“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 Bakr (radhiyallahu anhu), reported that the Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) 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 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 (radhiyallahu anhuma) 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.
Qatadah 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 NAFL (TATAWWU’) FASTS DURING MUHARRAM
Abu Hurayrah (radhiyallahu anhu) reported that Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) 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 Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) 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]
THE VIRTUES OF FASTING ‘AASHURA
Ibn ‘Abbas,(radhiyallahu anhuma) said:
“I never saw the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) 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. Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said: “For fasting the day of ‘Aashura, 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.
WHICH DAY IS ‘AASHURA?
An-Nawawi, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“‘Aashura and Tasu’a are two elongated names [the vowels are elongated] as is stated in books on the Arabic language. Our companions said: ‘Aashura is the tenth day of Muharram and Tasu’a is the ninth day. This is our opinion, and that of the majority of scholars. This is the apparent meaning of the Ahadith and is what we understand from the general wording. It is also what is usually understood by scholars of the language.” [Al-Majmu’] ‘Aashura is an Islamic name that was not known at the time of Jahiliyyah. [Kashshaf al-Qina’, Part 2: Sawm Muharram] Ibn Qudamah (rahimahullah) said: “‘Aashura is the tenth day of Muharram. This is the opinion of Sa’id ibn al-Musayyib and al-Hasan. It was what was reported by Ibn ‘Abbas, who said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) commanded us to fast ‘Aashura, the tenth day of Muharram.’ [Reported by al-Tirmidhi, who graded it a sahih hasan hadith] It was reported that Ibn ‘Abbas (radhiyallahu anhuma) said: ‘The ninth,’ and reported that Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) used to fast the ninth. [Reported by Muslim] ‘Ata reported that Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) 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 Ishaq.”
IT IS MUSTAHABB (ENCOURAGED) TO FAST TASU’A WITH ‘AASHURA
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas(radhiyallahu anhuma) said: “When the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) fasted on ‘Ashura and commanded the Muslims to fast as well, they said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, it is a day that is venerated by the Jews and Christians.’ The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said: ‘If I live to see the next year, Insha’Allah, we will fast on the ninth day too.’
But it so happened that Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) passed away before the next year came.” [Reported by Muslim, 1916] Ash-Shafi’i and his companions, Ahmad, Ishaq and others said:
“It is mustahabb to fast on both the ninth and tenth days, because the Prophet, peace be upon him, fasted on the tenth, and intended to fast on the ninth.”
On this basis it may be said that there are varying degrees of fasting ‘Ashura, the least of which is to fast only on the tenth and the best of which is to fast the ninth as well. The more one fasts in Muharram, the better it is.
THE REASON WHY IT IS MUSTAHABB TO FAST ON TASU’A
An-Nawawi (rahimahullah) said: “The scholars – our companions and others – mentioned several reasons why it is mustahabb to fast on Tasu’a:
– the intention behind it is to be different from the Jews, who only venerate the tenth day. This opinion was reported from Ibn ‘Abbas …
– the intention is to add another day’s fast to ‘Ashura. This is akin to the prohibition on fasting a Friday by itself, as was mentioned by al-Khattabi and others.
– To be on the safe side and make sure that one fasts on the tenth, in case there is some error in sighting the crescent moon at the beginning of Muharram and the ninth is in fact the tenth.”
The strongest of these reasons is being different from the People of the Book. Shaykh ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
“Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) forbade imitating the People of the Book in many ahadith, for example, his words concerning ‘Ashura: ‘If I live until the next year, I will certainly fast on the ninth day.’ ” [Al-Fatawa al-Kubra] Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) said in his commentary on this hadith: “What he meant by fasting on the ninth day was probably not that he would limit himself to that day, but would add it to the tenth, either to be on the safe side or to be different from the Jews and Christians, which is more likely. This is also what we can understand from some of the reports narrated by Muslim.” [Fath, 4/245]
FASTING ON ‘ASHURA EVEN IF IT IS A SATURDAY OR A FRIDAY
At-Tahawi, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “Rasoolullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) allowed us to fast on ‘Aashura 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 Allah 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 makruh … ” [Mushkil al-Athar] The author of Al-Minhaj said:
“‘It is disliked (makruh) to fast on a Friday alone … ‘ But it is no longer makruh if you add another day to it, as mentioned in the sahih 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 sahih report.”
Al-Sharih said in Tuhfat al-Muhtaj:
“‘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 Shari’ah, such as ‘Aashura or ‘Arafah.”
Al-Bahuti (rahimahullah) said: “It is makruh to deliberately single out a Saturday for fasting, because of the hadith of ‘Abdullah 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 isnad and by al-Hakim, who said it was according to the conditions of al-Bukhari], 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 ‘Arafah or the day of ‘Aashura, and a person has the habit of fasting on these days, in which case it is not makruh, because a person’s habit carries some weight.” [Kashshaf al-Qina’]
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE IF THERE IS CONFUSION ABOUT THE BEGINNING OF THE MONTH?
“If there is confusion about the beginning of the month, one should fast for three days, to be sure of fasting on the ninth and tenth days.” (Al-Mughni of Ibn Qudamah] If a person does not know when Muharram began, and he wants to be sure of fasting on the tenth, he should assume that Dhul-Hijjah was thirty days – as is the usual rule – and should fast on the ninth and tenth. Whoever wants to be sure of fasting the ninth as well should fast the eight, ninth and tenth (then if Dhul-Hijjah was twenty-nine days, he can be sure of having fasted Tasu’a and ‘Ashura).
But given that fasting on ‘Ashura is mustahabb rather than wajib, people are not commanded to look for the crescent of the new moon of Muharram as they are to do in the case of Ramadhan and Shawwal.
FASTING ‘ASHURA – FOR WHAT DOES IT OFFER EXPIATION?
Imam an-Nawawi, may Allah 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:
“Fasting the day of ‘Arafah expiates for two years, and the day of ‘Ashura expiates for one year. If when a person says ‘amin’ it coincides with the ‘amin’ 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-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab]
May Allah accept our good deeds and always guide us every second of our lives! We hope that this year will be filled with good, that we will increase in good, spread Deen with sacrifice. May Allah protect us from calamities and may we continue to our humble efforts in the spread of Deen.