When I was born, I carried the spirit and blood of my father, my mother and my ancestors. Therefore, my belief and love for the Ahle Bayt (family of the house of Prophet (pbuh)) runs in my blood; it makes up my identity. For us Shias, azadari (mourning) is an integral part of our upbringing, which is subconsciously running in our minds every minute.
It is a norm for us to attend majlis and juloos every year in the month of Muharram and all year around during the shahadat of our Imams; every kid in these gatherings is exposed to different stories and talks on Karbala. Your upbringing as a Shia is so strong that you adopt the lifestyle very early on. Every child belonging to a Shia household is taught certain things; in fact, there are traditions and habits which one automatically follows just by observing their parents.
Here is a list of things that you may have experienced or experience if you are a Shia:
1. Since the time of your birth, you are put to sleep on hymns and lullabies of Ya Ali. If it is the month of Muharram, you would be listening to nauhas.
2. As you grow up and begin to walk on your own, a voice calls out Ya Ali Madad whenever you bump into something. This quickly becomes your habit too.
3. When you grow up to be a teenager, you are taught Naad-e-Ali and explained who Panjatan Paak (the Holy five that include Prophet Muhammad (Saw), Imam Ali (AS), Bibbi Fatima (AS), Imam Hassan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS)) are.
4. When youre in the examination hall, you recite Rab-e-zidni iilma followed by Ya Ali Madad to pray for success in your exam.
5. Since childhood you help your elders set up niaz and put farsh for majlis in your house. Thats the only time when youre happily allowed to take a day off from school since this gathering is more important.
6. Your first ever shalwar kurta was probably stitched for Muharram and was a black one.
7. Like in most Shia families, your family also has a lot of people named Ali, Hassan, Hussain, Fatima and Abbas. In fact, there are so many that at times one has to reserve names for their future children.
8. You have Sunni friends who are curious and ask several questions regarding your beliefs. This is when you start looking for answers to their questions which in turn makes you well-informed and knowledgeable about your faith. No wonder many Sunnis then say,
Yaar, in logon ko apne deen ke barey main bohot knowledge hai.
(They have a lot of knowledge about their beliefs)
Shiaun se jeetna toh na mumkin hai, inke paas har sawal ka jawab mojood hota hai.
(You cant win from Shias; they have answers to all your questions)
9. When scheduling weddings, you need to only choose from nine and a half months rather than a whole year since the month of Muharram, month of Safar and eight days of Rabiul Awwal have to be excluded. You also have to look at the shahadat dates in advance and plan celebratory events accordingly.
10. You never celebrate your birthday if it falls during these period and you also let people know that even birthday wishes arent welcome since this is a time of mourning.
11. To respect the mourning period and practice simplicity, you keep aside your colourful wardrobe and opt for a more humble look.
12. No matter how much your family is struggling financially, you know you must hold a great majlis and hence you keep those expenses aside from the start of the year.
13. You witness wishes coming true and experience miracles all year around on different occasions but are unable to prove it to your friends.
Thats how much a life of a Shia revolves around the Ahle Bayt. There are constant reminders of who we are throughout the year; in Muharram, its nauhas and marsiya (an elegiac poem) while during rest of the year its manqabat (a Sufi devotional poem), nazar and niaz. There are certain days and gatherings when one can easily differentiate between Shias and the rest from a distance.
If I talk about myself, my whole year passes by waiting for Muharram. I wait to mourn the loss of humanity 1,400 years ago. The event of Karbala has left such a deep impact on our lives that no matter how hard anyone tries, it can never be erased. Its a powerful belief engraved in our hearts that will only get deeper with time. Being born in a family that is part Shia and part Sunni, I had always come across questions and faced allegations from one side of my family and had to answer without disrespecting any side. However, I was blessed to later have both my parents follow the same Shia belief.
I can easily relate to each point I have listed above. From having a bright and colourful wardrobe all year around and changing it to a somber one, these two months certainly bring a great change in my lifestyle. No one has ever asked me to do this, nor is this a rule for Shias, but thats just how I feel and choose to practice my faith. This period for me entails a complete transition; from being what I am to being the kind of person I strive to be. All my friends and family know that during this time period, there are no celebrations and happy moments for me. This year again, my birthday is going to be celebrated after the eighth of Rabiul Awwal and there are going to be no regrets since this is how I choose to prioritise my life.