Religion has always had a potent impact on the development of societies. Notably, religious beliefs often combine to create new traditions. Muharram in Pakistan and in Banaras (a city in India) can be regarded as an illustration of this trend. It is necessary to note that Muslims constitute the majority of population in the two regions. However, it is also noteworthy that Muslims of Banaras have long interacted with Hindu people who have had significant influence on the former. This is why even the same religious event has some differences.
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Muharram is a commemoration of Akbar’s martyrdom. The procession moves to a certain place and people beat themselves (sometimes using chains) into the chest. This ritual is aimed at paying tribute to Akbar’s martyrdom as people reveal their readiness to follow. This ritual is especially important for Shias who believe Akbar is the Prophet’s successor. More so, Akbar’s martyrdom can be seen as one of the major pillars of Shias’ belief. In Pakistan, Muharram is held in a traditional form. People beat themselves into their chests to show that they remember and share Akbar’s attempts to promote religious tolerance and his enemies’ horrible reaction to his peaceful act.
However, in Banaras, the tradition has transformed in to a slightly different ritual. Thus, Indian Muslims beat themselves with chains and knives adjusted to the chains. In this way, Indian Muslims reveal their readiness to suffer for their beliefs and Akbar’s ideas. Notably, this makes Indian Muslims very different from Shias of Pakistan or other regions. The rest of the Muslim world does not accept this practice as blood, which is inevitable during Indian Muharram, is regarded as something impure and unacceptable for a Muslim ritual.
Nonetheless, Muslims in Banaras stress that they are true believers and they are not afraid to suffer for their religion. They also note that Shias living in other countries often claim that Indian Muslims do not have enough faith, but the rituals of Muharram prove that Muslims of Banaras are devotees.
Importantly, Muharram can be seen as a distinctive feature of Indian Muslims who strive for being different from the rest of the Muslim world. At the same time, Muslims in Pakistan tend to adhere to traditional rituals to preserve purity of their faith. It is possible to name at least two factors which have led to this difference. As has been mentioned above, Indian Muslims have been look down on by Muslims of the Middle East.
This made Indian Muslims willing to prove their devotion. More so, India is a diverse area where people pertaining to different religious groups live. Therefore, it is also important to take into account the influence of Hindu religious beliefs. Therefore, proximity of other religious beliefs and practices along with certain neglect of the rest of the Muslim world has led to development of the slightly different ritual.
On balance, it is possible to note that Muharram is slightly different in Pakistan and Banaras, India. Muslims of Pakistan tend to follow old traditions with no deviations. At the same time, Muslims in Banaras are eager to prove their devotion and readiness to suffer for their faith. It is possible to explain this deviation by interactions with such strong religious tradition as Hinduism and certain neglect of Muslims of the rest of the world.