Believe it or not, Muharram is just around the corner! As we go about our daily ritual routines during this blessed month, here are a few things to try to make our remembrance of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) a more lasting and rewarding experience
Perform the special Amaal for the first ten days. Many of us are not aware that just like Sha’ban, Ramadan, and the other holy months, there are special prayers and acts prescribed for the first ten nights of Muharram. Among others, Shaikh Abbas Qummi narrates in Mafatih al-Jinan from Shaikh Tusi that it is highly recommended to fast during the first nine days of Muharram. (It is prohibited to fast on the tenth day, however.) For a detailed discussion, please consult the Mafatih.
Attend Majalis. This is obviously a no-brainer. Almost every community with a sizeable Shia population will host a lecture series for the first ten days of Muharram. Make sure to take out the time to attend the lectures every night, as well as stick around for the Latmiyyat/Nauhay afterwards. Even if you don’t have Majalis in your community, you can easily find several communities around North America who do live broadcasts of their programs on the Internet.
Learn about the philosophy of commemoration. Why exactly do we keep doing this thing over and over again? Why do we keep using the commemoration traditions our ancestors have always used? When did it all start? How did the Imams commemorate Karbala? Azadari – Fourty Ahadith , The Revolution of al-Husayn , “Karbala, an Enduring Paradigm of Islamic Revivalism “, and “The History and Philosophy of Aza of Imam Hussain ” are a few great resources to check out.
Try Latmiyyat/Nauhay in another language. Sure, you are used to listening to the Latmiyyat/Nauhay in Urdu, Farsi, or whatever it is you speak at home. But come on! You don’t know what you’re missing out on if all you’ve heard your whole life is Mulla Basim or Nadeem Sarwar. Look around on YouTube or ShiaTV, and check out at least one Latmiyyat/Nauha in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Gujrati, Swahili, and…don’t forget, English!
Recite! More often than not, we see the same person reciting poetry or elegies during the programs, while the rest of us stand a little distance away and try to avoid eye contact. Narrations of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) tell us of the high status of one who recites poetry for Imam Hussain and his followers. Don’t be shy or think your voice isn’t great – just think that this is your way of offering condolences to Lady Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her) for the martyrdom of her son.
Hold an all-nighter with the speaker. Many of us have so many unanswered questions, but we are hesitant to ask them. During one of the ten days, hold an all-nighter with the speaker, open to both adults and youth, where they can come and ask whatever questions that have been on their minds about Islam and life in general. Having snacks and drinks would be a great way to attract the youth to come as well.
Learn about the history. Most speakers only devote the last five or ten minutes of the lecture to the tragedy of Karbala. As a result, many of us have disjointed factoids in our mind without proper knowledge of what actually transpired in Karbala, the events leading to it, and its aftermath. We have all heard of Ali al-Akbar, Qasim, Abbas, Habib ibn Madhahir, and Hurr ibn Yazid ar-Riyahi (peace be upon them), but what about Hilal ibn Nafay, Jon the Abyssinian slave, Muslim ibn Ausaja, and Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn? A Probe Into the History of Ashura by Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini and Nafas al-Mahmoom by Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi are two excellent works that provide thorough explanations of the history of the tragedy of Karbala.
Give back to the community. Imam Hussain sacrificed his whole family for the sake of Islam. One lesson we can take from this is to give back to our community and make similar sacrifices. Many communities organize blood drives on the Day of Ashura. Others host fundraisers and collections for various causes throughout the month. If your community does not have anything like this, take the initiative and start something yourself! It is fairly easy to organize something like a blood drive; if you get enough people to sign up, the Red Cross will send out a mobile lab to do the blood donations in your mosque parking lot.
Spread the word about Imam Hussain. There is a beautiful verse by an Urdu poet, “Wait for mankind to wake up; then every nation will call out ‘Hussain belongs to us!’.” Many of us fail to grasp how incredibly amazing and motivating the tragedy of Karbala is. It is an obligation upon us to inform others of the great sacrifices made and lessons taught by Imam Hussain and his followers, both male and female. One great way to do this is to hold a “Water on Ashura” event, which consists of passing out water bottles wrapped with a small synopsis of the tragedy of Karbala. (Check out their website for details.) Many communities hold processions on the day of Ashura, during which you can consider passing out fliers and books to both non-Muslims and non-Shias.
Self-reflect. As the evening approached on the Tenth of Muharram, Imam Hussain is reported to have cried out, “Is there anyone who will come to our assistance?” Let us ask ourselves the same question. If we were alive at the time, would we be among those who fought along the Imam, those who fought against him, or those who sat at home and paid no attention to the greatest injustice perpetrated in the history of mankind? Narrations tell us that the Imam of Our Time (may Allah hasten his reappearance) will likely make his advent on the Day of Ashura. On the eve of Ashura, let us ask ourselves the question: if our Imam were to come back tomorrow morning, are we competent and qualified enough for him to accept us? Is Muharram simply a time of mourning for us, or do we move beyond the rituals and strive to emulate the teachings and examples of our beloved Ahlul Bayt?