Muslims follow the lunar calendar. All auspicious occasions, festivals, historic events, etc goes in accordance with the lunar calendar.
Muharram commemorates the first month of Islamic calendar. Muharram means sacred and is among those months which have been mentioned as sacred in the Quran. Allah SWT says ‘’Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so was it ordained by Allah 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, and fight against the Mushrikin idolaters collectively as they fight against you collectively. But know that Allah is with those who have Taqwa.’’ (Taubah 9:36)
Three of these sacred months are in succession Dhul-Qa`dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab.
The 10th day of this month is of an immense importance. The day is called as Ashura. Prophet PBUH used to increase the performance of good deeds during this day. He used to fast on the day of Ashura. Below are few traditions which mark the importance of the day.
Hakam ibn Al-Arat RA relates: I went to Ibn Abbas RA… I said to him: Tell me about fasting on ‘Ashura’. He said, “When you seen the new moon of Muharram count the (days) and (begin to) observe fast on the 9th.” I said to him: “Is it how the Holy Messenger of Allah PBUH observed the fast?” He said, “Yes.” [Sahih Muslim]
Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan RA relates: I heard the Prophet PBUH saying: “It is the day of ‘Ashura’. Allah SWT has not made fasting obligatory for you. But I am fasting. He who likes to observe fast among you should do so, and he who likes not to observe it (does not have to) observe it.” [Sahih Muslim]. It becomes very clear that fasting on this day is not compulsory.
Another wonderful benefit of fasting on this day is it wipes out the sins (minor ones) of the preceding year as said: Abu Qatada RA relates that the Holy Prophet PBUH said that the fast on the 10th of Muharram atones for the sins of the preceding year. [Sahih Muslim]
Why we shall fast on the day of Ashura? The reason is explained very clearly in this tradition of Prophet as Ibn Abbas RA reports that the Holy Prophet PBUH arrived in Madinah and found the Jews observing fast on the day of ‘Ashura… They said: “It is the day of great (significance) when Allah bestowed mercy on Prophet Musa and his followers and drowned tyrant Pharoah and his people, and Musa AS observed fast out of gratitude. And we also observe it.” The Holy Messenger of Allah PBUH responded: “We have more right, and we have closer connection with Musa AS than you have”; so Allah’s Messenger PBUH observed fast (on the day of ‘Ashura) and gave us orders to observe it. [Bukhari and Muslim]
Ibn Abbas RA relates that when the Holy Prophet PBUH said: “If I survive till next year, I will definitely observe fast on the 9th of Muharram (as well).” [Sahih Muslim]. One important thing that needs to be analyzed here is all the traditions that come on this context are reported in either Bukhari or Muslim both of which are regarded as most authentic books on Hadith. From the above traditions we can understand that fasting on 9th as well as 10th is the best act.
Now let us look into the history of the day of Ashura. Ashura is a day of great historical significance. On this day: Allah SWT accepted the repentance of Prophet Adam AS after his exile from Paradise; Allah SWT saved Prophet Nuh AS and his companions in the ark; Allah SWT extinguished the fire in which Prophet Ibrahim AS was thrown by tyrant ruler Nimrod; And Allah SWT spoke directly to Prophet Musa AS and gave him the Commandments. On this same 10th of Muharram, Prophet Ayyub AS was restored to health (from the ailment of leprosy); Prophet Yusuf AS was reunited with his Prophet father Ya’qub AS, Prophet Yunus AS was taken out from the belly of the fish; and the sea was divided as the nation of Israel was freed from captivity and Pharoah’s army was destroyed. ‘Ashura is also the day when Prophet Dawud AS was forgiven; the kingdom of Sulaiman AS was restored; Prophet Isa AS was raised to Jannah and Husayn RA (the Holy Prophet’s PBUH grandson) achieved the honor of Martyrdom at Karbala.
As Muslims it is incumbent upon us to accord due respect to this month keeping in view the commandments of Quran and the sayings of the Prophet PBUH. We have seen people taking out processions and bringing injury to themselves during this month. As Muslims, we should not be doing anything that violates the spirit of Muharram and Ashura in any sense.
O’ Allah! Bless us to perform good deeds and gain the maximum out of it. O’ Allah! Make this New Year a year of happiness; help us remain steadfast, mutual cooperation, blessing, success of both worlds for Muslims in every nook and corner of the world. Aameen