Show some respect – Muharram ‘holidays’ are not an opportunity to have fun

Published: October 25, 2015
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Pakistani Shia Muslims take part in ritual self-flagellation during a religious procession held on the eighth day of Muharram in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

It was yet another mid-term exam for the management course and I was filling in my answer sheet at a rapid speed while trying to put forward my best handwriting. Although I was still tired from my hectic schedule in the last couple of days and was feeling a bit tired and drowsy. However, due to the fact that I have been good at rote learning due to my medical school days, the exam proved to be a piece of cake. Frankly, I had it all covered well before the schedule for the exams was announced.

As I was handing over the exam, I heard a couple of finance students whispering and complaining to the teacher that the exam was not scheduled on the right day and that they were not prepared. The paper was on Muharram 11th and both the students belonged to the Shia community.

I expected that the teacher would empathise or scold them for procrastinating for the first six weeks of the semester, but to my utter disappointment and disbelief, the teacher told them that the last couple of days were more than enough for them to prepare, and it was critical for them to prioritise what is important to them and align their goals accordingly.

Being part of the same community, I knew how difficult it is for any Shia to bounce back the very next day after the Muharram ‘holidays’ (9th and 10th). During these two days, the entire Shia community is mourning and it’s not a regular day for them. There is no cooking and some don’t even switch on the lights in their homes till some of the most tragic days in history come to an end. How in the world is one supposed to revise for an examination, prepare a presentation or churn up some creative work when they are not, and cannot be, in that state of mind?

We encounter all mind-sets and responses during our mourning days especially on the day of Ashura. While there are universities conducting important examinations on Muharram 11th, there may be people even in your very close circles who would come up with unexpected proposals.

In the last few years, there has been a growing trend of social activity during Ashura.

From get-togethers, one-dish parties and movie plans to overnight stays at an island or a beach, the two-day holiday can bring a lot of opportunities for some adventure and fun. I even came across a few Facebook posts from a famous Lahore-based company that proposed an adventurous tourism program from October 23rd to 25th (days given off in observance of Ashura) to visit some beautiful hill stations of Pakistan. Regardless of all this, the most painful moment is when people ignore your religious requisitions and forward their invitations for you to join them. Incidentally, farm houses are overbooked and some folks even organise haleem parties while propagating and emulating the concept of sabeel that are generously being set up for generations by people from all sects, as a gesture of their respect and token of their love to the Ahlulbayt and their lovers.

There are, however, many more that empathise and show respect. Empathising bosses tend to decrease the workload during the Ashura (first 10 days of Muharram), occasionally allow leaving early from the office and even allow the 10-day annual leaves, without questions, to their Shia employees.

Throughout the year, people, especially doctors in the Shia community, are advised by friends, colleagues and acquaintances from the other sects, to not wear the colour black during Muharram as it is likely to attract mischief and unwanted consequences from the extremist Muslim miscreant or even sectarian terrorists.

However, you will find that along with the Shia community, people from the Sunni sect and even other religions wear black, especially from Muharram 7th to 12th, as a gesture of solidarity and to recognise and appreciate the unprecedented sacrifice of the grandson of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Imam Hussain (RA). It becomes a source of motivation and one feels grateful while witnessing a campus with students from diverse religious background all in black. These small gestures go a long way and help you ignore the indifferent attitude thrown to you from others who might invite you to a party, sheesha hangout or a film.

Thus, it is imperative to realise that these two days are not considered as ‘holidays’ for the Shia community to enjoy or undertake any pending work or start a new project. What we need to understand is that for the Shia community these days are emotionally, physically and spiritually the most exhaustive days of the Islamic calendar. The grief, sadness and mourning, which tends to continue for the next two months, till the Rabiul Awwal 8th, when the tragedy of Karbala finally ceased, is immortalised in the Shia community forever.

Someone rightly said,

“Qatl-e-Hussain asal mei marg-e-Yazid hai.

Islam zinda hota hai, har Karbala ke baad!

(Assassination of Hussain is in fact death of Yazid and his philosophy.

Islam will get life every time when a tragedy and sacrifice like Karbala occurs.)

Khwaja Ali Shahid

Khwaja Ali Shahid

The author is a Physician, health care leader, and a seasoned writer for local English newspapers and blogs. He tweets as @Ali_Shahid82

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Gullu

    Excellent article. A pleasure to read. May God keep you in the
    palm of his hand.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I hope you intended this as a sermon for the Shia reader…….because if not, in my view you are skating on thin ice.Recommend

  • Sabeet Raza

    A much needed blog! This was so amazing. Thank You for writing this Sir!Recommend

  • ab_Aamaeyla

    These days are not mourning days.
    Hazrat Imam Hussain R.A. sacrificed his life and his family for the revival of Islam. He gave us a strong message “Haq aor Batil ki jang mein, hamesha Haq ka sath daina”
    A message, if he did that, we are supposed to do the same when such scenario comes in front of us. Not just mourn over their sacrifice and Shadadah these few days. His message and footsteps are to be followed by all Muslims their entire life.Recommend

  • Muhammed Usama Aziz

    And shia people, show some humanity and dont close the whole city. If you have to mourn, you can mourn inside four walls. There is no need to shut entire city for you ‘Juloos’Recommend

  • Ganga Ram.

    Huh? How is that? Are Shias the ones who go on special mini holidays,
    picnics, outings, weddings, when they have these extra days off? Must
    agree, somewhat. It does get slightly confusing. Specially in the last paragraphs.Recommend

  • IceSoul

    And who are you to tell us what to do? I for one do not share your religious convictions and will do whatever I want on the holidays.

    This kind of sermonizing is no different from religious extremists trying to dictate their views on the rest of us.Recommend

  • umer

    great article sir ..this is true yesterday i saw some people playing cricket in some areas plz have a some respect for god sakeRecommend

  • Zee

    You guys mourn on Karbala then continue with it but why imposing your beliefs on everyone? It’s me who will decide what to do or what not? Don’t become another TalibanRecommend

  • Muzzammil

    So in short you want special concessions for being Shia? Especially when
    the person you are mourning for did not take a single special
    concession for what he stood for? While he marched with his family ready
    to shed last drop of blood no matter how much physical pain it caused,
    you have problems with getting a little uncomfortable with work and
    school schedules just because the administrators or those schedules are
    not Shia? Learn to live like Hussain before quoting poetry in his name.Recommend

  • ahsan

    I dont get it. Why its always one sided? Why dont you respect what vast majority thinks or practices? Why do you want to force them to do what ‘you think’ they should be doing? This is ridiculous and biased. There is no disagreement that if in these days some respectable community and/or people want to mourn, conduct public gatherings etc etc, no one should object to that or try to prove them wrong. This is their faith/believe/personal feelings. They should be allowed to do whatever makes them feel true to what they want/believe, of course in reasonable limits. But this should go both ways. Why do you object if some people want to go to a picnic on these days? They dont agree to what you think. They respect you and do not interfere in what you do. So please DONT interfere what they want to do.Recommend

  • Bilal

    So now articles will be on how to live our lives? That is absurd. Useless article.Recommend

  • Sahir

    You do understand that Muharram is not observed by Sunnis. As long as
    someone is not openly throwing a party, I don’t think that there is any harm in
    arranging tours/parties/functions privately.
    However, I do agree
    that Shias should not be forced to work or study during Muharram and
    they should be given some relaxation during Muharram.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Khan

    Generally I am extremely vocal about Shia rights but this article takes a very foolish approach. The teacher is absolutely right in not giving a leeway to what appears to be an under grad or post grad student. I took all my exams in and around Eid holidays as the schedule was fixed for December and the concerned institute does not moved it around despite the believes of 99% of the students.

    While secondary educational institutes and colleges can be expected to make allowances universities cannot and should not make further concessions for Muharram or Ramzan for that matter.

    Moreover, if your friends are insensitive enough to wish you new years or invite you to a house party perhaps you should try explaining it to them if you do consider them one. I do not see reason why you should continue being friends with such an apathetic lot. I have plenty of Shia friends and I ensure that they get their desired space during the soag as do almost all Sunnis who have Shia friends.Recommend

  • M Waqas Sajid

    It’s one’s decision that what he/she decide to do on these days. But, it’s very absurd that a couple off holidays are given on this (sad) occasion. We need to stop thinking in such a way to have a holiday for celebrations and mourning, we are already having very less working days as compared to other nations who are progressing by leaps. So, public holiday for mourning is not a solution, if you want to mourn, mourn after your working hours. Muslims don’t have holiday on 2nd Muharram, the day of shahadat of Hazraz Umar (R.A) –mourning.Recommend

  • SamSal

    FYI – Shias don’t shut down the city, the government does.
    Shias peacefully carry on their practice – this was happening since ages. Until a few years ago when anti-shia elements started targetting them.

    So, it’s not the shias who are responsible for this. Government and LEAs are, as it is them who close down everything in the name of security. Why blame shias?Recommend

  • Amar

    While reading the whole blog , i was thinking about the positive initiatives and all the positive steps we should take to make this society a healthier society in terms of respecting and helping each others “But” when i scroll down the page i found some interesting comments from our dear Brothers and i suddenly start thinking as a selfish person that why should we help or respect someones belief who does not belong to us. I think we must understand and appreciate the bloggers point of view with open mind rather than being a extremist. Excellent article sir , more articles needed on these kind of issues which are prevailing in our society.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The trendy ones do.Recommend

  • Muhammed Usama Aziz

    FYI the main MA Jinnah is closed and no shop is allowed to be opened. This has been going on since ages. Why dont they just do whatever they want in their imambarahs? why block main road and you know what, there is largest government hospital there too to which access is blocked because of the juloos.Recommend

  • sabeen

    allama iqbal rightfully said *Recommend

  • ovais

    so for not working and doing ones job we are going to blame ashura for that .. I am sorry mourning doesnt mean you stop doing your work. If u cant manage time its ur fault.Recommend

  • Waseem Sarwar

    I am one of those people who are very vocal about rights of Shia, Ahmadi and other religions/sects but frankly speaking, this mid city march has to stop. This applies to all sects about any religious activity which effects the general public. Government have to close whole cities because of Shia march in main markets of city with very congested roads and streets. Do whatever you think is right inside mosque or a special place like a ground or open space. It will be easy for LEAs to protect Shia and general public. Same applies for Tableeghi activities and EID milad-ul-Nabi PBUH too.Recommend

  • Favad Yousafzai

    According to which page of history u say 2nd Moharram is shahdat of Hzarat Umar. We sunnis are making up history for nothing.
    About shias having days off for Imam Hussain’s shahdat, well stop anuual holiday of May1st, Iqbal Day 9th Nov, Quaid e Azam 25th Dec, 14th of August, 23rd march, Kahsmir day, Eid ul Azha, Eid ul Fitr.
    If muslims cant take two days off for the biggest tragedy of the world then it means they are supporters of Yazeed.
    We sunnis should be more thank ful these holidays because we take two days off and go to Muree, Khaghan and watch movies and have BBQ with get togethers with old friends.
    Why dont we say something about people hours long break for prayers while at work, dont we remember that this country needs more working hours.
    Concession is not for Shias, it is for muslims to whole heartedly mourn the shahadat of Imam Hussain in any way they see fit.
    Dont forget this country was made due to the efforts of Shia community. They are equally or better muslims than we sunnis who think Imam hussain died and it is only responsibility of shias to mourn him while we go to movies and enjoy couple of days at hill station.
    WHAT A SHAME.Recommend

  • khalid saeed

    I left Pakistan at the age of 25 in 1975. Until then Ashura was observed only on 10th Muharram and that was it. Cinemas were running their business until 9th Muharram and so was radio and TV stations. Now in 2015 Muharram is observed almost all ten days by Shia community. The government has made two holidays now. This clearly indicates influence of one minority group on changing the attitude of major society. I am only thinking the fortune, poor people of Pakistan has to spend to ensure safety and security of all activities related to Shia Mourning for 10 days of Muharram. What is lesson from the sacrifice of Hazrat Hussain RAT and his companions to the entire humanity? A lot majority of People in Pakistan are deprived of basic necessity such as food and health, a necessity can be improved by using the money which is spent on ensuring the security from 1 – 10 Muharram. I think Shia will earn more respect if they consider to limit mourning within their own Imambargahs. I am of the opinion that all religious activities should be limited within restricted area thus sparing government from spending fortunes on safety and security. This is the time for educated Shia scholars to ponder over to restrict the mourning within Imambargahs.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Wrong. They don’t. They are under Genocide Watch
    in Pakland. They are being killed, simply because of their religion. The trendy ones don’t either.Too much at stake.
    A Shia doctor, professor, even a shopkeeper can be shot
    dead, any day, any time. Do you by any chance remember
    Safoora Goth Massacre? Or 16 Shias pulled off a bus in
    Chilas [Gilgit-Baltistan] Hope you know about the Shia
    Hazara killings, just about every other week in Balochistan.
    It hardly makes the news. Because that’s how callous the
    Pakland population is. Memories lasts only a week now.
    Jundullah seem to have the Extermination Contract on them,
    in the Quetta area. Jundullah’s Death Squads roam at will.
    With the blessings of the Govt. which looks the other way, pretending, huffing and puffing, putting on a Zero Show..Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Why ar’nt you moaning and groaning about 5 days that are given off for Eid?Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Absolutely. They are 20% of the population. And are under a Genocide
    Watch, in Pakland. Now, basically, after giving token condemnation,
    whenever there is a Shia massacre, the Sunnis go back to eating their
    niharis and payas. After all, as long as it’s some other minority, the Sunnis
    have no empathy. Who cares, right?Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Yours is a bigoted response. Your dislike for Shias is crystal clear.
    Things need to remain as they were in 1975? The whole world has
    evolved ! In case you did not noticed. A fortune spent on security?
    How about the billions of Dollars that are looted and taken abroad
    by the Govt., by the PM and his Cabal, by the bureaucrats, by the
    politicians of every hue and color. About 600,000 “fake pensioners”
    who received their pensions regularly, each month. They have long
    died, but still receive their pensions,…going to fraudulent accounts,
    or snapped up by corrupt family members OR corrupt bureaucrats.
    You are not worried about this? Just the money for Shia security?Recommend

  • Bibloo

    No, YOU are NOT a supporter of Shia rights. OR any minority
    rights. That is a crutch you use to justify your diatribes. Mainly,
    it is the Shias who take out processions. Hindus used to, but
    they have been killed off or forced to leave, for India, or other places. Sunnis do NOT take out processions. [Rarely, if any]
    So YOU are effectively saying DO NOT allow Shias to take out processions.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    It is people like YOU who give Pakland a bad name.
    It’s called INTOLERANCE. If it was up to YOU, there
    would be no Shias in Pakland.Recommend

  • Waseem Sarwar

    Sunnia take a whole day on 12th Rabi Ul Awal while Shias take two days. My point is do whatever you want to do but not in city center. Sooner some other sect will start taking out monthly processions on city center so how will someone stop them? What if Tableeghi Jaamayt say that they will take a weekly processions on every Thursday then what? One should follow his religion/sect but not on expense of whole country.Recommend

  • Rd px

    Bibloo, he is right. i am a very pro shia guy and have shia friends but after the iranian revolution our shias have become too vocal and too religious and want to force others to their will. Not good.Recommend

  • Rd px

    Fawad yar mourning is a personal decision. islam doesn’t ask u to mourn more then 3 days. But it was a great tragedy and u r welcome to mourn. But don’t think if we r not mourning we agree with what happened. Thats bigoted. Hazrat Imam Hussein was of sunnis tooRecommend

  • Farhan

    Hilarious. That would be Mohammed Ali Johar said not IqbalRecommend

  • Farhan

    It give me a scare thinking about those innocent souls who got stuck at Kagan during Moharram holidays, followed by earthquake in northern areas. Maybe writer has a point of some sort.
    Even than i would prefer spending my holidays as I like and not being dictated by anyones beliefRecommend

  • sana

    Everyday Pakistanis are killed in terrorism attacks, how many shias are killed every year and how many sunnis are killed? Care to share the figures.??
    it’s not about Shia or Sunni its innocent lives lost.
    I’m not a Shia I follow the sunnah of 3 days mourning in case of a death but respect for every sect and religion is taught by my Deen and family but I don’t expect others to follow my beliefs respect yes follow no.
    For me best way of remembering Karbala is by following teachings of Islam and Prophet Mohammed for whose sake Hazrat Hussain offered the supreme sacrifice Recommend

  • Pti Bahadurabad

    Religion requires sacrifice both in terms of time and resources, If someone, irrespective of any religion or sect, commits his/her time or resources for the sake of his religious obligations; the reward he seeks has nothing to do with others or even the State. If, I expect someone to compensate me for my good deeds, which I did in the name of my religion, then it should only come from the authority to which i sublime to, according to my belief. Not even other members of my religion or sect or any society or any State.Recommend

  • future20202

    So if government is looting the money then it gives others an excuse to waste the tax-payers money? Well, if with the changing time the religion is changing as khalid identified and endorsed by Bibloo then i’m worried how much it has changed since the Shahadat of Imam Hussain? While if someone want’s to do any act in the name of religion then he or she must sacrifice for it him or herself. None else should have to pay for his or her such act whether in group or individual. Performing religious obligations must benefit others rather than creating harm or difficulties for them. This is a general message of every religion though not practiced by its followers.Recommend