Muharram in Iran

 For avid travelers, sightseers, and even researchers, who take a fancy to feel extraordinary scenes or a first-hand cultural experience, now is the time.

Some believe a visit to Iran in Muharram, and especially during the first ten days of the lunar month, could be comparable to a visit to China during the Lunar New Year or Europe during the Christmas season.

For Iranians, Ashura is a solemn day of mourning, marked by various mourning rituals and passion plays re-enacting the martyrdom. Men and women, dressed in the black, parade through the streets, slapping their chests and chanting. Some people seek to emulate the suffering of their third Shia Imam by flagellating themselves with chains in a symbolic act.

During Tasu’a and Ashura, when the public mourning reaches its climax, a lively atmosphere prevails in all corners of the country to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS), a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), slain in 680 CE at Karbala in modern-day Iraq.

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and therefore the 1st day of the month marks the Islamic New year. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, Muharram moves from year to year.

Muharram (derived from the word Haram, meaning forbidden) is one of the four sacred months of the year in which war is prohibited.

All government offices, universities, sporting arenas, cinemas as well as most tourist attractions like museums are closed during Tasu’a (Sunday, August 7, 2022) and Ashura (Monday, August 8, 2022). Most of the restaurants are closed in Ashura as well.

In Islamic and Persian culture, the 3rd, 7th, and 40th day of birth and particularly death are significant dates. Arbaeen (literally meaning forty in the Arabic Language) which marks 40 days after the death of Imam Hussein (AS) is also a typical period of mourning for Muslims.

During Muharram, particularly on Tasu’a and Ashura, people refrain from doing or saying things that may violate the honorable spirit of the month. Television and radio channels alter their timings and programs to accommodate more religious sermons, mourning songs, live ceremonies, and films about the spirit of the month.

Black as the color of mourning during this month is visible in people’s attire, banners hanging from buildings, billboards, decoration of city walls, and in the writings on the rearview windows of cars.

The night of Ashura in Iran is called Shaam-e Ghariban, meaning “the night of strangers” and those who are far from home and help. People light candles in holy places and gatherings in every corner of the country.

For Shia Muslims all over the world, this is a special but extremely sad day. Muharram and the following month, Safar (which includes commemoration of the aftermath of Karbala) are a period of lamentation. War and fighting are prohibited during Muharram and festivities like weddings and birthdays are usually postponed to more appropriate days. People generally wear black out of respect or at least avoid wearing very bright colors.

‘Azadari’ is the Persian word for mourning, stemming from the word Azaa. The literal meaning of Azaa is twofold. Firstly, it indicates ‘patience’ and ‘perseverance’ and secondly, when used as a verb, it implies consolation and solace that comes as a gradual result of that patience. In many cultures, the act of consolation has a ritualistic face, and it is therefore systematic and easy to follow as it provides its very own logic, symbolism, and paradigms.

The ritualistic bereavements of Muharram are a platform where various artistic genres like literature, painting, music, fiction, and drama are reconciled. During Muharram, apart from mosques, each neighborhood sets up its establishment for the ceremonial processions of the month known as ‘Tekkiyeh’, which are venues for the gathering of mourners known as ‘heyat’ (literally meaning group or delegation) who honor the life of Imam Hussein (AS).

The tragedy is also observed in some other countries with sizeable Shia communities, including Iraq,  Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.