Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the first day of Muharram, the Islamic New Year is observed by Muslims. Instead of joyous celebration, Muslims mark the beginning of the New Year by taking up the black attire of sorrow and participate in mourning gatherings in which the sacrifices of Husayn and his companions are commemorated. It is one of the four months of the year in which fighting is prohibited. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, Muharram moves from year to year when compared with the Gregorian calendar. This year it starts on 15th November, 2012.
The month of Muharram is of great religious significance to Islamic people the world over. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. The word 'Muharram' is often considered synonymous with 'Ashura', the tenth day of the Muharram month. "Ashura" is a highly important day for both sects of Islam - the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shia muslims believe that Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, became a martyr at the Battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram in 61 AH(680 AD).
Some Muslims fast during daylight hours on the ninth and 10th or 10th and 11th days of the month. They may also attend special prayer meetings in mosques or private homes. Not all Muslim groups observe this occasion in the same manner. The Pulikali, also known as the tiger dance, is part of the Muharram celebration in Kerala. Some Muslims paint their bodies with tiger markings, wear masks, and parade through streets, playing, dancing and mimicking a tiger.
Events in the first ten days of Muharram include: Parades with replicas of Imman Hussain's tomb, Gatherings where young men hit themselves with sticks and chains to mourn Imman Hussain's death, Giving food to the poor, Communal meals in mosques and community buildings, Firework displays.
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