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Muharram: The Solemn Month Of Mourning And Rumination

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Muharram is the first month of the Islamic New Year. It is during Muharram that Prophet Mohammad went from Mecca to Madina. The literal meaning of ‘Muharram’ is forbidden or banned; it is the second holiest month after Ramadan. This year, we observed Muharram from 20th of August to 30th of August (Ashura).

Ashura signifies the 10th day of Muharram and on this day Hussain Ibn Ali (the grandson of Prophet Mohammad) or Imam Hussain was martyred in the battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. Mourning began in the name of all those martyred from the 1st night of Muharram to the 10th night of Muharram.

Story Of Muharram

The battle of Karbala was fought on October 10,, 680 AD in Iraq. When Imam Hussain was living in Mecca, he received dozens of letter from Muslims of Al Kufa asking him to redeem them from the violent ruler Yazid The First.

Imam Hussain proceeded to Kufa, but was assailed by the Yazid’s enormous army and was forced to move to the desert of Karbala. Here, Imam Hussain and his followers, a total of 70-72 people along with women, children and a few fighting men were held for 10 days and many cruelties were meted out to them.

Another enthralling ritual observed on the tenth day of Muharram is called ‘Tazia’, a Tazia is a replica of the tomb of Hussain and is carried on this day in a procession.

Despite being massively outnumbered and with limited access to water, Hussain refused to give up. He continuously tried to make peace with Yazid, but on the 10th day of Muharram, the fight broke out. In this bloodshed no man was spared, not even Imam Hussain’s six-month-old infant Ali Asghar. Only women and a few children were released under public pressure.

Rituals And Customs Of Muharram

Each day has its own rituals. For Sunni Muslims, it marks the day Musa (Moses) and Israelites were saved from the Egyptian pharaoh by God, creating a path in the Red Sea. As per rituals, on the ninth and tenth day, both Sunni and Shia observe a fast because Prophet Mohammad used to fast too, although it’s not mandatory.

Shi’ites commemorate on Muharram for the martyrdom at Karbala of Imam Hussain. They observe a fast on the ninth and 10th day of Muharram, but the children, elderly and sick people fast until zawal (afternoon) only. Nizay Fatiha is performed on food after namaz in the name of God and all the martyred of Karbala, before Nizay and Fatiha food is forbidden to eat.

In some places, people wear black clothes and Kada (steel band) to symbolise the chains put around the prisoners of Karbala, one more enthralling ritual is observed on the 10th day of Muharram. This is called ‘Tazia’— a replica of the tomb of Hussain that is carried in processions. Majlis about Karbala is also performed in various part of India.

The first majlis about Karbala was held by Hussain’s sister, Zainab, who stayed in Damascus, Syria for three days after the battle. During this time, she established a Majlis in which she described the brutal killings of the martyrs, who had been thirsty for three days.

A Majlis usually comprises of soaz, hadis and nauha. Soaz is a doleful poem written to give details about atrocities faced by Imam Hussain and his family and sahabah in the battle of Karbala. Hadis is further divided into two parts — fazael and masaebs. During fazael, details from the life of the Prophet and his family are shared. During masaeb, description of the battle is given. Singing nauha is the last part of the majlis followed by chest-beating and religious flagellation, where the sufferings and sacrifice of martyrs are itemised.

Lessons And Message Of Muharram

  1. To resist oppression in all forms
  2. Death with dignity is better than a life of humiliation
  3. One must stand against injustice
  4. To have sabr (patience) and tawakkul (faith)
  5. To always avoid conflicts and try to deal with peace
  6. The biggest lesson from the battle of Karbala is that no matter what, never stand with evil even if martyrdom is the end.

Muharram has always been a month to mourn and learn from the sacrifice of Imam Hussain and the martyrs of the battle of Karbala.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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