Awal Muharram in Penang

Besides being the first of 12 months in the Islamic calendar based on the lunar cycle, Awal Muharram or Maal Hijrah is generally welcomed by Muslims with a modest, reflective mood unlike that of celebrating any other new year. The lack of fireworks doesn’t mar its celebration and is replaced with visits to friends and family, religious rituals and prayers. Awal means early in Malay and Muharram was derived from the Arabic word haram which means morally wrong or reprehensible in Arabic. This is when some Muslims fast on its tenth day from sunrise to sunset as a way to commemorate a significant Islamic event. 

Significance of Muharram
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and is considered to be one of two holiest months for Muslims, second only to Ramadan. It also marked the time of hijrah or when Prophet Muhammad and the early followers of Islam migrated from Mecca to Madinah in search for a better place to live, serve Allah and spread the word on Islam.

The significance of the migration on this day was the evolution of early Muslims from a discriminated, abused group to that of authority and free. It was when Muslims attained a better situation for themselves needed to serve Allah. Till today, Awal Muharram is the time to reflect on the year gone past, for self-reflection and betterment.

Besides the significance of the first day of Muharram, its tenth day is also marked as a particularly holy day. It is called Ashura and there are a couple of historic reasons as to why this day became vital to Muslims, the main being it is a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein who was killed in a religious battle on this day. It is believed that multitudes of good points are bestowed to those who especially fast and pray on Ashura. Making it a most holy day other than Ramadan to perform a fast and offer prayers to Allah.

Where to See
Muslim festivals are usually rather modest in terms of celebrations but ardent in terms of prayers and religious rituals. In Penang, in most mosques, bubur Ashura is prepared and given away to Muslims or a community. You may be able to witness this preparation in places such as Penang’s state mosque on Jalan Masjid Negeri in Air Itam and Masjid Kapitan Keling on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling in George Town. The bubur or porridge is cooked in large pots or kawah to facilitate large portions sufficient for mass consumption.

Image credit: Su Aziz