Muharram Day 1
The Islamic month of Muharram has begun today and some of our readers have mentioned that they would like to know what Muharram is like in Iran.
Why is Muharram important? Because back in 680 CE the Prophet Muhammad's beloved grandson Hussein, and a small band of Hussein's family and close associates were massacred in the desert of Karbala (in Iraq) by the troops of Yazid, the claimant to leadership of the Muslim community. Thus Shia Muslims mourn this event every year (as do/did many Sunni Muslims), starting with the first of Muharram and culminating on the 10th, when Hussein was killed (though there are certain commerations and events related to these events that occur after the 10 days are over).
Here are some good links about Muharram in general:
A variety of articles on the events of Karbla, including some very interesting acticles by Western academics, like Annemarie Schimmel (http://al-islam.org/index.php?sid=102739283&t=sub_pages&cat=252)
Another common practice during this time is to listen to religious lectures which also include lessons about the day's events in the history of Karbala. My favorite site for these is found below, where the speakers tend to be intellectuals and academics. This year's speaker, Dr. Ali Shomali is from Qom and looks very interesting (http://www.islamicherald.com/Community/Calendar/Speaker_Profile.asp?SpeakerID=29)
Personally, I am not very fond of the ritualized mourning. I think it is vital to recount the events of Karbala and to mourn, but the standardized, group mourning isn't necessarily my thing. Some of my thinking about this comes from the works of the late Dr. Ali Shariati (incidently, the teacher of my teacher):
Red Shi`ism, Black Shi`ism (http://www.shariati.com/redblack.html)
After Shahadat (http://al-islam.org/beliefs/philosophy/shahadat.html)
As for specifics about Muharram in Iran, so far not much seems to have changed. Unlike, say, Pakistan, where the drama of identity politics plays out on a grand scale between Shi`is and Sunnis in things like dress--with Shi`is buying and wearing new, all black outfits for Muharram--Shi`is in Iran do wear black, or bits of black, but people here don't buy new or special clothes, just whatever they have that's black. And it's not head-to-toe black, but more a theme of black to indicate mourning. Who's not wearing black? Mullahs, who are wearing whatever robes they normally do; manual laborers; various students at the university; and ladies under their (everyday black) chadors, seem to be wearing whatever colored clothes they normally wear.
Other signs that it's Muharram include some black banners hung along the streets or outside of some shops. Below is a shot of Mofid Square looking towards the direction of our apartment. You'll see that the large flags that normally fly the color green (the color of the Prophet and his family) are black , and there are some other black flags spaced out down the road.
Below is an interesting bit of religious-political art. You'll note the traditional painting of the women of Hussein's camp mourning over the return of his horse (Zuljinah) from the battlefield, without Imam Hussein. Glommed on to the picture is Ayatollah Khomeini and the current leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. It's even more intriguing if you've read UT Austin professor's Kamran Scot Aghaie's "The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi`i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran" (http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/AGHMAC.html)
More details to come over the days as we find things of interest!