Muharram Festival History:
Muharram is so called because it is unlawful to fight during this month; the word is derived from the word haram, meaning “forbidden”. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. Some Muslims fast during these days. The tenth day of Muharram is called Yaumu Ashurah, which is known by Shia Muslims as ‘the day of grief.
Some Sunni Muslims fast during this day, because Prophet Musa (Moses) and his people obtained a victory over the Egyptian Pharoah on this 10th day of moharram; according to them Prophet Muhammad asked Muslims to fast on this day, and also a day extra either before or after, so that they are not similar to Jews (since Jews used to fast for one day due to the same reason).
Fasting differs among the Muslim groupings; mainstream Shia Muslims stop eating and drinking during sunlight hours and do not eat until late afternoon. Sunni Muslims also fast during Muharram for the first 10 days of Muharram, just the tenth day or on both the ninth and tenth days; the exact term depending on the individual. Shia Muslims do so to replicate the sufferings of Husayn ibn Ali on the day of Ashurah. Some Shia Muslims, especially in India, go further in their attempts of replication, including self-flagellation (also see Matam).