Mourning ceremonies at Muharram

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Mourning ceremony for Muharram

The mourning ceremonies at Muharram are a series of different rituals in the first month in the Islamic calendar of Muharram . This month marks the anniversary of the death of the third Shiite imam , Husain ibn Ali , grandson of the Islamic prophet Mohammad . He and his follower were killed by the Umayyad clan caliphs in the Battle of Karbala. Shiites commemorate and mourn this event by holding a ten-day mourning ceremony with various rituals.


The mourning ceremonies at Muharram differ between Shiites, Sunnis and other ethnic groups and depending on the location and culture.

Pilgrimage to the Imam Husain shrine

The Imam Husain Shrine is located above the grave of Husain ibn Ali , the third Shiite imam, in the city of Karbala , Iraq. The shrine is right next to where Husain became a Muslim martyr on the day of Ashura . In 2015 and 2016, 22 million people from all over the world visited the shrine at Arba'in , making this pilgrimage ( ziyara ) the largest gathering of people in the world. Most of the participants are Shiites, but some Sunnis, Christians and Yazids and other people of different faiths also take part.


The ceremonial beating of the chest ( matam ) is one of the most common mourning ceremonies among Shiites. Men and women gather in a funeral ceremony, and while mourning Hussain ibn Ali, they hit their chests. There are two basic forms of matam :

  • Matam , in which you only hit your chest with your hands in a certain rhythm, is also called Sīnazanī .
  • Matam, in which you injure yourself with a sharp object to let blood flow, is also called the “ bloody” Matam, Tatbir or Qama-Zani . This type of self-flagellation has been declared forbidden ([haram]) by the leading Shiite religious authorities.


One form of mourning ceremony is the theatrical reenactment of the Battle of Karbala , in which Husain ibn Ali and his companions were martyrs. The funeral drama ( Ta'ziye ), a type of passion play, is a typical genre of Iranian acting, in which all elements of acting such as stage design, music, singing and theatrical representation are used.


In response to the revival of the Battle of Karbala and to express condolences to Husain and his family, the audience wept and wail. Weeping, wailing and expressing condolences to Husain and his family and his companions are considered recommended and blessed and, according to tradition, should save us from the fire of hell.

Rawda Khwani / Rouze-Chani

Rawda Khwani or Rawḍa-K̲h̲wānī ( Persian روضه خوانی, DMG rouże-chāni , from Persian روضه خوان, rouże-chān , preacher, to Persian روضه, rouze , sermon, and to خواندن, chāndan , reading text, singing, learning lesson) is a Shiite-Iranian mourning ceremony in which the presented by Husain and other imams. Rawda means "garden" in Arabic and the name comes from the title of the literary masterpiece by Husayn Waiz Kashifi, which was published in Persian: Rawdat al-Shuhada . The word of Rawda-khawani means "recitation from Rawdat al-Shuhada" and is also commonly called Rawda. The storyteller ( Rawża-chvān ) loudly recites an elegy in a sad voice and using certain keys to make the audience cry. This ritual can be held anywhere, such as in houses, in the courtyard of the mosque, on the town or village square and also in a Hussainiya. The place of origin of Rawda was Iran, but this is done in Bahrain and India.


Noha are the poems and stories inspired by Maqtal al-Husayn (various books telling the story of the battle of Karbala and the death of Husain ibn Ali). The poet or another reads the Noha with a plaintive rhythm. The main theme of Noha is the mourning for the death of Hussain ibn Ali. Noha exists in different languages ​​like Arabic.


In 680 Husain died with his followers in the fight against numerically superior many times troops of the Umayyad -Kalifen Yazid I. to martyrdom . This battle of Karbala is deeply rooted in Shiite religiosity. The first tradition of common mourning for Husain is attested to the year 683. The passion celebrations were first held in Baghdad in 963 . The celebrations begin on the first day of the month of Muharram and increase to their climax, the Ashura, on the 10th of Muharram, the anniversary of Husain's death .


Processions in Bahrain 2005

On the one hand, the focus is on lamenting, weeping and the self-flagellation of believers. Suffering should transform one's own sorrow for the suffering of the fallen imams into active compassion and symbolize the willingness to be martyred. Characteristic of the Muharram Passion celebrations are long lines of believers who repeatedly beat themselves with their hands in front of their chests or with chains on their backs. According to Heinz Halm, these rituals enable the Shiites to "atone some of the individual sins, but also the collective historical guilt of the Shia".

On the other hand, since the 19th century, the scenic representation of martyrdoms and stories of suffering of Husain and his companions developed into another important part of the celebrations. These acting interludes are actually meant by ta'ziya , they are the actual games. Scenic elements have been handed down from the beginning of the Muharram celebrations, such as the request for a drink of water, as the martyrs at Karbala were cut off from the water of the Euphrates . In contrast, the more recent representations are entire scenes with dialogues. They deal with a different event on each of the ten days. The Shiite Passion Plays experienced their heyday in Iran under the Qajars , were banned under Reza Shah Pahlavi and have been increasingly found again since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Dammam cylinder drum is struck to accentuate the performance .

Christopher de Bellaigue (* 1971 in London), a British journalist living in Iran , describes the celebrations in Tehran as an omnipresent mass event. For ten days, the city and the population are in mourning robes. Black clothing dominates.

“There was a stage at the other end of the street. [...] A young trumpeter sounded a signal and the immoral Damascus stepped onto the stage from the left. (Everyone recognized Yazid […].) A yellow feather fluttered on his helmet. His fat face was expressionless. After stomping around for a while, he started yelling indecent words into a hand microphone [...]. On stage, the actors recounted the attempts at persuasion, negotiations and moral hardships that preceded Hossein's martyrdom. [...] Suddenly there was movement on the left side of the stage and Yazid reappeared. […] But now he was dressed in green from head to toe. He had changed roles and was now Hossein. [...] Then Hossein's half-brother Abol Fazl appeared. [...] Both cried. Hossein asked Abol Fazl to fetch water from the river. Both knew that the younger brother had little chance of returning from his mission alive. "

- Christopher de Bellaigue

The next part of the drama is described as follows:

“Abol Fazl jumped on a shabby mess that was waiting by the roadside […]. Fighting wildly, he reached the river bank. […] His chivalry did not allow him to quench his thirst before the women and children had quenched theirs. He filled his leather water container and jumped back on his horse, but in the fight that followed he was overwhelmed and lost both hands and eyes in the process. He exclaimed: "Oh brother, hear my call and come to my aid!" Two arrows flicked off the string. One pierced Abol Fazl's water container, the other his chest. "

- Christopher de Bellaigue

De Bellaigue also describes the processions:

“[First came a] man with an iron standard [...], on whose long shaft swords, monster-like figures and plumes [...] swung back and forth. He was followed by two lines of men who marched to the rhythm of the bass drum. They hit their backs with short handles with chains - one blow with every roaring drum beat. [...] I followed the procession to the main street, where it was integrated into a chain of at least a dozen other processions from different parts of the city. "

- Christopher de Bellaigue


Painting titled 10th Muharram by Zonaro, 1909

Main article: Ashura

The Passion Play reaches its climax on the 10th of Muharram. During the day the death of Husain is re-enacted and the complaints intensify again. According to Shiite tradition, 40 days of the dead are now commemorated in order to celebrate a commemorative festival, the Arba'in, after this period of mourning .


In Sumatra, Indonesia, the ceremony is celebrated in the form of taboo .


  • Davoud Monchi-Zadeh: Ta'ziya. The Persian Passion Play: with partial translation of the pieces Litten collected . Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell 1967 (Skrifter utgivna av K. Humanistiska Vetenskapssamfundet i Uppsala; 44.4)
  • Charles Virolleaud : Le Théâtre Persan or Le Drame de Kerbéla . Paris 1950.
  • Titaÿna : La Caravane des Morts . Ed. des Portiques, Paris 1930.
  • Sir Lewis Pelly : The Miracle Play of Hasan and Husein , London 1879, 2 volumes.
  • Alexandre Chodzko : Théatre persan: choix de Téaziés ou drames traduits pour la première fois du persan . Paris 1878 ( Alexandre Chodzko in the French language Wikipedia)

Web links

Commons : Mourning Ceremonies at Muharram  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. David Sim: Arbaeen: World's largest annual pilgrimage as millions of Shia Muslims gather in Karbala . In: International Business Times UK . December 3, 2015 ( [accessed September 21, 2018]).
  2. ^ Robert Cusack: Iraq prepares for biggest Shia-Muslim Arbaeen gathering in history . In: alaraby . ( [accessed September 21, 2018]).
  3. Mark Piggott: 20 Million Shia Muslims Brave Isis by Making Pilgrimage to Karbala for Arbaeen . In: International Business Times UK . November 25, 2014 ( [accessed September 21, 2018]).
  4. ^ Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity among the Daudi Bohras By Jonah Blank , University of Chicago Press, 15-Apr-2001
  5. "Weeping for fear of Allah is deliverance from the fire" (Mustadrak Wasail: 240/12 881)
  6. Khosro Naghed, Mohsen Naghed: Langenscheidt's Universal Dictionary Persian. Persian-German, German-Persian. Langenscheidt, Berlin a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-468-18250-3 , pp. 79 and 98.
  7. Chelkowski: The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New ed. Brill, Leiden 2012, ISBN 90-04-16121-X .
  8. ^ Koskoff, Ellen: The concise Garland encyclopedia of world music. Volume 2, The Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia . Routledge, New York 2008, ISBN 978-1-136-09594-8 , pp. 1053 .
  9. Heinz Halm : The Shiite Islam . Munich 1994, p. 54
  10. Wilfried Buchta: Schiiten , Munich 2004, p. 65
    Heinz Halm: Der Schiitische Islam , Munich 1994, p. 55
  11. Heinz Halm: Der Schiitische Islam , Munich 1994, p. 53
  12. Christopher de Bellaigue: In the rose garden of the martyrs . Munich 2006, pp. 14–15
  13. Christopher de Bellaigue: In the rose garden of the martyrs . Munich 2006, pp. 15-16
  14. Christopher de Bellaigue: In the rose garden of the martyrs . Munich 2006, pp. 19-20