Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and is associated with commemorating the martyrdom of Hussain at Karbala. On the 10th of Muharram, which is called Ashura, the Shia Muslims commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Hussain at the plain of Karbala.
In the battle of Karbala Hazrat Hussain was attacked by the army of Yazid, the Umayyad caliph. It is believed that the reason behind this battle was that Hussain did not pay his allegiance to the newly appointed caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. So, on the 10th of Muharram, Hussain, along with the male members of his family, were killed, and the women held captives.
Even after Hussain was critically injured, he continued to fight and was not ready to give his allegiance to the caliph whom he thought was not the rightful one. This was the dreadful event in the history of Islam, and even the enemies of Hussain were shocked because the army of Yazid had killed the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and son of Ali.
This brutal death of Hussain in the battle of Karbala was lamented by many Muslims, especially the Shias-the followers of Ali, around the world. This even made the Muslim reflect and search for how they could kill the grandson of their Prophet. The site of Karbala also became an important site of pilgrimage for many Shias who come to Karbala every year to pray and pay their respect.
Hussain came to be known for sacrificing his life for the cause of Islam. Each year, in the month of Muharram the Shia Muslims reflect on the events that happened at the battle of Karbala. Today, in some Persian countries, these events are re-enacted in many condolence theatres known as ta’ziyeh.
In Pakistan and India, the Shia Muslims commemorate the event for the first ten days of the month. During Muharram, the Shias mostly wear black colour, sign of mourning. There are no celebrations like wedding or any other functions held during this month.
The Shia Muslims lament by beating themselves on their chests (matam), remembering theta they had not helped Hussain in the hour of need. People have a special arrangement for matam. The usually sharpen their knives and chains and beat themselves with those chains and knives connected to it. Beating is prohibited in some parts of the world; therefore on this day, many people donate their blood, another form of sacrifice.
Food and water (sabil) are also distributed among people remembering the thirst and hunger of Hussain and his followers in Karbala.
In Pakistan, there are different matamsarai (mourning houses) where sermons are held remembering the brutality Hussain faced in Karbala. Special prayers are held and marthiya (poetries of lament) are sung.
In Pakistan, the Commemoration of Karbala on the day of Ashura has become a national holiday.