The significance of Muharram
Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar Hijri Calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months of the year. Allah ﷻ states in the Holy Quran: “The number of the months according to Allah is twelve, mentioned in the Book of Allah on the day He created heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified, that is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them” [9:36]
Ibn Abbaas, may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him, said that this phrase “so do not wrong yourselves during them” refers to all the months, thereafter four were singled out and made sacred, so that sin in these months is more serious and good deeds bring a greater reward. These four months, according to the authentic traditions, are Dhul-Qa’dah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab.
The day of Ashuraa (10th Muharram)
Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, however the tenth day of Muharram, which is known as Aashuraa is the most sacred among all its days. Ibn Abbaas, may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him, said, “The Holy Prophet ﷺ, came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Aashuraa’. He said to them: What is the significance of this day in which you fast? They said: This is a righteous day, on this day Allāh ﷻ saved Mūsā alayhis salām and his people and drowned Fir‘awn and his nation. Thus Mūsā alayhis salām fasted on this day out of gratitude, therefore we too fast on this day. The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “We are more worthy of Mūsā and nearer to him than you.” Thereafter, the Holy Prophet ﷺ fasted on this day and ordered his companions to observe fast on this day. [Al-Bukhaari]
In fact, the practice of fasting on ‘Aashuraa’ was known even in the days of Jaahiliyyah, i.e. prior to Prophethood. It was reported that ‘Aa’ishah, may Allaah ﷻ be pleased with her, said, “The people of Jahiliyyah (the Quraysh) used to fast on that day.” [Al-Bukhari]
Imam al-Qurtubi, may Allah ﷻ have mercy upon him, said, “Perhaps the Quraysh used to fast on that day on the basis of some previous law, like that of Ibraheem alayhis salām.
Virtues of fasting on the day of ‘Ashuraa’
Some Scholars are of the opinion that before the fasts of Ramadān, the fast of the day of ‘Āshūrā was compulsory upon the Ummah. This is stated in a hadith reported by ‘Ā’ishah radhiyallāhu ‘anhā that the Holy Prophet ﷺ ordered the observance of the fast of ‘Āshūrā. However, when the fast of Ramadān became compulsory, then whosoever wished, kept this fast and whosoever desired did not observe this fast. (Bukhārī).
The Holy Prophet ﷺ said, “The best of fasts besides the month of Ramadān is the fasting of Allah’s Month i.e. Muharram and the best of Salah besides the fard (compulsory) Salah is the tahajjud Salah. (Muslim)
Ibn Abbaas, may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him, said, “I never saw the Messenger of Allah ﷺ so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other time than the day of ‘Aashuraa’ and the month of Ramadan.” [Al-Bukhaari]
The Holy Prophet ﷺ said, “For fasting the day of Aashuraa, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the past year.” [Muslim]
It is recommended, in addition to fasting the day of Aashura, to fast the day before or the day after (i.e. ninth and tenth or tenth and eleventh). Abdullaah ibn Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with her, said, “When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, fasted on ‘Aashuraa’ and commanded the Muslims to fast as well, they said, `O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, it is a day that is revered by the Jews. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: If I live to see the next year, ‘Insha’Allaah, I will fast on the ninth day too. But it so happened that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, passed away before the next year came.” [Muslim]
NB: To observe the fast only on the day of Aashura is permissible and one will attain the virtues mentioned in the above Ahaadith except that such an action is disliked. [Ibn Aabideen]
Innovative practices and beliefs regarding ‘Aashooraa
1) It is absolutely clear that the significance of the day of ‘Āshūrā is from the time of the Holy Prophet ﷺ. However, many people regard this day as the day of mourning the martyrdom of Husayn radhiyallāhu ‘anhu. Indeed the martyrdom of Husayn radhiyallāhu ‘anhu was a great tragedy, but Islam is not a religion of perpetual mourning. The pages of Islamic History are filled with the blood of the martyrs. Should we begin to mourn the martyrdom of the Sahābah radhiyallāhu ‘anhum alone, every other day would be a day of mourning. Thus, to attribute the significance of ‘Āshūrā to the martyrdom of Husayn radhiyallāhu ‘anhu is baseless. Therefore, the host of baseless customs with regard to his martyrdom viz. mourning, lamenting, and displaying grief etc. must be discarded. If mourning was permissible, then the day of the demise of the best person to ever set foot on this earth (i.e. The Holy Prophet ﷺ) would have been more worthy for mourning and lamenting.
2) The following misconceptions with regard to ‘Āshūrā are baseless:
- This is the day in which Ādam ‘alayhis salām was created.
- This is the day in which Ibrāhīm ‘alayhis salām was born.
- This is the day on which Qiyāmah will take place.
- Whoever has a bath on the day of Āshūrā will never get ill.
May Allah ﷻ guide us all on the straight path and protect us from misguidance and evil temptation!