sakeena, the young son Akbar and the stalwart brother Abbas
who lost both his arms carrying a masqh of water. And finally
Hussein who withstood it all, surrendering his head to the assassin
but not his faith. Year after year I have heard the story and
watched men and women weep at the same bends in the narrative.
Muharram and the old city of Hyderabad awakens as if touches by the
magic wand of faith. Ashoor Khanas are freshly painted and aired to
install the alams, insignia of the martyred Imams, of Karbala.
Flowers shops load their racks with sehras, veils of roses and
jasmines that are offered to alams by the faithful. Dusty streets
turn fervent with men in black sherwanis and women in black burqas.
And every evening for the ten days of Muharram the story of Karbala
resounds over microphones as the epic is recreated with words, tears
and black processions. Women, in black traverse distances, rushing
from one majlis to another, bowing to alams, weeping, beating their
chests, reliving an ancient sorrow. No restrictions are imposed on
them during these ten sad days-the only time in a long year when they
meet each other, revive old contacts, connect life with gossip, and
return refurbished to their dingy courtyards. No husband protests.
No child cries for attention. The focus is enlarged from ones
own child to the children of Hussein, from ones own father to a
figure who fathered the cause of Islam. The identification is
intimate and complete. You lose a son, a fortune or a kingdom.
It memory fades as does its pain but not the pain of Hussein, says my
Shia mother. I have seen her shed more tears on the tenth of
Muharram than she does on November 19 the day when my father died.
When I mourn for my husband I mourn for myself she
believes. But to mourn for Hussein is to mourn for mankind.
My mother speaks for many of those who find in Muharram a release,
an experience that strengthens their sense of roots, and perhaps
lends their lives a large meaning that stands threatened by time.