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  • Writer's pictureShia Muslim Foundation

Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, holds deep spiritual and historical significance for Shia Muslims around the world. It is a time of reverence, introspection, and remembrance. To those unfamiliar with this tradition, let's delve deeper into understanding what Muharram represents for Shia Muslims and how it is commemorated, particularly in the city of Karbala, located in Iraq, a major center for these observances.

However, to those unfamiliar with Islamic customs and history, understanding Muharram can be a challenge.

This article seeks to explain the significance of Muharram, its historical background, and its contemporary practices. We will explore its profound importance within the Islamic community, particularly amongst the Shia Muslim community. The aim is to foster understanding and respect for this sacred occasion and offer insight into the cultural and religious implications of this period.

A Shia scholar recites a "majlis" in front of mourners

Understanding Muharram

To Shia Muslims, Muharram is synonymous with the tragic events of the Battle of Karbala in the year 680 AD, where Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, was martyred along with many of his family members and supporters. The day of his martyrdom, known as Ashura (which falls on the 10th day of Muharram), is a day of intense mourning for Shia Muslims.

Imam Husain's stand was seen as a protest against the tyranny and corruption of the ruling power at the time, personified by the Caliph Yazid. Shia Muslims view Imam Husain as a symbol of resistance against injustice and oppression, and his martyrdom is regarded as a sacrifice made for the preservation of the values of Islam.

Practices During Muharram

Shia Muslims commemorate Muharram in various ways, which include prayers and public processions. One common practice is attending gatherings known as "majalis," where sermons and narratives about the events of Karbala are recounted to foster a sense of community and shared mourning. These gatherings are often held in mosques and community centers, and even in private homes.

Muharram Observances in the United States and Other Western Nations

In the United States and other Western countries, Shia Muslims also observe Muharram with a deep sense of reverence and respect. While the nature of the commemorations may vary depending on the local cultural context and regulations, the essence remains the same: remembrance of Imam Husain and the values he stood for.

In these regions, communities often gather in local mosques, Islamic centers, or even in private homes to participate in majalis, or assemblies, where stories of Imam Husain's stand in Karbala are recounted. These sessions often involve readings from the Quran, poetic recitations, and sermons dedicated to the historical and moral aspects of the event.

To facilitate a broader understanding among non-Muslims in these countries, some communities organize public processions or exhibitions. These public events are designed to promote peaceful interfaith dialogue, highlighting the universal values of justice, truth, and resistance against oppression. Such activities provide opportunities for individuals from different faiths to learn about the significance of Muharram and the rich history of Shia Islam.

In schools and universities, Muslim student associations often host informational sessions about Muharram and Ashura, offering their peers a chance to learn about these important aspects of Shia Islam. They present historical context and discuss the ongoing relevance of Imam Hussein's stance against tyranny.

Despite being far from Karbala, Shia Muslims in Western nations continue to maintain the tradition of Muharram, fostering a sense of unity and identity within their communities. It's a testament to the enduring strength and flexibility of these practices that they can be meaningfully observed in such a variety of cultural contexts.

It is important to note that while the ways in which Muharram is observed may differ across various cultures and nations, the central theme remains the same: the remembrance of Imam Husain's stand against injustice and oppression, and the reaffirmation of the values for which he gave his life.

Who Is Husain?

Imam Husain, whose full name is Husain ibn Ali, is a central figure in Shia Islam and is revered as the third Imam, or spiritual and community leader. Born in 626 AD, he was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, through the Prophet's daughter Fatima and her husband Ali, who is revered as the first Imam in Shia Islam.

The events leading to his martyrdom began with the ascension of Yazid to the Caliphate, the leadership of the Muslim community. Yazid, known for his authoritarian rule and disregard for Islamic values, demanded allegiance from Imam Husain. In refusing to pledge allegiance, Imam Husain was not merely opposing a ruler, but taking a stand against injustice, corruption, and deviation from the path of true Islam.

In 680 AD, on the day of Ashura, Imam Husain, his family, and his companions were brutally killed on the plains of Karbala (in modern-day Iraq) by Yazid's forces. Despite being vastly outnumbered and aware of the fatal consequences, Imam Husain chose to face the tyrannical forces, valuing principles and righteousness above his own life.

Muharram Observances in Karbala

Karbala, a city in modern-day Iraq, is the very place where the Battle of Karbala occurred. It is the site of the shrines of Imam Husain and his brother, Abbas, making it a central destination for Shia Muslims during Muharram.

Pilgrims perform prayers near the shrine of Imam Husain in Karbala, Iraq (2023)

Today, millions of pilgrims from all over the world journey to Karbala during Muharram. This pilgrimage, known as the "Arbaeen Pilgrimage," which occurs 40 days after Ashura, is one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the world. Pilgrims walk from Najaf to Karbala, a distance of approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers), in a show of devotion, unity, and solidarity.

In Karbala, the narrative of Imam Husain's martyrdom is recited and re-enacted, but the emphasis is not on the physical battle but the moral and ethical stance taken by Imam Hussein. This period of remembrance in Karbala serves as a stark reminder of the universal struggle against oppression and injustice, themes that resonate strongly with the observances of Muharram.


The observance of Muharram is a profound time of remembrance and mourning for Shia Muslims, an annual reaffirmation of their commitment to the values upheld by Imam Husain - justice, truth, and resistance against oppression. Understanding these practices provides a window into the deeply held beliefs and customs of Shia Muslims around the world.

For those who wish to learn more or engage in respectful dialogue about these traditions, the Shia Muslim Foundation welcomes your curiosity and is here to provide further information and foster interfaith understanding.

WASHINGTON DC (July 14, 2023) – In a historic move towards religious unity and acceptance, Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, the esteemed Director-General of the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society, was invited to lead a blessing prayer at the Scottish coronation of King Charles. This marks the first time a non-Christian has been given this honour.

Sayed Razawi, a highly respected leader in the Shia community, known for his efforts towards interfaith dialogue and cooperation, was previously a part of an intimate audience with His Holiness Pope Francis in Vatican City. This meeting reaffirmed the virtues of listening, mutual cooperation, and soft speech in religious dialogues, a testament to Razawi's unyielding commitment to creating a society where different faiths coexist harmoniously.

The Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society, an organisation deeply rooted in Shia faith, serves the needs of the Scottish Shia Muslim community and the breadth of society in general. The society works tirelessly towards engaging with other communities and faiths to build a diverse and inclusive nation.

This monumental involvement of Sayed Razawi in the coronation aligns with the endeavours of the Ahlul Bayt Society, which also works in partnership with the Shia Muslim Foundation, a US-based non-profit. The Foundation champions the rights and welfare of Shia Muslims globally and is deeply involved in advocating on social and political issues that the Shia community faces.

Rahat Husain, Executive Director of the Shia Muslim Foundation, expressed his profound appreciation for this significant event. "Sayed Razawi's role in the coronation ceremony exemplifies our shared mission towards fostering peace, respect, and mutual understanding among different faiths," said Husain. "This unprecedented step taken by the United Kingdom, to include a Shia Muslim leader in a traditionally Christian ceremony, reflects the vital progress made in building an inclusive society."

Drawing from Sayed Razawi's words during his interaction with Pope Francis, he said, "There is a common humanity to all of us. Some seek to divide people, religions, east versus west, but there is no east or west; there is just our common humanity as we seek a peaceful future for all based on justice and compassion."

The inclusion of a Muslim figure in the coronation ceremony marks an auspicious new chapter in the history of Scotland, embodying the principle of unity in diversity. It reiterates the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society's and Shia Muslim Foundation's ongoing efforts towards promoting understanding and acceptance of the Shia faith in wider society.

As the SMF continues to engage in such important dialogues and advocacy work, the foundation invites public support to enhance its initiatives. Donations can be made here.


About the Shia Muslim Foundation (SMF)

Founded in 2020, the SMF is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Its primary mission is to support the civic rights of American Shia Muslims and advocate for them on social and political issues. Through various initiatives and programs, the SMF addresses the unique challenges faced by the Shia Muslim community, fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of the Shia faith and its followers.

CHANTILLY, VA, July 12, 2023 — The Shia Muslim Foundation (SMF) was honored today to attend a special event promoting intra-interfaith dialogue, community engagement, and effective countering of extremism. The event was hosted by Sayyid Kashmiri, the Official Representative of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the Al Crescent Center, and was organized by Dr. Hasan Abbas, the course director of the NESA's "Community Oriented Policing and Countering Violent Extremism"

The gathering, hosted by the Crescent Islamic Center in Chantilly, VA, welcomed a distinguished group of 30 senior experts from 13 countries, specializing in various aspects of policing, law enforcement, and countering extremism.

"We are deeply honored to be part of this significant event. This is a clear affirmation of our commitment to fostering peace, understanding, and co-existence within the broader community," said Rahat Husain. "This gathering of experts allows us an opportunity to learn from diverse experiences and engage in crucial dialogue to further our mission."

The meeting offered a valuable platform for expert attendees to share their experiences, discussing various aspects of policing, law enforcement, and countering extremism. There was a strong focus on the importance of intra-interfaith dialogue for religious harmony and peace-building.

The invitation to participate in the event came in recognition of SMF's work in supporting the rights of Shia Muslims in the U.S. and globally, in addition to fostering understanding and acceptance of the Shia faith within the broader American community.

Husain added, "We are grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with these esteemed individuals, and we look forward to applying the knowledge gained in our ongoing efforts to advocate for the Shia Muslim community."

As the SMF continues to engage in such important dialogues and advocacy work, the foundation invites public support to enhance its initiatives. Donations can be made here.


About the Shia Muslim Foundation (SMF)

Founded in 2020, the SMF is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Its primary mission is to support the civic rights of American Shia Muslims and advocate for them on social and political issues. Through various initiatives and programs, the SMF addresses the unique challenges faced by the Shia Muslim community, fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of the Shia faith and its followers.

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