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Sham-i Ghariban

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Ta'ziya of Sham-i Ghariban in Tehran. The part narrates the captivate of the family of Imam al-Husayn (a) after the events of 'Ashura in Karbala.

Shām-i Gharībān (Farsi: شام غریبان, The Evening of Strangers) refers to the evening (time of sunset) of the Muharram 10 (i.e. the Day of 'Ashura) in Farsi literature and poetry. On this night, Shi'as mourn and lament the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and the tribulations and tragedies that befell the Ahl al-Bayt (a). This commemoration takes place in every corner of Iran and the world, and is commemorated with special and unique rituals. Some of the rituals that takes place on the evening of 'Ashura include setting fire to symbolic tents (that represent the tents of the camp of Imam al-Husayn (a) which were burned by the enemies on that night in 61/680), lighting candles, and reciting eulogies (Rawda Khani) in memory of the events that took place.

In Colloquial Usage

Sham-i Ghariban in its literal meaning, means the night of strangers i.e. strangers who are far from their helpers and home. "Sham-i Ghariban Gereftan" also means to lament tribulations that have come to pass, including when a person cries over somebody's death. The first night after a person's passing is also called Sham-i Ghariban for the family of the deceased.

In colloquial usage, Sham-i Ghariban refers to the mourning commemorations that takes place on the night of the Muharram 11.


In Farsi literature and poetry, Sham-i Ghariban refers to the evening of Muharram 10, i.e. the day of 'Ashura, on which the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) took place in 61/680.

In books of Ziyarah, there is a special Ziyarah text that is recited on the afternoon of the day of 'Ashura. In it, condolences are sent to the Prophet Muhammad (s), Imam 'Ali (a), the Lady Fatima (a), and Imam al-Hasan (a), i.e. to those who mourn Imam al-Husayn (a). It is possible that the commemorations of Sham-i Ghariban are a result of the recitation of this Ziyarah texts.

The ritual mourning and commemoration of Sham-i Ghariban was not common in Tehran until the time of Muzaffar al-Din Shah. Because the original Nawha (songs of mourning) of Sham-i Ghariban, is Azeri, one can make an educated guess that the ritual mourning of Sham-i Ghariban began in Tehran with the Azeris and Muzaffar al-Din Shah. This can further be deduced by the fact that the largest commemoration of Sham-i Ghariban was carried out by Azeris in the mosque of Shaykh 'Abd al-Husayn. As such, for Iranians, Sham-i Ghariban is a reminder of the tragedies that took place on the afternoon of 'Ashura.

The tenth day of Muharram is full of commemorations of the remembrance of the tragedies and tribulations that befell Imam al-Husayn (a). This day is exclusively commemorated in order to remember and retell the events that took place on that day. Several facets of the tragedy are remembered, including: the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), the sacrifice, bravery, and courage of the Lady Zaynab (a), the burning of the tents of the family of Imam al-Husayn (a), and the difficulties that the children and family of Imam al-Husayn (a) faced. On the eleventh night of these commemorations, the commemoration of Sham-i Ghariban takes place.


On the evening of 'Ashura, Yazid's army drove the women out of their tents and set fire to them. When this happened, the women started screaming, and upon coming out of their tents, they saw the bodies of their deceased loved ones, and as such, began to beat their faces. When the night became dark, and the armies had stopped fighting, the atmosphere of war dissipated. 'Umar b. Sa'ad and his army were ecstatic due to their supposed victory, and were eagerly awaiting the rewards that they had been promised.

On the evening of 'Ashura, 'Umar b. Sa'ad sent the Imam al-Husayn's (a) head to Kufa through Khawli al-Asbahi. He himself, and his army remained in Karbala for the night, and headed to Kufa the day after just before mid-day, after burying their own dead. Along with them, they took the children and sisters of Imam al-Husayn (a), and the other women and widows from his camp. On the afternoon of 'Ashura, 'Umar b. Sa'ad had ordered that camels without saddles should be prepared in order to mount their prisoners (i.e. the Ahl al-Bayt). It has been reported that on the night of the eleventh of Muharram, i.e. Sham-i Ghariban, the Lady Zaynab (a) did not abandon her night prayers (Salat al-Layl), however, because of the weakness that had overcome her, she prayed sitting (instead of standing).

Rituals and Traditions

The mourning ceremony of Sham-i Ghariban in the holy shrine of Imam al-Rida (a) in Mashhad, Iran.

Sham-i Ghariban is more or less like the other mourning gatherings that commemorate 'Ashura, with the difference that in this gathering, the lights are not turned on, and the only light is from a few candles. Some mourners do not bring out the 'Alam (flags used in mourning ceremonies), nor the Kutal, and further, they do not beat their chests. They arrive to the gatherings in relatively organized processions, with composure, and in silence .They move with sadness and grief or they sit. At the end of the procession, the eulogies (Rawda) are recited, the contents of which mainly pertain to the events that took place on the night of the eleventh of Muharram, in 61/680, to the family members of Imam al-Husayn (a).

In this commemoration of mourning, children and youth are used as models for the events that took place on the day of 'Ashura. The gathering is meant to evoke the remembrance of the homelessness of the family of Imam al-Husayn (a), and the imprisonment of the children and those who survived the battle. On the evening of 'Ashura, they were left in the dark of the night, in the deserts of Karbala, without any form of protection or safety.

On Sham-i Ghariban, the Nawha (songs of mourning) are soft and read calmly. Sometimes, everybody sits, and for one stanza of the song, everybody sits and recites it, and for the second stanza, everybody rises to recite it. In the state of leaving, they finish the second stanza, and in this state of rising and sitting, they enter the gathering and leave it.

In Different Regions

Every year, this commemoration takes place in various regions of the world in a magnificent manner. Every year, the Muslims of Pakistan commemorate Sham-i Ghariban in a beautiful way, by reciting songs of mourning and beating their chests all the way until midnight. In New York, Shi'as gather together, light candles and mourn in dark and somber tents. Similar commemorations also take place in Brazil, Athens, Argentina, Finland, Sydney, Maghrib, Madrid, and other regions of the world. Shi'as gather in various mosques, and sometimes even gather in Iranian embassies, in order to mourn and commemorate the death of Imam al-Husayn (a). They partake in various rituals, including reciting songs of mourning, beating their chests, and lighting candles near tents.