The Islamic Calendar of Hijri has twelve months starting with the date of migration of the Prophet (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah along with his companions in 622 AD. The word Hijri has been derived from the Arabic word Hijrah meaning migration. The lunar Islamic calendar month starts with the appearance of the crescent and it must be visible to the naked eyes. Muharram is the first month of Islamic New Year.
Although every month of the Islamic year is full of blessings and virtues but Allah (SWT) has attached special virtues to some months and time of the year. These months hold huge importance because in these special times Allah Almighty lets his blessings go unbound and the worshipers are given extra credit for their prayers and Ibaadah. Just like the month of Ramadan, the spiritual value and importance of Muharram are boundless.
What is Muharram? Importance of Muharram-ul-Haram
Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar, is a sacred month in which war and bloodshed have been prohibited. The name itself translates to ‘sacred’. This month has been mentioned in the Quran along with other three months that justifies its sanctity and therefore, it is worthy of equal reverence like other sacred months of the Islamic calendar. Allah says in the Quran:
“The number of months in the sight of Allah are twelve (in a year) – So ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth; Of them four are sacred: That is the right religion. So wrong not yourselves therein.” (Surah Taubah).
The four sacred months mentioned in the Quran are Muharram, Rajab, Dhul-Qadah, and Dhul-Hijjah. The Month of Muharram holds special virtues and rewards of the good deeds are increased m
anifold. The supplications are readily answered and all your prayers are heard by Allah (SWT) if you do it sincerely and with an open heart. But at the same time, one should take extra care to abstain from sins and bad deeds during these months because their consequences are significantly worse. Similarly fasting in Muharram is considered most beneficial than any other time of the year except Ramadan. Although, every day and month belongs to Allah but the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) mentioned that Muharram is the month of Allah (SWT) which emphasizes the importance of this sacred month. Abu Hurayra (RA) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said,
“After the fasts of Ramadan, the best fasts are those observed during Allah’s month of Muharram.”
Therefore, it is extremely important that Muslims all over the world exert themselves to carry out good deeds and perform extra worship during the month of Muharram and make an effort to abstain from sins. People often ask about how to celebrate Muharram and the only way is by engaging in intense worship and zikr of Allah (SWT). They should make an effort to fast during the 10 days of Muharram especially the day of Ashura which hold special significance. Those who engage in worship during this sacred month will be inspired to engage in Ibaadah during the rest of the year and whoever tries to stay away from sins will find it easy to abstain from sins during the remaining months of the year. Failure to derive benefit from this holy month will be a great loss indeed.
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What is Ashura? The 10th Day of Muharram
The tenth of Muharram is a significant day in the Islamic calendar and the history of Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) used to fast on this day and commanded his companions to do the same.
Narrated `Aisha (RA):
(The tribe of) Quraish used to fast on the day of Ashura ‘in the Pre-Islamic period, and then Allah’s Apostle ordered (Muslims) to fast on it till the fasting in the month of Ramadan was prescribed; whereupon the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who wants to fast (on ‘Ashura’) may fast, and he who does not want to fast may not fast.” Sahih al-Bukhari 1893 – Book 30, Hadith 3
It is debatable amongst the scholars whether the Fast of Ashura was Fardh before the obligation of the fasting of Ramadhan. According to the Hanafis and Ahmad Bin Hanbal, it was obligatory but Imam Shafi differed from the view and said that it is a Sunnah Muakkadah.
When the Prophet (PBUH) was asked about the benefits of fasting on the day of Ashura, he replied,
‘It is a compensation for the sins of the past year.’ (Muslim, Vol. 1)
However, only the minor sins of the past year are forgiven by Allah. The forgiveness of major sins can only be achieved by Tawbah and sincere repentance.
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History and Importance of Ashura
The day of Ashura not only holds special virtues but it is also a day of great historical significance when several events took place. On the day of Ashura:
- Allah (SWT) accepted the repentance of Prophet Adam (AS) after his exile from Paradise.
- Allah (SWT) saved Prophet Noah (AS) and his companions in the Ark.
- Allah extinguished the fire in which Prophet Ibrahim (AS) was thrown by Nimrod.
- Allah (SWT) spoke directly to Prophet Musa (AS) and gave him the Seven Commandments.
- Prophet Ayyub (AS) was restored to health from leprosy.
- Prophet Yusuf (AS) was reunited with his father Ya’qub (AS).
- Prophet Yunus (AS) was taken out from the belly of the fish.
- The sea was divided as Bani Israel was saved from the captivity of Pharaoh and Pharoah’s army was destroyed.
- Prophet Dawood (AS) was forgiven.
- The kingdom of Prophet Sulaiman (AS) was restored.
- Prophet ‘Isa (AS) was raised to Jannah.
- Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) achieved the honour of Martyrdom in the battle of Karbala.
Therefore, it is quite clear that Ashura is indeed a special day that holds immense virtues and significance when the blessings of Allah surpass all boundaries and all the prayers get answered. It is recommended to worship Allah and do good deeds as much as you can. In addition to fasting and optional night prayers, try to be more generous to your families on the day of Ashura. Allah also bestows enormous blessings to the ones who are extra chivalrous on this sacred day. The merit of this act is explained in the below mentioned Hadith where the Prophet (PBUH) says,
“He who will be generous to his family on the day of Ashura, Allah will be generous to him for the entire year.”
Virtues of Fasting on the Day of Ashura
The fasting on the day of Ashura stems from the times of Prophet Moosa (AS) when on this day, Moosa (AS) and Bani Israa’eel were saved from Fir’oun. Prophet Moosa (AS) expressed his gratitude to Allah (SWT) and so did the Bani Israa’eel and this day was considered the day of fasting among them. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instructed Muslims to fast on this day after he learnt about Jews fasting on 10th Muharram after migrating to Madinah.
Ibn `Abbas (RA) narrated:
When the Prophet (PBUH) arrived at Medina, the Jews were observing the fast on ‘Ashura’ (10th of Muharram) and they said, “This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh,” On that, the Prophet (PBUH) said to his companions, “You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses’ victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day.”
However, the Messenger (PBUH) initially preferred to do things according to the ways of Ahl-e-Kitab (people of the book/ Christians & Jews) to win them over to Islam, he was later commanded by Allah (SWT) to oppose their ways. This is the reason fasting only on the tenth of Muharram is considered Makrooh. The ruling on fasting on Ashura includes fasting on two consecutive days, either a day before Ashura (i.e. 9th and 10th) or the day afterwards (i.e. 10th & 11th). It is best to fast on 9th, 10th and 11th Muharram.
Fasting of ‘Ashura is Sunnah Mu’akkadah and a highly desired act of worship. According to the hadith about Ashura, the Prophet (PBUH) said,
“Whoever fasts the ‘Ashura (10th Muharram), Allah will write for him a thousand wishes and a thousand years of age, and will grant him the reward of a thousand martyrs, and will write for him the reward of Isma`il (AS), and writes for him seventy palaces in paradise, and makes his flesh forbidden from the hellfire.”
The Prophet (PBUH) also said,
“Distinguish yourselves from the Jews by fasting either the day before ‘Ashura or the day after it as well.”
Initially, Muslims used to fast only on the 10th of Muharram but before his demise, the Prophet (PBUH) mentioned that he would like to fast on 9th Muharram as well if he were alive the next year. Sadly, the Prophet (PBUH) did not live to see the next Muharram. Therefore, it is recommended to fast on 9th and 10th of Muharram or 10th and 11th of Muharram because certain narrations mention that one should start fasting a day before Ashura or continue fasting the next day. To fast on 10th only is considered Makrooh Tanzihi (an act disliked by Shari’ah).
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History of Karbala and Martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA)
Muharram and the day of Ashura are often linked to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA) that took place in the Battle of Karbala between a small group of supporters of Imam Hussain (RA) and the forces of Yazid, the Umayyad Caliph. After the death of Imam Muawiya (RA), his son Yazid was appointed Umayyad Caliph but Imam Hussain (RA) considered this succession as the breach of the Hasan–Muawiya treaty. People of Kufa sent letters to Hussain (RA) seeking his help and pledging allegiance to him. As Hussain (RA) travelled to Kufa, his caravan was attacked by the army of Yazid at the nearby place called Karbala and he was killed and beheaded along with several of his companions and family members. Waqia Karbala (the incident of Karbala) had a huge impact on Muslims and played a central role in shaping the identity of the Shia sect.
The martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA) was an extremely painful and tragic incident but the significance of Ashura is in no way related to this event and to believe this is incorrect. Islam does not permit fanatical mourning on Muharram because it is not a religion of mourning. Islamic history is filled with the blood of martyrs during the battles of Muta, Rajee and Bir Ma’oona which was not only painful for Muslims but Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was also hurt by them. If Muslims were required to mourn the death of martyrs, every day of the year will be occupied with mourning. Rather than engaging in bereavement, Islam encourages Muslims to sacrifice their lives and wealth for their faith.
Therefore, on Youm e Ashura (the day of Ashura), Muslims should only engage in good deeds and fasting, and avoid the baseless innovation including the excessive wailing, crying and mourning. May Allah grant Ummah the ability to remain steadfast on Quran and Sunnah. Aameen!
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