Muharram 2022: What is Ashura and when is the Islamic New Year?

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A Muharram procession in Baghdad, Iraq (2019)  (AP)
A Muharram procession in Baghdad, Iraq (2019) (AP)

The Islamic New Year is, unlike other religions and cultures, not widely considered as a time for celebration.

From the first to the tenth day of the new year, the time of serious reflection and mourning is a common practice.

As Muslims around the world commemorate the month in different ways here is what you need to know about the Islamic New Year.

When is Muharram?

Muharram is the first month in the Islamic calendar, which runs according to a lunar cycle.

This means the entire calendar year has ten days less than its Gregorian counterpart, so significant dates fall on a different day each year in the west.

Timings of the day also differ, with the 24 hour cycle beginning and ending at sundown.

This year Muharram begins on the evening of Friday July 29 and ends on Sunday August 28.

Why is Muharram important?

The sacred month is one of four marked in the Islamic calendar in which fighting is disallowed.

Many significant historical events fall on this day, but for Shia’s the standout event was the martyrdom of Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad – upon whom Muslims send blessings.

In Shia Islam, the second biggest denomination in the faith, the Battle of Karbala that occurred on this date in history is a time of immense mourning.

Other sects appreciate the gravity of the event but Shia Muslims often make the added pilgrimage to the seminal site of Hussain’s shrine in central Iraq.

What is Ashura?

Ashura, literally meaning the tenth, unsurprisingly falls on day ten of the New Year.

The day will therefore begin on August 7 and end the following evening.

Leading up to this central event, the first ten days of the month are usually spent in worship and varying levels of mourning.

How are Muharram and Ashura observed?

This spiritual time is marked by fasting, increased remembrance, visiting the mosque for communal worship and displaying a sombre mood.

It is generally seen as disrespectful to host celebratory events during this time.

According to historical records from Islamic Arabia, Ashura was already known as a day for customary fasting. When fasting during the month of Ramadan was made compulsory, the obligation to fast on Ashura was abrogated.

Fasting on Ashura coincides with the Jewish Yom Kippur fast, but Muslims usually fast an additional day before or after.

Some Shia Muslims partake in more lively acts of mourning, such as Matam, hitting one’s chest to remember previous suffering, and public processions.

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