The Islamic Calendar is based on cycles of the moon and ChandRaat marks the rising of the new moon as well as the start of a new month in the Islamic Calendar. ChandRaat means night of the new moon, (Literally Night of the moon). Today was the 30th day of the month of Dhu al-Hajj of the year 1441 and tomorrow it will be transitioning to 1442 of the Islamic Calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year during which warfare is forbidden. It is held to be the second holiest month, after Ramadan. After sunset we begin a new Islamic year with the first day of Muharram, a time of reflection and contemplation for all Muslims. For it was in this month that our beloved Imam, Mawlana Husayn (626-680 CE) ibn Ali (a.s) the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and his noble family – including women, children and loyal friends were martyred on the battlefield of Karbala. While the hereditary line of Imams continues through Imam Husayn’s son, Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a.s). And it is the tragedy of this event that inspires Shi’a Muslims all around the world to heighten their prayers and devotions during this month. Muharram is a month during which celebratory events are avoided out of respect, particularly during the first ten days of the month.
Last ChandRaat of Dhu al-Hajj of July 21, 2020, I wrote about Hajj 2020 and pilgrimage to Mecca’s limitation to handful of locals only, due to current global COVID-19 pandemic, and Prophet Abraham’s sacrifice. This time, I will explore the rituals of purification and forgiveness associated with the ChandRaat Majlis.
The 48th Ismaili Muslim Imam Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah (a.s) (Aga Khan lll) (1877-1957) established additional congregational evening prayers during Maghreb Salat/Dua, every month on this night. This congregation, called a ChandRaat Majlis (gathering of a night of new moon) which was first established for Ismaili Muslims in 1894 to create a sense of brotherhood and to give the community an opportunity to seek forgiveness and to pray for the spiritual salvation of the departed souls. As such, rituals of purification and extended prayers are an important part of this Majlis.
To be human is to err. Hence, all religions stress the importance of seeking forgiveness and purification. Purity of thoughts, mind, heart, speech, and deeds by believers are important ethics of most religions for spiritual growth and transformation; thereby, -achieving closeness to the Creator. Within the Islamic context, repentance is known as tauba, which comes from the Arabic root word “atubu” which literally means “to turn back” to God when we have strayed. If we are sincere. God, in His infinite mercy may forgive our errors and sins. He is Al-Ghafur – the forgiving, and At-Tawwaab – the acceptor of repentance. The act of tauba reminds us of the ever present mercy, grace, kindness, and compassion of our Lord.
Surah Az-Zumar 39, Ayah 53, of the Noble Quran al-Kareem says: “Say, O My servants who have transgressed against their souls (by sinning), do not despair of the mercy of Allah; Indeed, Allah forgives all sins, Indeed, it is He who is oft Forgiving, most Merciful.”
It should be noted that as with other acts of piety and worship, it is essential for us to have sincerity of purpose and intention (niyyah); along with consciousness that following the act of tauba, we are expected to make amends and try not to repeat the same mistakes and not to deviate from the straight path. This means that we should be prepared to undergo a transformation – transformation of attitude, thoughts, speech, fair in just and action in our day to day life.
We are indeed fortunate to have been guided through a variety of rites, ceremonies and practices through which to express our love, devotion and gratitude; seek hope, meaning and solace; and plead forgiveness and purification.
It may be of interest to note that the following events occurred during the holy month of Muharram:
— 8th of Muharram is the death anniversary of Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a.s) (659-713), the son of Imam Husayn (a.s) and the sole male survivor of the massacre of Karbala.
— The 9th of Muharram is the Shab-e-Ashoora and 10th is the unforgettable day of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Husayn (a.s).
— The 20th of Muharram, which is the death anniversary of Hazrat Bilal-e-Habashi (r.a) (580-640), the dearest companion of the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and the first “Muazzin” of Islam.
— The 25th Muharram is the Birthday of Hazrat Hasan (a.s) (624-670), the eldest son of Mawlana Imam Ali (a.s).
(a)- Ship of Hazrat Noah (a.s) reached its destination during this month
(b)- Hazrat Ayub (a.s) was delivered from distress
(c)- Hazrat Younus (a.s) was cast ashore after being swallowed by a fish for 40 days
(d)- Hazrat Moosa (a.s) triumphed over the Pharaoh
(e)- Hazrat Abraham (a.s) was born in the month of Muharram.