Streets of Tehran: Moharram in Tehran

By Brian Lemay No comments


The ceremonies and traditions of Muharram
and Ashura are part of Iran’s complex culture. This year, I went to central Tehran to experience
this ceremony first hand and to talk with people about it. Shia muslims in Iran hold mourning ceremonies
for Imam hossein in the Arabic month of Muharram. For Shias, Imam hossein is a symbol of courage
and liberty. 1300 years ago, invited by the people of Kufeh
in Iraq, he travelled with his family from Mecca towards Kufeh to rebel against the tyrannous
ruler of the time. However the people of Kufeh got intimidated
by the ruler and deserted the Imam. Hossein’s family along with dozens of his
forces were surrounded. Nevertheless, the imam did not back down from
his quest and was martyred in Karbala, Iraq. Mr Baharmastian, born in Karbala, describes
the Imam as a savior, that would save muslims from tyranny and autocracy. He tells me how Imam Hossein has inspired
him to show courage and authenticity in a legal dispute and how he got his ring from
Karbala afterwards. In the downtown of Tehran, various groups
have their own style the mourning ceremony. Second and third generation of Iraqi migrants
in Iran make over 500 kilograms of food every night in the sidewalk of Bazaar, the economic
center of Tehran. The symbolic give away to people is an act
of serving to the spirit of ceremony. In 40 days, to continue their symbolic journey
they’ll go to Karbala in Iraq for a march with Iraqi shia’s. The ceremony is getting to its peak at 10pm. People gather in downtown and bazaar. Although the festival of Muharram is symbolically
for mourning, but people are excited and at the same time quite tranquil. Soft drinks and food are provided in every
corner of the street; Tea, fruit juice, meat stews and rice, and other foods. No one stands hungry tonight. This is a tradition of business with God. Sometimes, when muslims ask something from
God, If their wishes come true, then they promise to do something for the welfare of
people. And providing food at this night for poor
people is an example of these good deeds. The journey of Imam Hosein and his family
took 10 days. It was an unequal battle, thousands against
dozens. The ceremony of Muharram gets more and more
sensational as it approaches to the tenth day, Aushura. This is a group of over 500 people raising
their swords as a symbol of the battle of virtue against evil. Another group are coming with their maces. This group replicates march beats with their
drums. Turn by turn, they swing a cradle that is
symbolic for Imam Hussein’s toddler, killed in the battle. Even the children can take part in the ceremony. This kid is full of excitement. He has just one task; He must swing a huge
flag. The name of a hero in Imam Hosein’s party,
“Abolfazl” is written on the flag. Martyrdom in Iranian culture means death in
the path of great cause. Great heroes in Iranian mythology dating back
to 1000 B.C, the pre-islamic era, died for the prosperity of the country and the safety
of people. In an ancient myth, Arash a great archer put
his own life in an arrow to mark the border between Iran and its enemy. Siavash, Sohrab, and Esfandiar are other heroes
who fought for freedom, security, and liberty and got martyred. Maybe this is why so many Iranians relate
with Imam Hosein and his bravery. Even soldiers now are inspired by these tales. Including those fought bravely in the Iran-Iraq
war of the 80s.” Although men seem to be at the centre of the
ceremony, but this is a festival for families. Women participate in the ceremonies as much
as men. But the ritual of symbolic war is done by
men. The ceremony continues until midnight and
streets get gradually emptied after that. People head back home as the morning will
soon call for another work day. They may come back to the streets to watch
the Muharram festival, tomorrow night…

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