by Younus Abdullah Muhammad
Brothers and Sisters, the fast of Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, is almost upon us. Ashura is a day of fasting that holds an immense reward, the expiation of sins for the entire year. It is one of the true blessings that Allah ,aza wa jaal, has bestowed upon our ummah. So, I remind us all to remain mindful of this impending day, and to try to fast on the 9th of Muharram as well, for the Prophet (saws) stated in an authentic hadith that if he lived another year, he would fast on the ninth as well, and in order to distinguish the Muslim ummah from the Christians and Jews.
There are several narrations that affirm that fasting on Ashura is a Sunnah with immense rewards. For example, Ibn Abbas narrated that Allah’s Messenger (saws) came to Medina and saw that the Jews were fasting on the tenth day of Muharram. So, he (saws) asked, "What is this?" And when they said, "This is a good day, this is the day when Allah saved Bani Israel from their enemy and Musa fasted on it." He (saws) replied, "We are closer to Musa than you." So he fasted on the day and told the people to fast as well.
Unfortunately most Muslims today take the religion, and days like the day of Ashura, at face value, practicing ritual but missing out on substance. Many do not engage in the superogatory (nafl) act of fasting at all, something that was obligatory on the Muslims before Allah (swt) revealed the command to fast the month of Ramadan. Others fast, sincerely seeking the reward, but so too miss out on additional benefit by not reflecting on the deeper purposes behind this great act of worship in Islam. The deen of Islam is a complete system however O Muslims! and the reflective one will find that everything in the Quran and Sunnah has innumerable implications and practical and spiritual purposes. Contemplation on this reality will leave one in remembrance of Allah for the duration of their existence, and the day of Ashura is one such example of this reality!
It is narrated in an authentic hadith that the Quraish themselves used to fast on the day of Ashura, so one can only wonder in amazement at how our Prophet (saws) and the companions (raa) must have felt, as Allah’s Messenger (saws) sought conversation with the Rabbis of Medina and found that they were fasting as well. For 13 years they had suffered at the hands of the Quraish in Mecca, before the heijra to establish a stable Islamic State, and immediately the Prophet (saws) commanded his companions to follow them in it, and adopt the day.
Of course, the Quraish fasting Ashura is not unlike the way many proclaiming Islam today engage in acts of worship: not recognizing that they have mixed actions from the legislation of Allah with their own whims and desires, and ignoring the purpose behind acts of worship, making and mixing religion so that it is an absurd blend of myth and superstition. The way deviant groups like the Sufis and the Shia celebrate Ashura, for example, exemplifies the consequences of innovation in the true deen of Allah, aza wa jaal. It is exactly this lack of attention to the purpose behind worship, to myth and superstition, which led to the ummah’s downfall, and it is only in properly understanding their religion that Muslims will be able to reestablish their honor in this world.
For 13 years, the Muslims had suffered at the hands of the Quraish. And during those thirteen years of prosecution, Allah (swt) was constantly revealing information about the Prophets and Messengers before Muhamamd (saws). This helped cultivate the early Muslims upon authentic tawheed and methodology (minhaj). All throughout the persecution of the dawa in Mecca, Allah (swt) was revealing verses about Musa and Bani Israel, about their struggle with the Firaoun. This contextualized the Muslim struggle in its early stages, and helped to keep up the companions’ faith, struggle and hope. In fact, Musa is mentioned by name over 136 times in the Quran; so many times that scholars have stated that, “The Quran was almost the story of Musa (as).” So, one ne can imagine how the Muslims must have felt as they were informed about fasting the day of Ashura by the Jews of Medina, just as the Muslims had escaped the oppression of the Quraish in a manner akin to the flight of Musa (as) and Bani Israel from Firaun. It is no wonder the Prophet (saws) responded by explaining that “we are closer to Musa than you.”
Thus, the day of Ashura is in commemoration of Allah, aza wa jaal, providing victory to Musa over the Taghout Firaun. Therefore it is directly related to the struggle between haqq and baatil, justice and oppression, light and darkness, walaa and baraa. One can only imagine how our Prophet (saws) and the companions (raa) must have felt when he (saws) held this conversation with the Jews of Medina, just as he arrived to establish the first Islamic State. The Prophet (saws) is reported to have said in another narration that “every Messenger has a Firaun and the Firaun of my ummah is Abu Jahl.” It was the sanctuary of Medina that allowed, at the Battle of Badr, for the Firaun of our ummah, Abu Jahl to be killed, and so, each year, fasting the day of Ashura was a sunnah of Allah’s Messenger. It must also have been a day the Prophet (saws) and Companions (raa) reflected on the continuous growth of the early ummah, an ummah promised to rival that of Bani Israel was being born, and with acts of worship such as fasting the day of Ashura, the legacy of the Prophet (saws) became a continuation of the call to tawheed tracing back to Bani Adam’s origins on Earth. It is principles like these that make our religion so beautiful and create the prospects not for perpetual war, as the enemies of Islam would have us believe, but for the perpetuation of peace, induced when whole societies properly understand tawheed.
Contact with the message of Musa (as), through fasting the day of Ashura a part of each Islamic year, unto the end of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. Ibn Abbās (raa) said that, “When the Messenger of Allāh (saws) 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.’ So, the Messenger of Allah (saws) said, ‘If I live to see the next year, in’shaAllah, we will fast on the ninth day too.’ However, it so happened that the Messenger of Allah (saws) passed away before the next year came.” Today, it is the position of the ulama that it is best to fast the 9th and 10th, that It is also permissible to fast the 10th and 11th, and some say the 9th, 10, and 11th is permitted as well.
These days many Muslims fast the day of Ashura. However, few contemplate the true purpose of commemorating the day. So, while you are fasting, this year, on the 9th and 10th of Muharram, try to reflect on the purpose of the fast, try to commemorate the legacy of Musa (as) and his connection to the final Messenger Muhammad (saws). Try to read and reflect on some of the verses Allah (swt) revealed about Musa (as) in the Quran. Then, contemplate the story of the struggle of Musa, as it relates to the struggle of our Nabi Muhammad (saws) for there are innumerable benefits in doing so. Then reflect on the times you are living in and ask yourself if this struggle of the Messengers is alive today as well. In’sha’Allah it will make the fast complete and increase your awareness and reward with Allah (tabaraka wa ta ala).
There are many lessons to be taken from the way that Allah (swt) gave dawa to Allah in front of the Egyptian Empire of his era, in front of Firaun. For example Allah (swt) ordered Musa and his brother Harun (as) saying:
ذۡهَبَآ إِلَىٰ فِرۡعَوۡنَ إِنَّهُ ۥ طَغَىٰ (٤٣) فَقُولَا لَهُ ۥ قَوۡلاً۬ لَّيِّنً۬ا لَّعَلَّهُ ۥ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوۡ يَخۡشَىٰ
“Go (both of you) to Pharaoh, surely he is a tyrant and speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear Allah”
This verse emphasizes that it is necessary to be gentle, particularly when first speaking truth to power. In our time, it is all too frequent to see anger and animosity become more powerful and overtake the positive aspect of zeal. Nevertheless, this call to gentleness and mercy is manipulated by leaders in the West to justify cowardice and silence in the face of oppression. This has become a verse frequently quoted so that any controversial aspect of dawa, any talk of politics, or Muslims being massacred is classified unwise, branded as bringing about more harm than good. It is a convenient call, but is really only a justification for the silence that has persisted since the dawn of the War on Terror, silence in the face of the Firauns of this era and complicit cooperation with the Anglo-American Empire.
There are many examples of the Prophet (saws), even in Mecca, that show he was all but weak and passive, that he was patient, fair and balanced but also firm and ferocious in calling to truth as well. And Allah (SWT) commanded this balance, revealing the entire story of the struggle of Musa (as) to the early Muslims facing persecution in Mecca, and so that they could remain persistent on the path of truth. Allah (swt) told them in Surah Yunus, for example, that Allah would make the truth apparent however much its enemies despised it, that only Musa's tribe believed because most feared Firaun’s tyranny, but that they should establish regular prayers in their homes and give the believers good tidings of impending relief from hardship (10:83-87). This was the very path that the companions then walked upon. So, by the time they got to Medina and found the Jews fasting Ashura as well, the prophet (saws) had every right to claim the legacy of Musa (as).
Understanding the call of Musa (as), in the context of today’s reaity, requires alternative reflection as well. After being gentle initially, Musa (as) ultimately turned to call fiercely against Firaun and his aversion. Allah, tabaraka wa ta’ala, says that Musa prayed,
وَقَالَ مُوسَىٰ رَبَّنَآ إِنَّكَ ءَاتَيۡتَ فِرۡعَوۡنَ وَمَلَأَهُ ۥ زِينَةً۬ وَأَمۡوَٲلاً۬ فِى ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا رَبَّنَا لِيُضِلُّواْ عَن سَبِيلِكَۖ رَبَّنَا ٱطۡمِسۡ عَلَىٰٓ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ وَٱشۡدُدۡ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمۡ فَلَا يُؤۡمِنُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَرَوُاْ ٱلۡعَذَابَ ٱلۡأَلِيمَ
“Our Lord, surely You have given Pharaoh and his chiefs finery and luxury in this world, our Lord, that they may lead astray from Your way. Our Lord, destroy their riches and harden their hearts, so that they believe not until they see the chastisement” (10:88)
Beautiful and fair preaching must be gentle, but it must also be firm and grounded in principle. This revelation coincide to the prophet Muhamamd’s (saws) own increase in controversial public dawa, as Allah, aza wa jaal, told him, to arise and warn and not to be concerned with the mushrikeen. Today’s Muslims however pray for the imperialist economy of western nations to flourish, even where its flourishing is dependent on the oppression of Muslims across the world. In reality, however, the dawa of Musa (as) and Muhamad (saws), even in the early era, was one of firm conviction, with a purpose of establishing the justice of Islam in the Earth. And proper conceptions of the fast of Ashura, will instill in the believer a similar type of awareness. When Muslims undergo a search for the deeper purposes of acts of worship in Islam, then they truly benefit and realize the whole of reward from Allah (swt).
The reward for fasting Ashura is forgiveness for a preceding years’ worth of sin. Abu Qatada al-Ansari () narrated that the Messenger of Allāh ( said: “Fasting three days every month and the entire Ramaḍān every year is a perpetual fast. The fast of the day of Arafah, expiates the sins of the preceding and the coming year. The fast of the day of Ashura, expiates the sins of the preceding year.” The scholars explain that this forgiveness is for the minor, and not the major sins.
In Al-Masuah al-Fiqhiyya, the great scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim documented the importance of understanding the complexity and purpose of acts legislated in our deen. He explained that in order for minor sins to be expiated, “one also avoids major sins; when the two things are put together (fasting Ashura and avoiding major sins), they have the strength to expiate the minor sins. Among those deceived people may be one who thinks that his good deeds are more than his sins, because he does not pay attention to his bad deeds or check on his sins, but if he does a good deed he remembers it and relies on it. This is like the one who seeks Allah’s forgiveness with his tongue and glorifies Allah by saying “subhan Allah” one hundred times a day, then he backbites about the Muslims and slanders their honor, and speaks all day long about things that are not pleasing to Allah. This person is always thinking about the virtues of his saying “subhan Allah” and saying “la ilaha illa Allah” but he pays no attention to what has been reported concerning those who backbite, tell lies, and slander others, or commit other sins of the tongue. They are completely deceived.”
How many in the ummah fall into this deceit. Were the ummah to reflect on the religion, to follow it as the companions did, to be people of deep understanding and reflection, and to appreciate the purposes behind deeds, doing them in accordance with the Sunnah, solely seeking to please Allah, aza wa jaal, then the ummah would not have to worry much about the enemies guns, bombs, or planes. A commemoration of the life of Musa (as), and Allah’s rescuing Bani Israel from Firaun, allows one to walk the path of all prophets, and not the paths of misguidance attributed today to their names. So, as you fast these days of Ashura recognize that true understanding requires that you reflect deeply on the purpose behind deeds. That is the way of truly establishing the religion, both in the home and society!