[Ashura (pronounced ‘Aashooraa’) is the tenth day of the month of Muharram — the first month of the Islamic calendar. This year, it falls on Sunday 1st October according to moonsighting.]
All praise is due to Allaah, Lord of the worlds, and peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his household and companions.
This article will highlight in a summarized manner, the virtue of the month of Muharram, the virtue and the reality of fasting in it, along with exposing some incorrect practices carried out during this blessed month.
1. The Virtue of the Month of Muharram
The first question which a person may ask in this regard is whether there is anything special about month of Muharram compared to other months.
The answer is yes. Muharram is the month which Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) described, due its great status, as “the month of Allaah!”
It is the first month of the Islamic calendar, and it is one of the four sacred months. Allaah Almighty says:
“Verily, the number of months with Allaah is twelve months (in a year), so was it ordained by Allaah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein.”
(Qur’aan 9: 36)
Aboo Bakrah (radiyallaahu anhu) narrated that the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) said:
“The division of time has turned to its original form which was current the day Allaah created the heavens and earth. The year consists of twelve months of which four are sacred: three consecutive months, Dhul-Qa‘dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, along with Rajab which comes between Jumaada and Sha‘baan.” (al-Bukhari & Muslim)
As clearly mentioned in the hadeeth, the four sacred months of the Islamic calendar are Dhul-Qa‘dah (11th), Dhul-Hijjah (12th), Muharram (1st) and Rajab (7th). War is forbidden during these months.
Aboo Hurairah (radiyallaahu anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) said:
“The best fasting after Ramadaan is Muharram – the month of Allaah, and the best prayer after the obligatory prayer is the night prayer.” (Muslim)
2. Background of the Fasting of ‘Aashooraa’ in Islam
There is some misleading information about the reason why the majority of Muslims across the globe observe fasting in the month of Muharram – especially on the ninth (called taasoo‘aa’) and the tenth (called ‘aashooraa’) of this month.
The truth is that fasting on the tenth of Muharram is indeed a thanksgiving and an expression of gratitude to Allaah Almighty for the great day on which He saved Prophet Moosaa/Moses (alaihis salaam) and his people and drowned Pharaoh and his people. In this respect, Ibn ‘Abbaas (radiyallaahu anhu) narrated:
The Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the Day of ‘Aashooraa’. He asked:
“What is this?” They said:
“This is a great day. It is the day when Allaah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Moosaa fasted on this day.” The Prophet said:
“We have more right to Moosaa than you.” So he fasted on that day and commanded (the Muslims) to fast on that day.” (al-Bukhari).
This is, very briefly, the true history and background of the fasting in this blessed month. Hence, whoever claims otherwise should back up his claim with evidence from the authentic Hadeeth of Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).
3. The Day of ‘Aashooraa’ and the Virtue of Fasting on it
Fasting on ‘Aashooraa’ was a gradual step in the process of introducing fasting as a prescribed obligation in Islam. Fasting appeared in three forms. When the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) came to Madinah, he told the Muslims to fast on three days of every month and on the Day of ‘Aashooraa’. Then Allah made fasting obligatory when He revealed the aayah:
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become pious.”
(Qur’aan 2: 183)
Thereupon, the obligation of fasting the Day of ‘Aashooraa’ was lifted and transferred to the fast of Ramadaan. That means it was no longer obligatory to fast on ‘Aashooraa’, but it was still desirable.
The day of ‘Aashooraa’ is the tenth day of Muharram and Taasoo‘aa’ is the ninth day of the month. There are varying degrees of fasting ‘Aashooraa’, the least of which is to fast only on the tenth and the best of which is to fast the ninth as well. However, the more one fasts in Muharram, the better it is. ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Abbaas (radiyallaahu anhu) narrated:
When the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) fasted on the Day of ‘Aashooraa’ and told the people to fast, they said,
“O Messenger of Allaah, this is a day that is venerated by the Jews and Christians!” The Prophet said:
“Next year, if Allaah wills, we will fast on the ninth day as well.” But by the time the following year came, the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) had passed away.” (Muslim).
According to the scholars, it is recommended to fast both the ninth and the tenth based on this hadeeth, because the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) fasted the tenth and intended to fast the ninth.
Moreover, there are several reasons for recommending fasting on the ninth day of Muharram, and the strongest reason is to be different from the People of the Book as mentioned in the above hadeeth. However, if a person missed the ninth, he can fast the tenth and the eleventh, but if he chooses to fast only the tenth of Muharram, there is nothing wrong with that.
It is the Muslims’ belief that Allaah Almighty, out of His mercy, has granted Muslims expiation for the sins of one whole year for fasting on this blessed day. The Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) said:
“For fasting the day of ‘Aashooraa’, I hope that Allaah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.” (Muslim).
Ibn ‘Abbaas (radiyallaahu anhu) narrated:
“I never saw the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) so keen to fast any day and give it so much priority other than the day of ‘Aashooraa’, and this month,” meaning Ramadaan. (al-Bukhari).
In case there is confusion about the beginning of the month of Muharram, and a person wants to be sure of fasting on the tenth, the best way to achieve this is to assume that the month of Dhul-Hijjah was thirty days – as this is the normal rule – and should fast on the ninth and tenth.
Whoever wants to be sure of fasting the ninth day as well, then he should fast the eighth, ninth and tenth because if Dhul-Hijjah was twenty-nine days, he can be sure of having fasted ninth and tenth, in shaa’ Allaah.
4. Innovations and Incorrect Practices during ‘Aashooraa’
The word bid‘ah in Islamic terminology means innovation in religion. It is the addition, removal or ignorance of Islamic teachings and laws. Bid‘ah goes against what is reported in the authentic hadeeths and the Qur‘aan or goes against what the Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) taught and practised. Allaah’s command to follow His laws and hold tightly to the way of His Messenger (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) and the prohibition on introducing new things in the religion of Islam are all very clear. Allaah Almighty says:
“Say (O Muhammad to mankind): If you (really) love Allaah, then follow me, Allaah will love you and forgive you your sins.”
(Qur’aan 3: 31)
And Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) said:
“The most truthful speech is the Book of Allaah, the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad, the most evil of things are those which are newly-invented and every innovation is misguidance.” (Muslim)
He also said:
“Whoever introduces anything in this religion of ours that is not part of it will have it rejected.” (al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Some of the reprehensible innovations that have been invented around the month of Muharram are as follows:
- Wearing kohl, wearing henna, dressing up and so on. No such things have been reported in any authentic sayings of Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) or his companions. Hadeeths reported in this regard such as, “Whoever puts kohl in his eyes on the day of ‘Aashooraa’ will not suffer from eye disease in that year, and whoever takes a bath (ghusl) on the day of ‘Aashooraa’ will not get sick in that year” are all unauthentic. Another fabricated hadeeth that is falsely attributed to the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) says, “Whoever is generous to his family on the day of ‘Aashooraa’ will find Allaah generous to him for the rest of the year.” According to scholars of Hadeeth, attributing any such statements to the Prophet is tantamount to lying!
- Even worse than the above is what an ignorant and misguided group of people do when they openly display the rituals of the pre-Islamic Days of Ignorance, such as slapping their cheeks, tearing their clothes, torturing their bodies and mourning, grieving and wailing in the manner of the people of the Days of Ignorance! The devil has made these actions attractive to those who are misled, so they take the day of ‘Aashooraa’ as an occasion of mourning and wailing, reciting poems of grief and telling stories filled with lies. Whatever truth there may be in these stories serves no purpose other than the renewal of sectarian feelings and the stirring up of hatred and hostility among Muslims, which these people do by cursing those who came and served Islam before them!
- Taking the day of ‘Aashooraa’ as a day of celebration, by wearing kohl and henna, spending money on one’s children, giving gifts, cooking special dishes and other things that are done on ‘Eid and special occasions. Those who take the day of ‘Aashooraa’ as a festival like ‘Eid, and those who take it as a day of mourning and grief are both incorrect. This is because both go against the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) on this matter even though the mourners have worse intentions compared to the celebrators and are more ignorant and plainly wrong. Neither the Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) nor his righteous successors did any of these things on the day of ‘Aashooraa’ – they neither made it a day of mourning nor a day of celebration.
- The month of Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, and it is one of the four sacred months of Allaah. More good deeds are recommended in it.
- It is established beyond doubt that ‘Ashooraa’ was practised during the life of Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).
- It is proven that fasting on the tenth of Muharram is indeed a thanksgiving and an expression of gratitude to Allaah for the great day on which He saved Prophet Moosaa and the believers, and drowned Pharaoh.
- Allaah Almighty, out of His mercy towards His slaves, has given them expiation for the sins of a whole year for fasting the day of ‘Aashooraa’.
- Certain things that people do on ‘Aashooraa’, such as wailing and self torture, or celebrating, offering special prayers and sacrifices, visiting “shrines” and so on are all innovations in the religion of Islam. None of those acts has anything to do with the practices of Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) or any of his Righteous Caliphs. Hence, any innovation introduced in the religion of Islam that is not part of it will be rejected according to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).
We pray to Almighty Allaah that He has mercy on us and that He guides us to the straight path, the path of the pious among His slaves. May Allaah shower peace and blessings on our Prophet, his family and all of his companions.