Ashura, marking the 10th of Muharram or the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, holds special significance within Islam. Its significance is ingrained in honoring one of the essential Prophets of the monotheistic faiths, Moses (Musa). Ashura marks the day that God saved the Children of Israel from the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Importance of Muharram
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Calendar. With the sighting of the new moon, the new Islamic month starts. It is a month of great reward and virtue. Muharram means sacred.” It is from those months mentioned as sacred in the Holy Quran.
The Almighty Allah states in the Holy Quran,
إِنَّ عِدَّةَ ٱلشُّهُورِ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا فِى كِتَٰبِ ٱللَّهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضَ مِنْهَآ أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلْقَيِّمُ ۚ فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا۟ فِيهِنَّ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ وَقَٰتِلُوا۟ ٱلْمُشْرِكِينَ كَآفَّةً كَمَا يُقَٰتِلُونَكُمْ كَآفَّةً ۚ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلْمُتَّقِينَ
“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, (i.e., the 1st, the 7th, the 11th and the 12th months of the Islamic calendar). That is the right religion, so wrong, not yourselves therein” [AlQuran 9:36].
Ibn Katheer (R.A.), regarding the verse, explains,
“Allah has chosen elites from His creation: from among the angels He chose Messengers, from among humanity He chose Messengers, from among speech He chose remembrance of Him (dhikr), from among spaces on earth He chose the mosques, from among the months He chose Ramadan and the sacred months.
o, venerate that which Allah has chosen, for people of understanding and wisdom respect that which has been chosen by Him”. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer)
With the siting of the new moon, the new Islamic year starts. The First Islamic Month is Muharram. Muharram is so-called because it is unlawful to fight during this month; the word is derived from the word “haraam“, which means “sinful”.
Day of Ashura
The Holy Month of Muharram is often synonymous with the Ashura event. Ashura is a religious observance marked every year by Muslims. The word “Ashura” literally means the “Tenth” in Arabic and refers to the tenth day of Muharram.
The History of Ashura dates back to 61 A.H. when the event occurred in Karbala at the bank of the river Euphrates.
The word is derived from “haraam”, which means “sinful”. In pre-Islamic days, fighting was considered unlawful during this Month of Muharram. This tradition continued even after the advent of Islam. Even after the provision of situations like fighting a war to threaten the empire’s sovereignty was introduced, war was still considered unlawful due to traditions.
Battle of Karbala
Muslims believe that Hazrat Hussain (R.A.), the grandson of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW), was martyred at the Battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram in 61 A.H. (680 AD). According to the Hadith of the Prophet (SAW), pious Muslims fast on this day.
The battle of Karbala was fought against this tradition that was against the Islamic Laws. The inhabitants on the banks of river Euphrates and Tigris were old rivals. Their rivalry was since the time of the Holy Prophet (SAW), but this rivalry strengthened when Hazrat Ali (R.A.), the son-in-law of the Prophet (SAW), became the caliph. Hazrat Ali (R.A) has two sons, Hazrat Hassan (R.A) and Hazrat Hussain (R.A).
Hazrat Hussain (R.A.) became the ruler of the part of the empire known today as Iran. The Umayyads ruled the other part of modern Iraq. Hazrat Hussain (R.A.) was called on by the people of Kufa, a small town in the Umayyad kingdom, to accept their allegiance and claim his place as the leader of the Islamic community. This call was against the wishes of Yazid, the ruler of Kufa, who instructed his governor, Ibn-e-Ziad, to take appropriate action.
Meanwhile, in response to the call of the people of Kufa, Hazrat Hussain (R.A.) headed toward Kufa accompanied by his family members. When they reached the ground Karbala, the forces of Yazid surrounded them and their 70 men. They were tortured and killed, and Hazrat Hussain(R.A.) ‘s head was severed and presented to the king. They received no help from the people of Kufa.
The Muslims observed sadness this month in remembrance of Hazrat Imam Hussain RA.
Importance of Ashura before Islam
According to the “Hadith”, the Prophet (SAW) saw that the Jews fast on the 10th of Muharram to commemorate their liberation from Egyptian slavery and the extermination of the army of the Pharoah in the waters of the Red Sea. Prophet Mohammed (SAW) liked the custom because he believed Allah saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. He started to fast on the same day as the Jews, but he planned to fast on the 9th and 10th of the following year. Usually, Muslims are recommended to fast either on the 9th and 10th of Muharram or on the 10th and 11th of Muharram.
The Month of Muharram is considered sad by them due to the great martyrs of our Muslim Men; it makes us aware of the people, then and now, who tried to destroy Islam and the family of the Prophet (SAW) and all that they stood for – as well as those who watched, listened, and did nothing.
Hazrat Abbas (R.A.), a companion of the Holy Prophet (SAW) when the Holy Prophet (SAW) migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10 days of Muharram. They said it was the day the Holy Prophet Musa (A.S.) and his followers miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and the Pharaoh drowned in its water.
On hearing this from the Jews, the Holy Prophet (SAW) said,
“We are more closely related to Musa than you.”
So the Prophet (SAW) directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura. (Abu Dawood)
As Jews used to fast on the day of Ashura, it is advised by the Holy Prophet (SAW) that we should fast on the 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th of Muharram so that Muslims can be distinguished from Jews.