The Secret Called Muharram

Muharram is beginning. A new year for Muslims, but one that begins as all years do – with the memory of what the purpose of life truly is.  When Shia Muslims (and some non-Shia too) put their personal lives on hold for the first two months and eight days of every Islamic year, it is their tribute to those rare individuals who have the courage, the dedication and the purity of soul to be what God meant them to be.

Remembering the tragedy of Karbala is remembering the essential difference between being human and animal. It is keeping fresh the reminder that when the world calls out for help, there must always be people who will stand up and answer its plea. People whom we call saviours.

They do more for us than we can ever understand or appreciate fully, yet they do it for a higher cause and not for our gratitude. Were the world to turn away and forget them, they would not change their path or their ideals.

Today, we sat down – just the three of us – and had a small majlis (gathering). 15 minutes to herald the coming of the season of mourning. And I couldn’t help wondering how many people still do that today. Bring Muharram into their homes and their lives. Some people call it ‘tradition’ and others call it ‘culture’ but no one who has actually taken the time to make a few changes to show that they are now in mourning can deny that it’s a warm feeling. Something that consoles you that you’re part of the preservation of the message of azadari.

You could put up black flags and curtains, put away the coloured and fancy clothes and cover your life with shades of sadness. You can bring out the tapes of marsiya and nawha and start listening to the lectures you’ve been storing for the entire year. You can take off your jewellery, wear a black ribbon and put stickers on your car and badges on your purses. Whatever it is that you do, what is important about it is that you don’t leave Muharram up to your local community centre.

Sure, we attend the first 11 days at the mosque, but what if you don’t live near a mosque? And what about the rest of the two months? The things you do at home are what you will one day pass on to your children. And they to theirs. If you don’t bring Karbala into your daily life – not just in your thoughts – but also in your actions, your environment and your attitude, how will you ever teach the next generation to do the same?

You don’t have to take any advice from me, but if you’re reading this and you love Imam Husayn (a), go have a small majlis, even if it is by yourself.  You deserve to give yourself that gift.

Bint Ali


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