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Muharram celebration among the Ismailis

Mourning during Muharram celebration is of high significance among all branches of Shias including Ismailis.

Ismailism is a sect of Shia Islam who believe the son of Imam Jafar (AS), Ismail ibn Jafar as the successor to him. Ismailis rose to power in Egypt during the 10th and 12th centuries during the rule of Fatimid Caliphate, where Muharram celebration and Azadari of Imam Hussain (AS) became a common practice among them. Over the time, the Ismailis diverged into different sub-sects differing in their own rituals of the Azadari. In this article, the methods of Azadari of various sects of Ismailis such as the Nizaris, Mustalis and Bohras shall be studied.

Keywords: Ismailis, Azadari, Imam Hussain, Nizaris, Ismailis, Bohras

Azadari in the Fatimid Caliphate

In the period of Fatimid Caliphate, the Day of Ashura would be marked by a gloomy atmosphere, where markets would be shut and the whole Caliphate would mourn the day as a ‘day of grief’ as a part of Muharram celebration. In the Friday sermon, the Ismaili Imam would signify the importance of Ashura. The Imam would instruct the people how to commemorate the event of Ashura. He would recite Majalis wearing a veil while sitting on uncomfortable chairs made from the branches of the palm tree, without any cushions. In the palaces, the royal carpets would be taken off and mats made of straw would be spread on the floor. People would be instructed to openly express the grief through lamenting and crying on the event.

Muharram mourning ceremonies among various Ismaili sects

Ismailis are divided into various sub-sects. The manner in which Muharram celebration and mourning is performed differs among them. With the exception of Bohras, no other sect undertakes special rites to commemorate the incident of Karbala, however, no festival is celebrated during the first ten days of Muharram and people ponder upon the principles followed by the living Ismaili Imam. The differences in the mourning ceremonies of various sects of Ismailis are mentioned below:

The Mustalis

The Mustalis consider the event of Ashura vital and mourn the incident of Karbala on The Day of Ashura. They do not celebrate any festival during the first ten days of the month Muharram for honoring Imam Hussain (AS) and ponder upon the principles followed by the living Imam.

The Nizaris

The Nizari Ismailis consider the Mourning to be arbitrary and do not mourn the Ashura like the other sects of Ismailis, although no festival is celebrated during the first ten days of Muharram. The reason why they do not mourn the Muharram celebration is that they believe that Imamate never dies and it light passes on from one to Imam to another.

The Dawoodi Bohras

The Dawoodi Bohras believe that the martyrdom of Imam Hussain to be one of the prophecies of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that marks a big change in the course of Islam. During the first ten days of Muharram, the Dawoodi Bohras hold Majalis to commemorate Imam Hussain’s (AS) sacrifice twice a day.

The Alavi Bohras

The Alavi Bohras hold Majlis during the first ten days of Muharram with the sermons given by Dai Al Mutlaq every day where the members avail the occasion to meet each other. Many social and religious activities are undertaken during these ten days including:


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