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Muharram (Arabic: المحرّم) is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in which fighting is prohibited. Since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, Muharram moves from year to year when compared with the Gregorian calendar.
Muharram is so called because it is unlawful to fight during this month, the word is derived from the word haraam, meaning “sinful”. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. Some Muslims fast during these days. The tenth day of Muharram is the Day of Ashura, which to Shia Muslims is part of the Mourning of Muharram.
Some Muslims fast during this day, because it is recorded in the hadith that Musa (Moses) and his people obtained a victory over the Egyptian Pharaoh on the 10th day of Muharram; accordingly Islamic prophet Muhammad asked Muslims to fast on this day, and also a day extra either before or after, so that they are not similar to Jews (since, according to him, Jews used to fast for one day due to the same reason, and many practices recorded in the hadith are specifically performed to avoid any apparent similarity to those of contemporary neighbouring Jews and Christians).
Many Muslims cook something sweet like sweet rice and distribute it throughout their family and circle of friends to eat when breaking their fast.
Fasting differs among the Muslim groupings; mainstream Shia Muslims stop eating and drinking during sunlight hours and do not eat until late afternoon. Sunni Muslims also fast during Muharram for the first ten days of Muharram, or just the tenth day, or on both the ninth and tenth days; the exact term depending on the individual. Shia Muslims do so to replicate the sufferings of Hussein ibn Ali on the Day of Ashura. Shia Muslims, go further in their attempts of replication, including self-flagellation (also see Matam).
Muharram is a month of remembrance that is often considered synonymous with the event of Ashura. Ashura, which literally means the “Tenth” in Arabic, refers to the tenth day of Muharram. It is well-known because of historical significance and mourning for the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad.
Shias start the mourning from the 1st night of Muharram and continue for two months and eight days. However the last days are the most important since these were the days where Hussein and his family and followers (consisting of 72 people, including women, children and aged people) were killed by army of Yazid I at the Battle of Karbala on his orders. Surviving members of the family of Hussein and that of his followers were taken captive and marched to Damascus and imprisoned there.
Muharram is also observed by Dawoodi Bohras in the same way as Shias.They practice prayers on the sayings of the present dawah of Bohras, Mohammed Burhanuddin. On the tenth day of Muharrum, they pray for Hussein till the magrib namaz. When the namaz ends, Hussein is considered shahid by Yazid. It is also close to the day of resurrection because it said in a book that this world will one day come to an end on Friday 10th of Muharram.
With the sighting of the new moon the Islamic New Year is ushered in. The first month, Muharram is one of the four sacred months that God has mentioned in the Quran.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year, Muharram migrates throughout the solar years. The estimated start and end dates for Muharram are as follows (based on the Umm al-Qura calendar of Saudi Arabia:)
Muslims do not traditionally “celebrate” the beginning of a new year, but we do acknowledge the passing of time, and take time to reflect on our own mortality.
Muslims measure the passage of time using the Islamic (Hijrah) calendar. This calendar has twelve lunar months, the beginnings and endings of which are determined by the sighting of the crescent moon. Years are counted since the Hijrah, which is when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah (approximately July 622 A.D.).
The Islamic calendar was first introduced by the close companion of the Prophet, Umar ibn Al-Khattab. During his leadership of the Muslim community, in approximately 638 A.D., he consulted with his advisors in order to come to a decision regarding the various dating systems used at that time. It was agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the Hijrah, since it was an important turning point for the Muslim community. After the emigration to Madinah (formerly known as Yathrib), the Muslims were able to organize and establish the first real Muslim “community,” with social, political, and economic independence. Life in Madinah allowed the Muslim community to mature and strengthen, and the people developed an entire society based on Islamic principles.
The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in many Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Other Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and only turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.
The Islamic year has twelve months that are based on a lunar cycle. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) – so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth….” (9:36).
“It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light of beauty, and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and the count of time. Allah did not create this except in truth and righteousness. And He explains His signs in detail, for those who understand” (10:5).
And in his final sermon before his death, the Prophet Muhammad said, among other things, “With Allah the months are twelve; four of them are holy; three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumaada and Sha’ban.”
Islamic months begin at sunset of the first day, the day when the lunar crescent is visually sighted. The lunar year is approximately 354 days long, so the months rotate backward through the seasons and are not fixed to the Gregorian calendar. The months of the Islamic year are: