The Virtues of the Sacred Month of Muharram and Fasting on ‘Ashura

Courtesy : ISLAM QA.COM

Allah’s sacred month of Muharram is a blessed and important month. It is the first month of the Hijri calendar and is one of the four sacred months concerning which Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so it was 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 … ” [Al-Qur’an 9:36]

Abu Bakrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said:

“The year is twelve months of which four are sacred, the three consecutive months of Dhu’l-Qa’dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab Mudar which comes between Jumada and Sha’ban.” [Reported by al-Bukhari, 2958]

Muharram is so called because it is a sacred (muharram) month and to confirm its sanctity.

Allah’s words: “… so wrong not yourselves therein … ” mean do not wrong yourselves in these sacred months, because sin in these months is worse than in other months. It was reported that Ibn ‘Abbas said that this phrase referred to all the months, then these four were singled out and made sacred, so that sin in these months is more serious and good deeds bring a greater reward.

Qutadah said concerning this phrase that wrongdoing during the sacred months is more serious and more sinful that wrongdoing at any other time. Wrongdoing at any time is a serious matter, but Allah gives more weight to whichever of His commands He will. Allah has chosen certain ones of His creation. He has chosen from among the angels Messengers and from among mankind Messengers. He chose from among speech the remembrance of Him (dhikr). He chose from among the earth the mosques, from among the months Ramadhan and the sacred months, from among the days Friday and from among the nights Laylat al-Qadr, so venerate that which Allah has told us to venerate. People of understanding and wisdom venerate the things that Allah has told us to venerate. [Summarized from the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, may Allah have mercy on him.]

The Virtue of Observing More Nafil Fasts During Muharram

Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said:

“The best fasting after Ramadhan is fasting Allah’s month of Muharram.” [Reported by Muslim, 1982]

The phrase “Allah’s month”, connecting the name of the month to the name of Allah in a genitive grammatical structure, signifies the importance of the month. Al-Qari said:

“The apparent meaning is all of the month of Muharram.”

But it was proven that the Prophet, peace be upon him, never fasted any whole month apart from Ramadhan, so this hadith is probably meant to encourage increasing one’s fasting during Muharram, without meaning that one should fast for the entire month.

It was reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to fast more in Sha’ban. It is likely that the virtue of Muharram was not revealed to him until the end of his life, before he was able to fast during this month. [Sharh an-Nawawi ‘ala Sahih Muslim]

Allah chooses whatever times and places He wills

Al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abdus-Salam, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

“Times and places may be given preferred status in two ways, either temporal or spiritual. With regard to the latter, this is because Allah bestows His generosity on His slaves at those times or in those places, by giving a greater reward for deeds done, such as giving a greater reward for fasting in Ramadhan than for fasting at all other times, and also on the day of ‘Ashura, the virtue of which is due to Allah’s generosity and kindness towards His slaves on that day … ” [Qawa’id al-Ahkam, 1/38]

‘Ashura in History

Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashura. He asked:

“What is this?”

They said: “This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Musa fasted on this day.” He said:

“We have more right to Musa than you,” so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day. [Reported by al-Bukhari, 1865]

“This is a righteous day” – in a report narrated by Muslim, [the Jews said:] “This is a great day, on which Allah saved Musa and his people, and drowned Pharaoh and his people.”

“Musa fasted on this day” – a report narrated by Muslim adds: ” … in thanksgiving to Allah, so we fast on this day.”

According to a report narrated by al-Bukhari: ” … so we fast on this day to venerate it.”

A version narrated by Imam Ahmad adds: “This is the day on which the Ark settled on Mount Judi, so Nuh fasted this day in thanksgiving.”

” … and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day” – according to another report also narrated by al-Bukhari, he said to his Companions:

“You have more right to Musa than they do, so fast on that day.”

The practice of fasting on ‘Ashura was known even in the days of Jahiliyyah, before the Prophet’s mission. It was reported that ‘Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said:

“The people of Jahiliyyah used to fast on that day … ”

Al-Qurtubi said:

“Perhaps the Quraysh used to fast on that day on the basis of some past law, such as that of Ibrahim, upon whom be peace.”

It was also reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to fast on ‘Ashura in Makkah, before he migrated to Madinah. When he migrated to Madinah, he found the Jews celebrating this day, so he asked them why, and they replied as described in the hadith quoted above. He commanded the Muslims to be different from the Jews, who took it as a festival, as was reported in the hadith of Abu Musa, may Allah be pleased with him, who said:

“The Jews used to take the day of ‘Ashura as a festival [according to a report narrated by Muslim: the day of ‘Ashura was venerated by the Jews, who took it as a festival. According to another report also narrated by Muslim: the people of Khaybar (the Jews) used to take it as a festival and their women would wear their jewellery and symbols on that day]. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:

‘So you [Muslims] should fast on that day.’ ” [Reported by al-Bukhari]

Apparently the motive for commanding the Muslims to fast on this day was the desire to be different from the Jews, so that the Muslims would fast when the Jews did not, because people do not fast on a day of celebration. [Summarized from the words of al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar, may Allah have mercy on him, in Fath al-Bari)

Fasting on ‘Ashura was a gradual step in the process of introducing fasting as a prescribed obligation in Islam. Fasting appeared in three forms. When the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, came to Madinah, he told the Muslims to fast on three days of every month and on the day of ‘Ashura, then Allah made fasting obligatory when He said (interpretation of the meaning):

” … observing the fasting is prescribed for you … ” [Al-Qur’an 2:183] [Ahkam al-Qur’an by al-Jassas, Part 1]

The obligation was transferred from the fast of ‘Ashura to the fast of Ramadhan, and this one of the proofs in the field of Usul ul-Fiqh that it is possible to abrogate a lighter duty in favour of a heavier duty.

Before the obligation of fasting ‘Ashura was abrogated, fasting on this day was obligatory, as can be seen from the clear command to observe this fast. Then it was further confirmed later on, then reaffirmed by making it a general command addressed to everybody, and once again by instructing mothers not to breastfeed their infants during this fast. It was reported from Ibn Mas’ud that when fasting Ramadhan was made obligatory, the obligation to fast ‘Ashura was lifted, i.e., it was no longer obligatory to fast on this day, but it is still desirable (mustahabb).

 The virtues of fasting ‘Ashura

Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with them both, said:

“I never saw the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ‘Ashura, and this month, meaning Ramadhan.” [Reported by al-Bukhari, 1867]

The meaning of his being keen was that he intended to fast on that day in the hope of earning the reward for doing so.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:

“For fasting the day of ‘Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.” [Reported by Muslim, 1976]

This is from the bounty of Allah towards us: for fasting one day He gives us expiation for the sins of a whole year. Indeed Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty.

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