Art & Culture Culture of India

Muharram and Ashura

  • On the 8th of Muharram, the Jammu and Kashmir administration approved a Muharram parade in Srinagar for the first time in over three decades, attracting thousands of Shia mourners.
  • The ruling has received widespread acclaim.

What exactly is Muharram?

  • Muharram is the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar and has religious and historical significance for Muslims all over the world.
  • The word “Muharram” means “forbidden” in Arabic, indicating the month’s hallowed aspect.
  • It is one of Islam’s four sacred months, during which combat and disputes are usually prohibited.
  • It is observed by both Sunni and Shia Muslims (as well as Hindus), albeit each group has a different historical and religious significance.

Celebration of Ashura

  • Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, is the most important day of the month.
  • Shia Muslims observe the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussain, in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. During this time, the prophet’s son-in-law, Ali, and Ali’s elder son, Hassan, are also recalled as having suffered and perished.  Shia Muslims perform distinctive mourning rites on Ashura, including as self-flagellation, chest-beating, and, in certain cases, forehead cutting with sharpened knives and chains with connected blades. The Shia Community also holds a ‘Taziya,’ a tableaux parade.
  • Sunni Muslims celebrate Ashura as the day when Prophet Moses and the Children of Israel were delivered from the oppression of Pharaoh by crossing the Red Sea.
  • Hindus observe Muharram by getting themselves painted in tiger stripes, visiting families, and performing “huli kunita” as part of their “harake” (promise).

Kashmir Celebrates Ashura

  • Dogra Rulers’ Prohibition: Muharram processions were either outlawed or permitted only at night under the reign of the Dogra rulers, citing tensions between the Shia and Sunni people.
  • Despite the Dogra mandate for early processions, mourners marched during the day in the 1920s, with both Shias and Sunnis joining the procession. This became connected with the Kashmiri Muslim liberation fight.
  • Selective Permits: Later, specific people and families were granted permits to participate in processions, but the major Muharram procession was banned when militancy broke out.

The Importance of Allowing Processions

  • After a long restriction, the approval for the Muharram parade in Srinagar is an important milestone, indicating progress towards religious freedom in the region.
  • It emphasises the importance of respecting people’s religious beliefs and upholding the values of inclusivity and unity among the valley’s various groups.
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