The True Significance of Ashura


As we stand on the eve of the fasting of €˜Ashura, a season of worship draws to a close which started six months ago in Sha’€™ban. The Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) would fast much of Sha’€™ban in anticipation of Ramadan. Aisha narrates that:

  €œI never saw the Messenger of Allah fasting for a whole month except the month of Ramadan, and I didn’€™t see him fasting in any month more than in the month of Shaban’€.[1]

(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at

Then comes the season of the great Hajj, which not only has the blessed day of Arafah, but also the greatest day of the year, the Day of Sacrifice. And finally we have the fasting of €˜Ashura in the month of Muharram, for which Allah promised forgiveness of sins for an entire year. How remarkable is the generosity of the Creator. A single day’€™s fasting continues to wipe out sins committed during the day and night for an entire year. At the end of this season of worship, comes a subdued period where we do not see days, nights and months with the same excellence as those that have passed, so let us end this season on a spiritual high.

The fast of ‘€˜Ashura is in the month of Muharram, and it is sufficient virtue for this month to know that Allah aligned the month of Muharram with his own name. Abu Hurayrah (Radiallahu ””anhu), narrates that the Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu ””alayhi wa salam) said:

 “ ‘€œThe best of fasting after Ramadan is fasting during Allah’€™s month, Muharram.’€[3]

Muharram is one of the four sacred months about which Allah stated:

  ‘€œIndeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them’€¦’€[4]

It was reported that Ibn ‘€˜Abbas (Radiallahu anhuma), said that the verse:

 “ ‘so do not wrong yourselves during them’,€

initially referred to all the months, then these four were singled out and made sacred, so that sin in these months is multiplied and good deeds bring a greater reward. This fact has largely been neglected by Muslims today who in their eagerness to sanctify the month of Ramadan have forgotten the order of Allah not to oppress our own souls in the four sacred months.

While there is a general encouragement to fast throughout the month, one day has been singled out for its virtue above all others. Ibn ‘€˜Abbas (Radiallahu anhuma), said:

  ‘€œI never saw the Messenger of Allah (Sallahu ””alayhi wa salam) so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ‘€˜Ashura, and this month, meaning Ramadan.’€[5]

Little wonder that the Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) was so keen to observe this fast when he stated:

 “ ‘€œFor fasting the day of ‘€˜Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.’€[6]

The exact day of ‘€˜Ashura has been confirmed by Ibn ‘€˜Abbas (Radiallahu anhuma) who reported:

  “The Messenger of Allah (Sallahu ””alayhi wa salam) commanded us to fast ‘€˜Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram.”[7]

Ibn ‘€˜Abbas (Radiallahu anhuma) also reports:

  ‘€œThe Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) came to Medina and observed that the Jews were fasting on the day of ‘€˜Ashura. He asked:

 “ ‘€˜What is this?’€™

  They replied: ‘€˜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 (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) replied:

 “ ‘€˜We have more right to Musa than you’€™, so he fasted on that day and commanded the Muslims to do likewise.’€[8]

Another narration states,

 “ ‘€œThis is a great day, on which Allah saved Musa and his people, and drowned Pharaoh and his people.’€[9]

The true significance of ‘€˜Ashura is to reclaim Musa (Alayhisalam) for this ummah. He is a Prophet whose chronicles are pivotal to the heritage of this ummah. Abu Hurayrah (Radiallahu anhu) narrates that when one of the companions disputed with a Jew regarding the status of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) compared to Musa, the Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) said:

 “ ‘€œDo not prefer me over Musa. On the Day of Rising, people will faint, and I will faint with them. I will be the first to regain consciousness, and there will be Musa grasping the Throne. I do not know whether he will be among those who fainted and regained consciousness before me, or if he was one of those that Allah exempted.”[10]

The chronicles of Musa (Alayhisalam) are mentioned from the very beginning of the Quran in Surah al-Baqarah until the very end of the Quran in surah al-’€˜Ala. He is the most oft mentioned person in the Quran, by name, with 136 references. Even our very acts of worship are intrinsically connected to the Prophet Musa (Alayhisalam). It was he who urged the Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) to return to His Lord in the ascension through the heavens and seek a concession of five daily prayers instead of fifty. And it is his story that we commemorate with the fasting of ‘€˜Ashura.

But why Musa (Alayhisalam)? Why not Isa (Alayhisalam) or Nuh (Alayhisalam), for they too are from the five greatest Messengers of strong resolve? One of the wisdoms lies in the verse

  ‘€œAnd We did certainly send Musa with Our signs and a clear authority To Pharaoh, Haman and Qarun; but they said, “[He is] a magician and a liar.”[11]

Note how Allah did not restrict Musa’€™s mission to the figure head of the Pharonic society but included Haman and Qarun. Each one of them represents a type of corruption that is to be repeated throughout the annals of history. Pharaoh is the archetypal tyrant, the despot. Intoxicated with his own power, he claims lordship, and slaughters innocent children in their very cradles for a perceived threat to his throne. Haman is the chief minister who represents the political corruption of the elite. He institutionalises oppression and symbolises the intrigue and plotting which has become the hallmark of politicians. Qarun represents the excesses of wealth. The financial power that bank rolls the corrupt society and plots against the Messengers. He also represents hypocrisy. A man from the Children of Israel, who not only was complicit in their exploitation, but actively benefitted from the subjugation of his own people.

Musa (Alayhisalam) and his people encountered every challenge, every opponent and every trial that this ummah would face. The failures of the Children of Israel are indeed a manifestation of our own shortcomings when taken to the extreme. And it is when we return to our religion that we reclaim the Prophet Musa (Alayhisalam) as our own. A relationship consecrated with the fasting of ‘€˜Ashura. In a hugely symbolic act the Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu ””alayhi wa salam) stated his intention to differ from the Jews by fasting the 9th of Muharram also. ‘€˜Abdullaah ibn ‘€˜Abbaas, (Radiallahu anhuma), said:

  ‘€œWhen the Messenger of Allah (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) fasted on ‘€˜Ashura and commanded the Muslims to do likewise, they said: ‘€˜O Messenger of Allah! It is a day that is venerated by the Jews and Christians.’€™ The Messenger of Allah (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) replied:

 “ ‘€˜If I live to see the next year, insha Allah, we will fast on the ninth day too.’

€™ But it so happened that the Messenger of Allah (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) passed away before the next year came.’€™[12]

The Prophet Muhammad (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) was endowed with speech that was brief but profound in meaning. In this short narration he simultaneously reclaimed the legacy of Musa, sanctified the month of Muharram, maintained the unique identity of this ummah and surpassed the People of the Book. Hence the sunnah to this day is to fast the 9th and 10th of Muharram while there is no blame on a Muslim who can only fast the 10th.

We live in times where the sadomasochistic excesses of the heretics have obscured the true significance of Muharram in general and ‘€˜Ashura in particular. Collective self-harm in full view of a bewildered public has no basis in the shariah and contradicts sound intellect and resembles the practises of Jahiliyyah (the days of ignorance). It is high time that orthodox Muslims reclaimed Muharram. In fact before the obligation of Ramadan was revealed, there is an opinion that the fasting of ‘€˜Ashura was indeed obligatory. It was reported from Ibn Mas’€™ud (Radiallahu anhu) that he said, ‘€˜when fasting Ramadan was made obligatory, the obligation to fast ‘€˜Ashura was lifted’€™. So let us as a community revive the sunnah of fasting the 9th and 10th of Muharram. Let us revive the status of ‘€˜Allah’€™s month’€™ in our hearts. And let us reclaim the legacy of the great Messenger of Allah, Musa (Alayhisalam)

By Abu Haneefa Sohail

[1] Bukhari
[2] An-Nisa””i and Ibn Majah. See also Sahih at-Targhib wa””t-Tarhib, 1/421
[3] Muslim
[4] al-Quran 9:36
[5] Bukhari
[6] Muslim
[7] Tirmidhi, who said, a saheeh hasan hadeeth
[8] Bukhari
[9] Muslim
[10] Bukhari
[11] al-Quran 40:23-24
[12] Muslim

(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at

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