moon sighting for Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and the
start of the Islamic year, once again I see “Happy New Year” greetings all over
the social media and many parties and “fun events” taking place. But is the
Islamic New Year a cause for celebration or a solemn reminder of an immense
tragedy that befell the noble family of Prophet Muhammad?
sermons and other religious programs do go over the sacred nature of the month
of Muharram but almost never mention the tragedy of Karbala. Life goes on
“normally”. This is mostly the state of the Sunni Muslim world.
other hand, Shia Muslims prepare for a month long (actually longer period) of
daily programs commemorating the great sacrifice of Imam Hussain and the noble
family of Prophet Muhammad. Muharram is almost synonymous with crying, shedding
tears and other rituals to honour the great memory of Ahlul Bayt, People of the
House (of Prophet Muhammad).
to question as to why we have seemingly divergent paths in this sacred month. I
also note that many, if not all, of Shia gatherings to commemorate tragedy of
Karbala are Shia-only gatherings. Sunnis are almost never “invited”. All of
this makes me wonder, and I find myself asking these questions:
Hussain (also spelled Husayn and Hussein) sacrifice his life and the lives of
his noble family for “Shias” only or for “Shia Islam”?
commemoration of the tragedy of Karbala a lesson for Shias only?
world seems to be ever more divided between various sects. The tension between
Sunnis and Shias across the globe is exemplified by the civil war in Syria,
Bahrain, Yemen, and the Shia genocide (though no one seems to be willing to
call it out) in many parts of the world, including Pakistan.
brothers and sisters on the other hand, though acknowledging and respecting
Imam Hussain’s sacrifice, seem indifferent- at least outwardly.
Why do the
Shia gatherings not include Sunni brothers and sisters? Do the Shias have the
monopoly on Imam Hussein, or the commemoration?
be united by our faith alone. We have more in common than any other religious
groups. We are united by our faith and love for one God. We are united by our
faith and love for the Holy Qur’an. We are united by the love for Salah and
Ka’aba. We are united by our faith and love for Prophet Muhammad and his
Qur’an’s Call to Unity
fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not
divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; for
you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you
became brethren…” 3:103
Lessons Of Karbala
sacrifice at Karbala by Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his
family and companions against the army of the tyrant ruler Yazid was not meant
for Shias only, or even Muslims only. It was a lesson for all of humanity.
Through his sacrifice, he taught us how to stand up against tyranny, oppression
Hussain (As) witnessed the decline of morality and rise of corruption within
the Muslim Ummah when Yazid took over as the Khalifa of the Muslim Ummah just
about 50 years after the passing of Prophet Muhammad. Yazid was known for his
immorality even back then. Given the high spiritual status of Imam Hussain, he
sought his allegiance- essentially an endorsement for his corrupt life style
and tyrannical rule.
pledge allegiance to a tyrant was an easy choice for Imam Hussain as he stood
strong in his convictions and adherence to the Sunnah of his grandfather. He
would not bow down to Yazid- even if it meant being butchered ruthlessly, and
seeing his family- including his young son and the infant son being killed by
the Yazid’s army.
With Dignity Is Better Than A Life Of Humiliation. Imam Hussain
after the martyrdom of all the male adults (except for his son Ali who was
critically ill at the time), the women and children will be shackled and
paraded through the streets of Iraq and Syria on the way to the palace of
Yazid- in an apparent show of strength and to bring humiliation to the family
of Prophet Muhammad.
when Sayyida Zainab, Imam Hussain’s sister and the granddaughter of Prophet
Muhammad assumed the leadership of the remaining family of the Prophet. She
addressed the on lookers lined up on the streets as the prisoners were paraded
in shackles. She told the gatherings as to what actually happened in the desert
of Karbala- a far and deserted land at the time in the present day Iraq. She
told the crowds who they were, what they stood for and how ruthlessly Yazid’s
army killed the family of the Prophet. She continued to speak out when the caravan
reached the palace of Yazid and after their eventual release.
That to me
was the start of the present- day “Majlis”- the gatherings to
commemorate the great sacrifice.
sought to wipe out the family of Prophet Muhammad and erase them from our memory.
If it weren’t for Sayyida Zainab’s courageous efforts and standing up tall in
the face of grave adversity, we may have never known as to what happened in the
land of Karbala 1400 years ago.
and Hadith on the love for Prophet’s family
…Say O Muhammad): I do not ask of you any
reward for it but love for my near relatives. 42:23
for “it” is a reference to his labor as a messenger of God. As to who the “near
relatives” are is explained by Sahih Muslim, which goes on to say that the
Prophet reminded his Ummah to hold onto the Holy Qur’an and members of his
family. The description makes it clear who did the prophet referred to by
Hadith, Prophet Muhammad had called Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussein his family,
such as: “…when the (following) verse was revealed:” Let us summon our children
and your children.” Allah’s Messenger (May peace be upon him) called ‘Ali,
Fatima, Hassan and Hussain and said: O Allah, they are my family.” 
Hussein’s brother, Hassan was equally loved by the Prophet, as noted in
numerous Islamic history books. It is reported that Prophet Muhammad would
prolong his Sajdah (prostration) if Hassan or Hussein (toddlers at the time)
would get on his back. In reference to Hassan, Prophet Muhammad had this to
“O Allah, behold, I love him. You too love him and love one who loves
Few other Hadiths from Prophet Muhammad reflecting his immense love for
the two brothers:
• Hussein is from me and I am from Hussein.
• Hassan and Hussein are the leaders of the youngsters of paradise.
• Those who love him, love me, those who are his enemies are my enemies.
(Narrated by Abu-Huraira)
Rasulullah (messenger of God) say ‘Verily my son [Hussain] will be killed in a
land called Karbala, whoever amongst you is alive at that time must go and help
Fights Hussain, Fights The Prophet. 
none of the references quoted here are from “Shia” sources, hopefully
eliminating any bias Shia scholars and historians may have. In addition to the
Hadith, many notable Sunni Muslims have shown their admiration for Imam Hussein
and the tragedy at Karbala.
understand that there are different ways to express mourning and in fact the
lessons from the tragedy of Karbala go way beyond mourning. Karbala taught us
all that we should not be afraid of speaking the truth, stand up to oppression
and tyranny, be steadfast when facing adversity, fight for justice and be kind
to everyone including our enemies. Let the tragedy of Karbala and the sacrifice
of Imam Hussain be a source for Muslim unity, not division.
Celebration Vs Commemoration Question:
physician, I see many patients who have lost their loved ones including
children. As the anniversary of the death of their children and other loved
ones approaches, they experience sadness, not just on the day of their death
anniversary but even at the beginning of the month they passed away, as they
get flashbacks and the memories of their loved ones. If the death anniversary
fell on January 1st, they do not celebrate New Year’s as the memories of their
loved ones overshadow the celebrations.
If we claim
to really love Imam Hussain, just like the Qur’an and our Prophet Muhammad ask
us to, should the sadness not enter our hearts as we approach the anniversary
of his ruthless martyrdom?
sought to wipe the progeny of Prophet Muhammad out by butchering all the adult
males, yet his plans failed miserably as the memory of the tragedy of Karbala
remains alive in the hearts of the lovers of Ahlul Bayt. If it wasn’t for the
hard work of a small minority of Muslims, and if we continue to be indifferent
as we approach Muharram, the sacrifice of Karbala would have been largely
forgotten within couple of generations. Do we want to (unintentionally)
contribute to the efforts of Yazid by treating Muharram like any other month
and pretend nothing happened to the Prophet’s family?
claim to love Prophet Muhammad and Imam Hussain, and then ‘celebrate’ New Year,
rather than commemorate and pay homage to his great sacrifice. The intensity of
our commemoration has to match our love for them and the great sacrifice at
Sahih Muslim, Book 031, Number 5920
Sahih Muslim, Book 031, Number 5915
Sahih Muslim, Book 031, Number 5951 and 5953
Khasais al Kubra Volume 2 page 125 (Maktaba Nurree Rizvi Publishers, Pakistan
This same narration can be located in the following books by Sunni authors:
Isaba Volume 1 page 81 Dhikr Uns bin Harith
Tareekh ibn Asakir Volume 4 page 341 Dhikr Husayn
ul Ummal Volume 6 page 223 Dhikr Husayn
Sirush Shahadathayn page 80
Kifayath al Talib page 429 Dhikr Husayn
al Authar page 88
Dhukhayt al Uqba page 146
References from the following:
Adhaab al Mufraad page 17
ibn Majah page 14, Manaqib Husayn
Tirmidhu Volume 2 page 587 Manaqib Husayn
Dhukayr al Uqba page 133 Dhikr Husayn
Sawaiqh al Muhriqa page 114 Dhikr Husayn
Nabi al Mawaddath page 164 Chapter 54
al Usool Volume 10 page 21
Mustadrak al Hakim Volume 3 oage 177
al Ummal Volume 6 page 220 Manaqib Husayn
Fusl al Muhimma page 171 Dhikr Husayn
Ahsaaf al Raghibeen page 175 Dhikr Husayn
Nuzool al Absar page 55 Dhikr Husayn
Murqaath Sharh Mishqaath page 55
Headline: Muharram and Islamic New Year- A Time For Commemoration, Not