Muharram is the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The first ten days of this month are held very dear by the Shia Muslims of Iran and around the world. It is strongly believed that in the year 680 CE, Hussain Ibn Ali, the third Shia Imam cut his pilgrimage of Hajj short and responded to the call of the people of Kufa (a city in modern-day Iraq, 150 km south of Baghdad, and the Capital at the time). He left what is today known as Saudi Arabia (then known as Hijaz) to Kufa because the people of Kufa had grown tired of their rulers and had expressed their desire to have Hussain Ibn Ali as their rightful ruler in over 18,000 handwritten letters.
Hussain Ibn Ali (referred to as Imam Hussain by Shias) is the third Imam of the Shia Muslims. His is the son of Ali Ibn Abi Talib and the grandson of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. According to the Shia belief, During a speech at a place called Ghadir Khumm, prophet Mohammed announced that after his death Ali Ibn Abi Talib would be his successor. 120,000 Muslims stood and witnessed the lengthy event and took an oath of allegiance with Imam Ali. However, after the prophet, sabotages happened. Shias believe Imam Ali was wrongfully dethroned and Abu Bakr bin Abi Quhafa was throned as the caliph of the Islamic realm.
After Imam Ali, his son Hassan Ibn Ali was the second Shia Imam. After years of war with the wrongful caliph of his time, Mu’awiya bin Abi Sufyan, Hassan Ibn Ali was forced into signing a treaty with him. Imam Hassan’s imamate only lasted 10 years after the death of his father, before Hussain Ibn Ali, his younger brother became Imam (leader). Hussain Ibn Ali held on to his end of the deal with Mu’awiya until Mu’awiya’s death. Since Mu’awiya had turned the Islamic Caliphate into a monarchy, his son Yazid Ibn Mu’awiya was his successor.
Yazid decided to throw away the treaty with Imam Hussain and sent men to arrest him and force him into an oath of allegiance with Yazid. According to history, Yazid was a violent man who killed thousands during the three years and eight months that he reigned over the Islamic realm. His habits included excessive drinking and playing around with his pet monkeys. Imam Hussain would have never pledged an oath with this man.
So after the call from the people of Kufa, Hussain Ibn Ali took his entire family and headed towards Kufa. On the way, he was reassured that the people of Kufa were desperately awaiting his arrival. A few days past and another ruler was sent to Kufa by Yazid Ibn Mu’awiya to take care of the situation and turn the people against Imam Hussain. He was successful in his mission and used money, gold, or death threats to turn people against Hussain Ibn Ali, and the few that were still left were either imprisoned or at the very best, killed.
Hussain Ibn Ali got news of the situation close to Kufa, he tried to turn back, but was blocked by the soldiers of Yazid and was forced to head to Kufa where 30,000 men stood in front of him. Hussain had gathered a few men to help him. That, plus his family and companions raised their total number to nearly 120 people. They clearly had no chance to win the war, but that’s exactly why to this day, millions of people around the world follow his movement and believe to stand firm for what is right.
On the tenth of Muharram, Hussain Ibn Ali and his family were brutally slaughtered and the ones who lived to tell the tales were imprisoned and tortured because they refused to give up their beliefs. So every year during the month of Muharram, especially from the first to the tenth day which is known as Ashura (lit. tenth) Shias around the world mourn the death of their third Imam and commemorate what he stood for.
During the millennium, the word has spread to other religions as well and that’s why today, we see followers of other beliefs and religions join Shias in mourning this holy day around the world