Every religious calendar is full with special days that call for special actions. These days sometimes come with celebrations that have religious implications while sometimes these days are observed as commemoration for some specific religious history. Such is the case with religion Islam as well that has numerous special days throughout the Islamic calendar.
Islamic calendar comprises of twelve months each one of them is famous for either its religious rituals or historical significance. Among these months, the month of Muharram is also the one known for its religious importance. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and it entails numerous blessings for a Muslim and is especially renowned for the day of Ashora and the commendation of fasting on this particular day. The lines below discuss the sanctity and importance of fasting on the days of Ashora.
Before moving on to the significance and importance of fasting on the days of Ashora, it is important that the sanctity and the stature of the month of Muharram be discussed. Muharram is one of the most sacred months of the Islamic calendar, regarding which Allah Almighty says in Quran:
“Lo! The number of months with Allah is twelve months by Allah’s ordinance in the day that He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred: that is the right religion. So wrong not yourselves in them. And wage war on all of the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you. And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).” (9:36)
This ayah clearly states that in the Islamic lunar calendar that comprises of twelve months, there are four months that are more sacred compared to rest of the month. Pertaining to the inclusion of Muharram among these months, the following hadith justifies its inclusion in the category, where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:
“The year is twelve months of which four are sacred, the three consecutive months of Dhul-Qadah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, and Raja Mudar which comes between Jumadah and Sha’ban.” (Bukhari)
Thus, from this hadith it is clear that Muharram is one of the four sacred months in the Islamic lunar calendar, hence a Muslim should not wrong him or herself during this month, rather the focus should be on improving the good deeds in this month for greater reward from Allah Almighty.
When the month is so sacred, Muslims try to make sure that they make full use of its sacredness and try to commit deeds that carry high religious reward with them. One of such deeds that Muslim undertake is fasting. The fasting in the month of Ramadan is an obligation upon every Muslim, however, when fasting is done voluntarily (Nafil) it still carries great reward and is one of the high rewarding religious deeds. Therefore, it is quite natural of Muslims to consider fasting as one of the preferred deeds to undertake in the sacred month of Muharram.
Although Muslims naturally consider fasting for the month of Muharram, however, for those who find it hard to commit to it, the following hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) can serve as a great reminder as per which He said:
“The best of fasting after Ramadan is fasting in Allah’s month of Muharram.” (Muslim)
From the hadith it is clear that after the fasts of Ramadan the most sacred and the best fasts are the ones that are kept in the month of Muharram. Ergo, the importance and significance of fasting in the month of Muharram is imperative and clear to all.
Pertaining to fasting on Ashora, it is important that one firsts understand the historical importance of the day of Ashora. It is the tenth day of the month of Muharram and fasting is recommended for this very day.
When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) moved to Madina, there He saw the Jews keeping fast on the tenth day of Muharram. When Prophet (PBUH) inquired about it, the Jews replied:
“They fast because on this day Prophet Moses (AS) liberated his followers from the tyranny of Pharaoh and crossed the Red Sea.”
Upon listening this, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) replied:
“We are more closely related to Musa (AS) than you.” So the Prophet (PBUH) kept fast on Ashora day and commended the followers to do so as well. (Abu Dawood)
From this narration it is clear that keeping fast on the day of Ashora is the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and He did so out of His love for Hazrat Moosa (AS) and in commemoration of the liberty Hazrat Moosa (AS) provided to His people.
Pertaining to fastin on the day of Ashora, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came to Him and said that they (Muslims) and Jews both fast on this day so there is no difference between them. To which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) replied that if He lived in the next year He will fast an additional day as well. Thus, the fasting in the day of Ashora that was specific to Jews before was joined by Muslims and the later intentions of Prophet (PBUH) showed that He wanted to make it different and encouraged an additional fast as well. This is why Muslims try to fast either one day before or the day after in addition to the day of Ashora.
In a nutshell, Muharram is one of the Holiest months of the Islamic lunar calendar. Fasting is one of the recommended deeds one can undertake in this month and if the days of fasting are to be specified, then one should consider fasting on the day of Ashora which is the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which gives a greater chance to Muslims pertaining to gathering greater reward.