Elderly man neighboring with Imam Hussain Shrine tells how banner replacement ceremony held

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A night before the first day of the month of Muharram – according to the Islamic calendar, the holy city of Kerbela witnesses a stately ceremony in which the red banner of the dome of the Imam Hussain Shrine is replaced with a black one.

Thousands of Muslims from all over the world – most of whom are from Iraq – attend the ceremony at the Imam Hussain Shrine.

For Muslims, the black banner replacement ceremony signifies the beginning of the sorrowful anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (Peace Be Upon Him) and the Hussainian religious observances.

The black banner remains fluttering on top of the dome for two months: Muharram and Safar, and gets replaced with a red one afterward.

During the ex-regime, the banner replacement ceremony would be observed secretly due to the restrictions on the Hussainian religious observances enforced by Elba’ath Party.

Abd Zengi – an elderly man neighboring with the Imam Hussain Shrine – said, “In 1979, I remember that my friends and I ran through the alleys of the old town (Kerberla) toward the Imam Hussain Shrine late at night to attend the banner replacement ceremony. We attended, wept at the ceremony, for it reminded us of the mournful anniversary of the Day of Ashura. Suddenly, security forces assaulted us – they began hitting us with the butts of their rifles and cursing us. After hours of being unconscious, we woke up and found ourselves in prison; weren’t it for mediators, we wouldn't make it out of prison.”

At present, people from all over the world come to the holy city of Kerbela and freely practice the Hussainian rituals

Sa’eed Resheed Zumaizem – historian – said, “The Arab people, in the Arabian Peninsula, would hoist a red banner on a grave of a dead chief of a tribe or a notable person to signify that that dead person’s blood had not been avenged, and the red banner would remain fluttering until the dead person’s blood was avenged.”

After the ex-regime was toppled, employees from the Imam Hussain Shrine presented a proposal to the management about holding the banner replacement ceremony in a special way – the proposal was approved and then developed until the ceremony has become to be held the way it is now.


By: Mustafa Ahmed Bahidh

Translation: Mohammed Alobaidi

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