Processional standards (‘alams) are used in Shia processions, particularly on the day of ‘Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, al-Hosayn, the son of ‘Ali, in the seventh century in Karbala’, Iraq. In this openwork ‘alam, the form, decorative elements, and function are closely intertwined. The bifurcated blades on the top of the pear-shaped body of this beautifully carved ‘alam are a symbolic reference to the first Shia imam, ‘Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, who is known by the epithet dhu’l-fiqar in reference to his bifurcated sword. ‘Ali is also referred to by name in the mirror-image inscription on the central field of this ‘alam: ya Allah ya Muhammad ya ‘Ali, calling upon God, Muhammad, and ‘Ali for support. The symmetrical formation of the invocation ya ‘Ali in the inscription is usually seen as depicting the stylized face of a lion, another symbolic reference to the first imam. Photo and caption: Aga Khan Museum. Accession Number: AKM679, 82cm x 32.5 sm, Iran or India,16th Century, Pierced Steel.
The emigration (Hijrah) of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 AC was a significant event and later adopted to mark the beginning of the Muslim Era. The Muslim New Year begins with the month of Muharram (In 2014, October 24). Amongst the Shi’a Muslims, the first part of the month of Muharram is an occasion which is marked with a sense of sorrow and solemnity. The 10th of Muharram was the day when Hazrat Imam Hussein (a.s.) together with most of the members of his family and close companions were martyred on the fields of Karbala….Read more
The twelve months of the Muslim calendar and major Muslim festivals. Image by Simerg.
A photo taken in 1889 showing a view of the city of Mecca. Photograph attributed to al-Sayyid ʻAbd al-Ghaffār by scholar Claude Sui. (Source: “Travel to the Holy Land and photography in the nineteenth century” by Claude Sui. Chapter in: To the Holy Lands: Pilgrimage centres from Mecca and Medina to Jerusalem. Mannheim: Reiss-Engelhorn Museum, 2008, pages 56-63). Credit: USA Library of Congress. Please click on image for article by Omid Safi