Last Friday, January 19, 2007 was the first of Muharram, the beginning of the New Year according the Muslim Hijri Lunar Calendar.

It is also significant because on the 10th of Muharram the Prophet’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, was martyred at Karbala. The day is know as Ashura, and while commemorated mostly by Shi’ah, Sunnis take part, and the Nizari Isma’iis, because they have a present Imam, do observe the sanctity of the time, but do not commemorate it in any particular way.

The famous Anglo-Indian dictionary, Hobson-Jobson, got it’s name from the author mis-hearing the chanting of “Ya Hasan, Ya Husayn” during a Muharram procession. The day is known for the matam, or striking of oneself to feel the pain Imam Husayn felt. This tradition is neither as universal, nor as violent as it is often presented.

In the Caribbean the holiday is known as Hosay, and is a multi-cultural and multi-religious festival. (Hosay is an absolutely fascinating event from an anthropological perspective. Two reads on the topic are Hosay Trinidad and Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting).

As a result of Muharram, my next few posts will deal specifically about the Shi’ah, starting with a reading list.

Next week I’ll be guest posting at Blogging Faith on the state of Islam in America. I will keep you updated on that event.

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