Islamic New Year has started and Muslims are now preparing for one of its first key events, the Day of Ashura.
Following moon sightings on the evening of August 9, Muharram started on August 10. That start date is the same for Saudi Arabia and the UK.
Saudi Arabia’s calendar had predicted Muharram starting on August 9 but officials revised the date because it was not possible to see the moon on the evening before that.
Birmingham-based Zahid Nawaz, advisor on moonsighting and diversity board member of the British Science Association, said it was notable that Saudi officials adjusted the date rather than relying on what was forecast in their Umm al-Qura Calendar.
He said that in the UK, the crescent of the new moon had been seen on August 9 in Leicester, Cornwall, Southampton and Saltburn-by-the-sea, meaning Muharram’s first day was August 10. It was too cloudy in the West Midlands for it to be sighted at the usual observational vantage-points such as Barr Beacon in Walsall.
“We are encouraging home-grown moon sightings here in the UK, rather than imported sightings from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere,” he said.
“People should be going out to look for the new moon every month. Not just for the spiritual element of seeing it, which in itself is a profound experience, but also as a religious duty and obligation.”
He added that getting more moon sightings in the UK would help build up an evidence base as official British astronomical charts had not been created with religious events in mind.
What happens in Muharram?
Muharram means ‘month of remembrance’ so there are solemn and commemorative events rather than joyful celebrations.
Ashura is on the 10th day and observed by both Sunni and Shia muslims.
It is marked with a voluntary day of fasting, commemorating the day Noah left the Ark and the day Moses was saved from the Egyptians by God.
For Shia Muslims, this day took on a sombre new meaning when Muhammad’s grandson Imam Husayn ibn Ali – and some of his family and companions – were killed at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.
As part of Ashura, many Muslims take part in an act of mourning called matam.
This involves men gathering in large groups on the streets for ceremonial chest-beating.
Some places of worship offer free meals from the 9th to the 11th days of the new month.
In addition, some Muslims make a pilgrimage to the Imam Husayn Shrine, at the burial site of Imam Husayn ibn Ali.
There is also Tazieh, in which groups of performers re-enact the Battle of Karbala. These can be seen in rural areas of Iran.
The term is also used for miniature replicas of the mausoleums of Karbala, made of bamboo and paper and carried in processions in South Asia and the Caribbean.
Other acts of mourning include Shia lamentations by reading poems called noha, as well as public recitations from the book Rawdat al-Shuhada (Garden of the Martyrs) that tells the tale of the tragedy at Karbala.
Is fasting required?
For Sunni Muslims, the 10th day is a time when fasting is recommended, although not compulsory.
This has its roots in the belief that this day was when Moses and the Israelites were saved from the pharaoh when God parted the sea to create a path.
Moses was told by God that this would become the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, when Jewish people take part in fasting and other rituals.
When Muhammad was exiled to Medina and saw the Jews fasting, he decreed that Muslims should fast in honour of Moses too.
That’s because Moses is also regarded as a prominent prophet and messenger in Islam as well as in Judaism and Christianity.
Ashura is also commemorated as the day Noah left the ark.
Shia Muslims do not fast on this day.
Thousands of Muslims usually take part in processions in Pakistan and India to mark Ashura.
Hundreds also traditionally gather in Newbury Park, east London. Dressed in black, they march through the streets in a sombre procession.
In Hyderabad, India, thousands gather and men strip to the waist to flagellate themselves as part of the Islamic festival.
In the UK, normally there are processions, including one in Bradford and another in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham.
This is followed by the annual Matami Juloos, which also takes place in Balsall Heath, within the 40 days of mourning that follow Ashura.
It is also referred to as the Hussaini Procession, because it commemorates the death of Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
In the Urdu language, matami means mourning and juloos means procession.
It’s unclear at this stage what will be happening for 2021 because of ongoing fears about the spread of Covid at large gatherings.
What date is Ashura 2021 and what are the virtues?
Green Lane Masjid and Community Centre (GLMCC) in Birmingham, which follows the Saudi Arabia moon announcements, said that in Islam, Muharram is considered to be a sanctified month
Allah says in the Quran: “Indeed, the number of months ordained by Allah is twelve – in Allah’s Record since the day He created the heavens and the earth – of which four are sacred. That is the Right Way. So do not wrong one another during these months.’” (9:36).
In a prophetic narration, Prophet Muhammad confirmed that the four sacred months are Dhul Qa’dah, Dhul Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab.
The virtuous day of Ashura falls on the 10th of Muharram which corresponds to Thursday, August 19, 2021 . Muslims worldwide take part in fasting and also reflect on what they can learn from this day.
Here are five things that GLMCC says you need to know about Ashura:
1. Monumental event in Islamic history
This day marks a monumental event in Islamic history; it is the day that the tyrannous army of Pharaoh were defeated by Prophet Musa (Moses). Worshippers learn from this that good always prevails over evil.
2. Oppression never lasts
Muslims learn from this great event that oppression will never go unnoticed by God, and the truly righteous will always be victorious.
Musa (Moses) said to his people: “Seek help through Allah and be patient. Indeed, the earth belongs to Allah. He causes to inherit it whom He wills of His servants. And the (best) outcome is for the righteous.’” (7:128).
3. Recommendation to fast
Prophet Muhammad recommended Muslims to fast on this day. Noble acts such as fasting are prescribed in noble times, such as the day of Ashura.
“The Prophet came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Musa (Moses) fasted on this day.’ He said, ‘We have more right to Musa (Moses) than you,’ so he fasted on that day and commanded (the Muslims) to fast on that day.” (Sahih Al Bukhari).
4. The best fast after Ramadan!
Prophet Muhammad said: “The best of fasting after Ramadan is fasting Allah’s month of Muharram.”
5. Importance of working together
Ashura teaches Muslims that they should come together as a community when working for positive change. This is because they each have different talents and strengths and complement one another.
Musa (Moses) made a prayer to God: “And appoint for me a minister from my family – Haroon (Aaron), my brother. Increase through him my strength and let him share my task.”(20: 29-32).
A spokesperson at GLMCC said: “Ashura encourages us to reflect on the lessons we learn from great events and people of the past, both wretched and righteous.
“Muslims around the globe fast on this day to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad and also to display the importance of sticking firmly to principles of faith, justice and humanity.”
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