The month of Muharram is universally known in the Shia world as a time to mourn the tragedy of Karbala and the calamities that befell Imam Hussain and his followers (peace be upon them all). Alongside the importance of mourning, the Ahlul Bayt and our scholars have taught us the proper etiquette and behavior that we must observe during this period. It is therefore unfortunate to note many of our brothers and sisters (young and old) faltering when it comes to many of these basic recommendations. A few observations follow:
How to Mourn
According to narrations, it is highly recommended that if we are unable to cry while the tragedy narration is being recited, then we should at least lower our heads and pretend to cry. Brothers, we understand it's a bit weird crying in front of your gym friends, but the least you can do is not nudge each other to point out another man who is crying, and even go as far as secretly video-recording it on your mobile phones and then uploading it on YouTube.
Applying Makeup and Grooming
Looking beautiful is always an added bonus, but why exactly some females find it necessary to paint their faces with makeup and have their hair styled during Majalis is beyond our understanding. Plus, those electric blue contact lenses in the dark only freak out people if anything. And for the brothers, take it easy with the hair gel for a few days! (We're there to mourn, not style.)
Group Discussions during the Majlis
It's very touching to see people who are so spiritually uplifted and motivated by the speaker's words that they decide to hold mini-group discussions during the speech! Though I must warn you, if you ever take it upon yourself to join in to see what all the fuss is about, the content of these discussions may just traumatize you for life. Why exactly females need to carry out marriage related investigations and men need to ask about other people's businesses right in front of the speaker is beyond our comprehension. Even if some of you are sitting in the ladies' area or think you are invisible to the speaker, please note that some of us are actually here to learn!
Entertainment during Masaib
We may understand when a 4-year-old is given a pen and paper to keep him from running amuck during the speech, but what confuses us is when we see the mature people doing this. For those of us who suffer from a small attention span and cannot refrain from texting random people and playing games on our cell phones, please at least put a stop to it while the tragedy is being recited. You see, most of us do not possess the ability to multitask and listen to the Maqtal while blocking out the music from your Nintendo DS at the same time.
Equal Opportunity for Young and Old
Wanting to be the center of attention is only natural instinct of human beings. And we particularly love doing this in Muharram! We want to be the first ones reciting the du'as, marsiyas, nouhas, and ziyarats. This is shockingly and sadly one of the most sensitive issues in every community, and therefore we shall give our expert opinion on this matter: equal opportunity! For God's sake, let's give the younger generation a chance! In addition to the fact that today's learners will be tomorrow's scholars, we have no doubt that some of the young ones can do a better job of reciting latmiyyahs too!
All-Nighter: Aamal and Azadari or Sleepover?
It's a great feeling when we spend the night at the center to do Azadari and perform the Aamal of Ashura. For most of us, bringing along a pillow or two will help us concentrate when our backs start to hurt. Surprisingly, we see backpacks filled with junk food, children playing with torches under blankets, and the speech drowning in the sound of teenage girls giggling. Insha'Allah this year we won't confuse the night long of Aamal with a Muslim girls' slumber party gone wrong.
Fidgeting during Ziyarat
After an hour or so of continuously sitting on the floor listening to the speech, our bodies do get extremely restless! For most of us, it's a relief to stand up and be able to stretch. Personally we are unable to do a 360-degree spin, jump from one leg to another, fidget, and ask our neighbor what's for food all while offering our salutations to Imam Hussain at the same time, but masha'Allah our community has talent! For crying out loud, brothers and sisters, it's only two minutes – please just stand still!
One of the side advantages of Muharram programs is that we don't have to cook every day. But one of the major inconveniences for the people sponsoring the food is the incapability of people to read and fully comprehend the sign that says: "Please take ONE piece of tabarruk only." Either everyone forgets how to count in Muharram, or we like indulging in haram by taking what actually belongs to others. If you would like more than one, please kindly inform the organizers a day in advance so that they can order extra for you.
Etiquette of the Day of Ashura
Narrations of the Infallibles are clear that Ashura is a day to openly express our grief. That means no shower, no clean clothes, no grooming, and no saying Salam. Sadly, many youth and adults take the all-day-at-the-center program to spend telling jokes, gossiping, and discussing politics. This Ashura, imagine how you would feel if your family members were being slaughtered in front of your very eyes. Then behave accordingly.
It's always lovely attending every program in the holy months of Muharam and Safar. With the unlimited supply of tea, coffee, cookies, and snacks, it's as though the $10,000 Muharram and the $5,000 Arbaeen visiting speakers have joined alliances and opened up a secret cafe! Now combine all this with the utility bills paid to run the Islamic center and take into consideration that we are catering for three times the all-year-around crowd. Wow, that's a lot of money! We have no doubt that Allah is the ultimate provider of sustenance, but there's always an intermediate via whom the finances are received, and that means you! Come on, we can all spare one week's fast-food budget to help run our second home!
Parking and Smoking during Majlis
We salute those brothers who sacrifice their time and effort to bring law and order to the overcrowded parking lot. In all honestly, if it were not for them, us ethnic people would surely be driving into each other. Dear brother, besides setting a bad example for the younger kids, unless you're on security duty for the whole of Muharram and Safar, please have the courtesy to bless us with your auspicious presence (at least during the Masaib) inside the Islamic center rather than outside. We really do miss you. And for those people who find it absolutely impossible to control their nicotine cravings during lectures, please take into consideration the well-being of our community, our children, and our image, and refrain from 1) smoking in front of children, and 2) smoking right next to the "Shia Ithna Ashari Islamic Center of [insert city]" sign.