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 Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Verily, the number of months with Allaah is twelve months (in a year), so it was 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…” [al-Tawbah 9:36]
Abu Bakrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah 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 Jumaada and Sha’baan.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 2958).
Muharram is so called because it is a sacred (muharram) month and to confirm its sanctity. Allaah’s words (interpretation of the meaning): “…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 ‘Abbaas said that this phrase (…so wrong not yourselves therein…) 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.
The virtues of fasting ‘Aashooraa’
Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with them both) said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ‘Aashooraa’, and this month, meaning Ramadaan.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 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 and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “For fasting the day of ‘Aashooraa’, I hope that Allaah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.” (Reported by Muslim, 1976). This is from the bounty of Allaah towards us: for fasting one day He gives us expiation for the sins of a whole year. And Allaah is the Owner of Great Bounty.
Which day is ‘Aashooraa’?
Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “ ‘Aashooraa’ and Taasoo’aa’ are two elongated names [the vowels are elongated] as is stated in books on the Arabic language. Our companions said: ‘Aashooraa’ is the tenth day of Muharram and Taasoo’aa’ is the ninth day. This is our opinion, and that of the majority of scholars. This is the apparent meaning of the ahaadeeth and is what we understand from the general wording. It is also what is usually understood by scholars of the language.” (al-Majmoo’)
‘Aashooraa’ is an Islamic name that was not known at the time of Jaahiliyyah. (Kashshaaf al-Qinaa’, part 2, Sawm Muharram).
Ibn Qudaamah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “ ‘Aashooraa’ is the tenth day of Muharram. This is the opinion of Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyib and al-Hasan. It was what was reported by Ibn ‘Abbaas, who said: ‘The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) commanded us to fast ‘Aashooraa’, the tenth day of Muharram.’” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, who said, a saheeh hasan hadeeth). It was reported that Ibn ‘Abbaas said: ‘The ninth,’ and reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to fast the ninth. (Reported by Muslim). ‘Ataa’ reported that he said, ‘Fast the ninth and the tenth, and do not be like the Jews.’ If this is understood, we can say on this basis that it is mustahabb (encouraged) to fast on the ninth and the tenth, for that reason. This is what Ahmad said, and it is the opinion of Ishaaq.”
‘Aashooraa’ in History
Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came to Madeenah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Aashooraa’. He said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allaah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Moosa fasted on this day.’ He said, ‘We have more right to Moosa than you,’ so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 1865). “This is a righteous day” – in a report narrated by Muslim, [the Jews said:] “This is a great day, on which Allaah saved Moosa and his people, and drowned Pharaoh and his people.” “Moosa fasted on this day” – a report narrated by Muslim adds: “… in thanksgiving to Allaah, so we fast on this day.” According to a report narrated by al-Bukhaari: “… so we fast on this day to venerate it.” A version narrated by Imaam Ahmad adds: “This is the day on which the Ark settled on Mount Joodi, so Nooh fasted this day in thanksgiving.” “and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day” – according to another report also narrated by al-Bukhaari: “He said to his Companions: ‘You have more right to Moosa than they do, so fast on that day.’ ”
The practice of fasting on ‘Aashooraa’ was known even in the days of Jaahiliyyah, before the Prophet’s mission. It was reported that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: “The people of Jaahiliyyah used to fast on that day…”
Al-Qurtubi said: “Perhaps Quraysh used to fast on that day on the basis of some past law, such as that of Ibraaheem, upon whom be peace.”
It was also reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to fast on ‘Aashooraa’ in Makkah, before he migrated to Madeenah. When he migrated to Madeenah, he found the Jews celebrating this day, so he asked them why, and they replied as described in the hadeeth quoted above. He commanded the Muslims to be different from the Jews, who took it as a festival, as was reported in the hadeeth of Abu Moosa (may Allaah be pleased with him), who said: “The Jews used to take the day of ‘Aashooraa’ as a festival [according to a report narrated by Muslim: the day of ‘Aashooraa’ 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 and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘So you [Muslims] should fast on that day.’ ” (Reported by al-Bukhaari). 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-Haafiz Ibn Hajar – may Allaah have mercy on him – in Fath al-Baari Sharh ‘ala Saheeh al-Bukhaari).
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 Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came to Madeenah, he told the Muslims to fast on three days of every month and on the day of ‘Aashooraa’, then Allaah made fasting obligatory when He said (interpretation of the meaning): “… observing the fasting is prescribed for you…” [al-Baqarah 2:183] (Ahkaam al-Qur’aan by al-Jassas, part 1).
The obligation was transferred from the fast of ‘Aashooraa’ to the fast of Ramadaan, and this one of the proofs in the field of Usool al-Fiqh that it is possible to abrogate a lighter duty in favour of a heavier duty.
Before the obligation of fasting ‘Aashooraa’ 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’ood that when fasting Ramadaan was made obligatory, the obligation to fast ‘Aashooraa’ was lifted, i.e., it was no longer obligatory to fast on this day, but it is still desirable (mustahabb).
Fasting on ‘Aashooraa’ even if it is a Saturday or a Friday
Al-Tahhaawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) allowed us to fast on ‘Aashooraa’ and urged us to do so. He did not say that if it falls on a Saturday we should not fast. This is evidence that all days of the week are included in this. In our view – and Allaah knows best – it could be the case that even if this is true (that it is not allowed to fast on Saturdays), it is so that we do not venerate this day and refrain from food, drink and intercourse, as the Jews do. As for the one who fasts on a Saturday without intending to venerate it, and does not do so because the Jews regard it as blessed, then this is not makrooh…” (Mushkil al-Aathaar, part 2, Baab Sawm Yawm al-Sabt).
The author of al-Minhaaj said: “ ‘It is disliked (makrooh) to fast on a Friday alone…’ But it is no longer makrooh if you add another day to it, as mentioned in the saheeh report to that effect. A person may fast on a Friday if it coincides with his habitual fast, or he is fasting in fulfilment of a vow, or he is making up an obligatory fast that he has missed, as was stated in a saheeh report.”
Al-Shaarih said in Tuhfat al-Muhtaaj: “ ‘If it coincides with his habitual fast’ – i.e., such as if he fasts alternate days, and a day that he fasts happens to be a Friday. ‘ if he is fasting in fulfilment of a vow, etc.” – this also applies to fasting on days prescribed in sharee’ah, such as ‘Aashooraa’ or ‘Arafaah. (Tuhfat al-Muhtaaj, part 3, Baab Sawm al-Tatawwu’)
Al-Bahooti (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “It is makrooh to deliberately single out a Saturday for fasting, because of the hadeeth of ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Bishr, who reported from his sister: ‘Do not fast on Saturdays except in the case of obligatory fasts’ (reported by Ahmad with a jayyid isnaad and by al-Haakim, who said: according to the conditions of al-Bukhaari), and because it is a day that is venerated by the Jews, so singling it out for fasting means being like them… except when a Friday or Saturday coincides with a day when Muslims habitually fast, such as when it coincides with the day of ‘Arafaah or the day of ‘Aashooraa’, and a person has the habit of fasting on these days, in which case it is not makrooh, because a person’s habit carries some weight.” (Kashshaaf al-Qinaa’, part 2, Baab Sawm al-Tatawwu’).
Fasting ‘Aashooraa’ – for what does it offer expiation?
Imaam al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “It expiates for all minor sins, i.e., it brings forgiveness of all sins except major sins.” Then he said (may Allaah have mercy on him): “Fasting the day of ‘Arafaah expiates for two years, and the day of ‘Aashooraa’ expiates for one year. If when a person says ‘Aameen’ it coincides with the ‘Aameen’ of the angels, he will be forgiven all his previous sins… Each one of the things that we have mentioned will bring expiation. If there are minor sins for which expiation is needed, expiation for them will be accepted; if there are no minor sins or major sins, good deeds will be added to his account and he will be raised in status… If he had committed major sins but no minor sins, we hope that his major sins will be reduced.” (al-Majmoo’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, part 6, Sawm Yawm ‘Arafaah).
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “Tahaarah, salaah, and fasting in Ramadaan, on the day of ‘Arafaah and on ‘Aashooraa’ expiate for minor sins only.” (al-Fataawa al-Kubra, part 5).
We ask Allaah to make us followers of the Sunnah of His Noble Prophet, to make us live in Islam and die in a state of faith. May He help us to do that which He loves and which pleases Him. We ask Him to help us to remember Him and be thankful to Him, to worship Him properly and to accept our good deeds. May He make us of those who are pious and fear Him. May Allaah bless our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions.