Yaum-e-Ashura or the tenth day of Moharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, marks the climax of the mourning by Shia Muslims for the day of martyrdom of Imam Hussain (r.u.h.), the maternal grandson of Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), the Prophet of Islam. On this auspicious day, i.e. the 10th of Moharram 61 Hijri or October 10, 680 AD, Imam Hussain (r.u.h), with a handful of companions and relatives, met the outnumbered forces of Yazid at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq and preferred to be martyred rather than compromise on principles. The massacre of Imam Hussain (r.u.h) had a profound impact on the religious conscience of Muslims, especially Shia Muslims. The mourning comprises the recitation of verses or elegies composed by renowned poets commemorating the tragic event, narration of the episode of bravery by Imam Hussain (r.u.h) and the cruelty and barbarism of the Yazidi forces. Processions of mourning along with self flagellation as a mark of respect to the martyrs is carried out in some parts of the Islamic world, while Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, Bahrain as well as India observe Yaum-e-Ashura as a public holiday for Muslims.
The day is also commemorated by Sunni Muslims, not only as a mark of respect to the martyrdom of the grandson of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) but as a day of fasting. According to Sunni Muslim tradition, narrated by Hazrat Ayesha (r.u.h.), beloved wife of the Holy Prophet, recorded in Sahih Muslim (Hadith-2499), Ashura was already known as a commemorative day during which some Makah residents used to observe customary fasting. Muhammad (p.b.u.h) used to fast on the day of Ashura, 10th Muharram, in Makah. According to Ibn Abbas, when fasting in the month of Ramadan became obligatory, the fast of Ashura was made non compulsory. In hijrah event when Muhammad (p.b.u.h) led his followers to Madina, he found the Jews of that area likewise observing fasts on the day of Ashura, referring to it as “The Day of Atonement” or the day on which the Israelites were freed from the Pharaoh. At this, Muhammad (p.b.u.h) affirmed the Islamic claim to the fast, but to differentiate from the Jews, prescribed the Muslims to fast on combinations of two or three consecutive days. Sunnis also observe fast to experience the hunger and thirst forced upon the beloved grandson of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) by the forces of Yazid when they laid siege to their camp, shutting off their supply of food and water.
In Pakistan, for the last many years, no sooner the month of Muharram approaches, shadows of fear and uncertainty prevail. Ever since the advent of the war on terror, the incidents of terrorism claim precious human lives throughout the year but during this month, religious extremism increases manifold. The scourge of intolerance and terror not only takes a huge toll of human lives but also become a source of shame for Muslims and Islam, which is known as the religion of peace. Islam stresses upon forgiveness, kindness and safety of everyone. The Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.) ordained the safety of followers of all religions including the infidels, in the realm of Islamic law. Being the followers of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h.), it is not possible that we who believe in One Allah and Prophet (p.b.u.h.) cannot live together with harmony and peace.
It is imperative that both Shia and Sunnis unite to shun sectarianism and extremism in the country. Muslims must take cognizance of the divisive conspiracies being hatched by their enemies and must remain vigilant to foil these nefarious designs.
It is ironic that terror mongers, who target large congregations of people to cause maximum casualties, seek double pleasure during the month of Moharram. Firstly, the Shia Majalis(congregations) and processions not only provide an alluring prospect but by leveling blame on the extremist Sunnis, they ensure Shia retaliation.
Essentially, the month of Muharram is equally respectable for Sunnis, Shias and all other sects of Islam. The onus lies on the government to provide safety and security to the Shias, especially during the month of Moharram in the execution of their religious rituals but the entire society, especially the religious leaders, academics, thinkers and opinion builders must play a constructive role in ensuring peace and harmony among the various sects. Religious, sectarian and ethnic intolerance are the cancer that gnaws at the very roots of any society. They must be weeded out through reason, personal example and teaching steadfastness even in the face of adversity.
Media, which is the window of public opinion and has a tremendous impact in moulding the thoughts and acts of the masses, has an essential role and responsibility in this campaign. It must strive to bring harmony and unity among different sects by inviting scholars and specialists on the subject to achieve the needful. It cannot be over emphasized that religious scholars should act as a binding force of the nation and they must play an active role in discouraging sectarian issues. Islam and all other recognized religions of the world essentially denounce reckless killing and acts of violence in the name of religion. It is imperative to refrain from speaking against respected religious personalities and denounce those who indulge in hate speech or incite passions to instigate divisiveness. No gathering or activity should be held without the permission of local administration. Muslims should also respect other religious groups and their places of worship. The government must take strict security measures for Muharram majalis and processions and organizers of such events must cooperate with the administration.
“If to be a Sunni is to follow the Sunnat of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.), then there is no greater Sunni than Imam Ali (r.u.h), & if to be a Shia is to love Imam Ali (r.u.h), then there is no greater Shia than Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.)
Let us not divide ourselves into Shia and Sunni beings but respect this month of Muharram.”