Muharram has started, and for Muslims all over the world, it marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Islamic calendar.
While the month is considered holy by Muslims generally, for the Shia community, it marks a more sombre occasion.
There are a lot of misconceptions that people outside of the community have about what exactly Muharram means to Shias. And a lot of these misconceptions seem ludicrous.
Which is why I set out to ask Shias about what some of the things they have been asked or accused of by people outside their community and what the truth is.
1. A young Shia man told me, someone once told him that they had heard on Shaam-e-Ghareeban the reason the lights are dimmed at the Majlis is that men and women have sex…
He was pretty horrified when he heard this and explained that the only reason the lights are dimmed is to set the atmosphere to replicate what it might have been like for Hazrat Hussain’s family at Karbala to feel their pain better.
2. Majlis are usually always segregated!
3. Another misconception that most Shias are tired of hearing is that they dislike the other Caliphs, which is not true at all.
Because as a young Shia woman told me, these were the men that Hazrat Ali respected so who are we to not hold them in the same regard.
4. And of course, one of the biggest misconceptions that we have all heard is that one should not accept food from Shias since it is ‘unclean’.
The reasons for it being unclean are many, a lot of people believe they put their own spit in it, they add human meat to it or that they add horse spit to it.
A Shia woman even recounted her sad experience when her classmates in 7th grade found out she was Shia.
They would keep at a distance from her and tell everyone not to eat with her either.
But all of this is untrue, of course. How can someone even offer an explanation for a claim that… stupid.
Other than that, all the Shia people I talked to were incredibly open about their beliefs and even offered for people of other belief systems to come and sit in at the Majlis so that they could see for themselves what it’s all about. At the end of the day, it is all about understanding the other person’s beliefs so we can understand better and empathize.
A young Shia woman told me about how many times she had been told her beliefs were wrong and she was on the wrong path. Constantly being told that their beliefs are wrong and being called a kaafir even before they know the meaning of the word is incredibly disheartening and unfair.
Muharram is a month when Shias mourn and try to feel the pain of those who sacrificed for them. It is unfair to target them further and alienate them so that they feel even worse.
Have you ever faced discrimination in any way? Let us know in the comments.
Cover Image Source: Firoze Shakir Poet