Awal Muharram (also called Maal Hijrah) celebrates the beginning of the Islamic New Year, and is also the beginning of ten days of remembrance for the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, who was killed in the battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram in the year 680 AD.
Muharram, derived from the word haram, which means sinful, is a month considered most sacred of all besides the month of Ramadan. During this time, Muslims are forbidden to fight; hence, a time of mourning and peace.
This first month of the Islamic year coincides with the migration of Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD and is therefore, considered a time for self-evaluation and a starting point for change.
Muslims celebrate this event all over the world. The Shia Muslims (Shi’ite) spend the day mourning – some even to the extent of flogging themselves – to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali. The Sunni Muslims fast and celebrate the day according to the Sunnah of Mohammed, which is in honour of Moses’ recue of the people of Israel from Pharaoh, sometimes on the 10th day.
Also on the 10th day of Muharram, most Muslims start fasting when the sun rises and do not eat until later in the evening. Muslims cook sweet rice, also known as Bubur Asyura and share them among family members and friends during their break fast. It is also during this time that Muslims gather in mosques to usher in the new Hijri year.
At the same time, various religious activities will be carried out such as spiritual singing, religious activities and the recitation of Koranic verses. Since special prayers and sermons are conducted in public halls and mosques, areas around mosques might be congested in the evenings and at night.