Iran Daily – Millions of Muslim mourners begin the processions shortly after the sunrise on the Day of Tasu’a (the ninth day of the lunar month of Muharram) and the following day which is Ashura, lining up in coordinated and orderly bands of passion plays and recitations of elegies which will continue until the evening.
Muslims usually stage these mourning ceremonies in commemoration of Ashura (the tenth day of the lunar month of Muharram) that marks the martyrdom anniversary of the icon of sacrifice to the faithful, Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third Shia Imam.
Ashura is the culmination of a 10-day annual mourning period in the lunar month of Muharram for Imam Hussein, who was a grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and fell martyr along with 72 of his companions in 680 A.D. in a land that is known today as Iraq, after they refused to pledge allegiance to the ruler of the time, Yazid.
The rituals are observed in ultimate magnificence in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, the latter of which hosts Imam Hussein’s holy shrine.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, traveling from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and many other countries, descend on Karbala to commemorate the holy day there.
Sunni Muslims in the Iranian provinces of Kurdistan and Sistan and Baluchestan and other provinces as well as devotees of other faiths such as Armenians join Shia mourners, distributing free food in a show of solidarity.
Ashura is also an occasion for unity when Iranians of all ethnic backgrounds, including Azerbaijanis, Arabs, Kurds, Lors, Baluchis and Turkmen, commemorate it in their local languages and dialects.
One day before Ashura, huge masses in Iran and other countries such as Pakistan and Yemen hold mourning rituals on the ninth day of Muharram to mark Tasu’a.
In Iran, devotees in cities, towns and villages across the country listen to elegies recounting the indescribably tragic events in the Battle of Karbala during which Imam Hussein (PBUH) and some members of his family and his companions were brutally martyred.
The Battle of Karbala between a small group of supporters and relatives of Imam Hussein (PBUH) and a larger military detachment from the forces of the caliph represents the war as one between good and evil.
**Traditions of Ashura
The ceremonies and rituals typically comprise of mourning processions which take to the streets and perform synchronized rituals of beating their chests, or flagellating their shoulders with small chains in harmony with the chanting of eulogists who sing of the tragedies of Ashura and the sacrifices made by the martyrs.
Another ritual of Ashura is ta’zieh, an Iranian passion play, which recounts religious events and historical and mythical stories. Each performance has the four components of poetry, music, song and motion. Performers are always male, and female roles are played by men. Ta’zieh was registered on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November 2010.
Families, give charity food, take their kids to learn about Imam Hussein (PBUH), and more. Indeed, these days in Iran, the Days of Muharram, have become a time for unity and harmony, where families gather together, to mourn the third Shia Imam and also to bolster their family bond, which was so important for Him.
**Sayings on Imam Hussein (PBUH)
Imam Hussein (PBUH) has inspired many of the modern world’s leaders and freedom fighters. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “I learned from Imam Hussein (PBUH) how to be wronged and be a winner, I learnt from Imam Hussein (PBUH) how to attain victory while being oppressed.” Moreover, the venerable human rights activist, Nelson Mandela once said, “I have spent more than 20 years in prison, then on one night I decided to surrender by signing all the terms and conditions of government. But suddenly I thought about Imam Hussein (PBUH) and Karbala movement and Imam Hussein (PBUH) gave me strength to stand for right of freedom and liberation and I did.”
First prime minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru says “There is a universal appeal in his martyrdom. Imam Hussein (PBUH) sacrificed his all, but he refused to submit to a tyrannical government. He never gave any weight to the fact that his material force was far less in comparison with that of an enemy; the power of faith to his greatest force, which regards all material force as nothing. This sacrifice is a beacon light of guidance for every community and every nation” The Indian winner of Nobel Prize in Literature 1913, Rabindranath Tagore talks respectfully about the third Shia Imam and says “The world of things in which we live misses its equilibrium when its communication with the world of love is lost. Then we have to pay with our soul for objects which are immensely cheap. And this can only happen when the prison walls of things threaten us with being final in themselves. Then it gives rise to terrible fights, jealousies and coercions, to a scramble for space and opportunities, for these are limited. We become painfully aware of the evil of this and try all measures of adjustment within the narrow bonds of a mutilated truth. This leads to failure. Only he helps us who proves by his life that we have a soul whose dwelling is the kingdom of love, and things lose the tyranny of fictitious price when we come to our spiritual freedom.” And continues that “In order to keep alive justice and truth, instead of an army or weapons, success can be achieved by sacrificing lives, exactly what Imam Hussein (PBUH) did.”
The English novelist Charles Dickens says “If Imam Hussein (PBUH) had fought to quench his worldly desires…then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.”
The famous American author, essayist, biographer and historian Washington Irwing says that “It was possible for Imam Hussein (PBUH) to save his life by submitting himself to the will of Yazid. But his responsibility as a reformer did not allow him to accept Yazid’s Caliphate. He therefore prepared to embrace all sorts of discomfort and inconvenience in order to deliver Islam from the hands of the Omayyad. Under the blazing sun, on the parched land and against the stiffing heat of Arabia, stood the immortal Hussein.”
Professor Charles Taliaferro, a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College, says “the life and sacrifice of Imam Hussein (PBUH) has been inspiring to both Muslims and non-Muslims.”
On characteristics of Imam Hussein’s movement, Taliaferro says, “It is a movement that prizes boldness, courage, faithfulness, integrity, being steadfast to the end.”