Fasting on the Day of ‘Āshūra

~ The Day of ‘Āshūra ~

The tenth of Muhurrum is a specific day singled out for fasting as the day of ‘Āshūra, which commemorates the day in which Allah rescued our prophet Mūsa (ﷺ) from his enemies. So the prophet (ﷺ) commanded the Muslims to fast on that day too. It is also encouraged to fast a day before it and/or a day after it.

Ibn Abbās narrated that the Prophet came to Madina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Āshūra. He asked them about that. They replied, “This is a good day, the day on which Allah rescued Bani Israel from their enemy. So, Mūsa fasted this day.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “We have more claim over Mūsa than you.” So, the Prophet fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast (on that day). [Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 3.222]

The fasting on the day of Āshūra used to be the obligatory fasting before Ramadān

Aisha narrated that the people used to fast on ‘Āshūra (the tenth day of the month of Muhurrum) before the fasting of Ramadān was made obligatory. And on that day the Ka’aba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Āshūra) may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 2.662]

Although not obligatory now, the fast of the Day of ‘Āshūra, is a very virtuous one that expiates (minor) sin for an entire year.

Abu Qatādah narrated that the messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: …The observance of three days of fasting every month and that of Ramadan every year is a perpetual fasting. I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of ‘Arafah may atone for the sins of the preceding and the coming years, and I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of ‘Āshūra may atone for the sins of the preceding year. [Sahih Muslim Hadith 2602]

Along with the Day of ‘Āshūra, it is also prescribed to fast another day with it.

Abdullah ibn Abbās narrated that when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) fasted on the day of ‘Āshūra and commanded that it should be observed as a fast, they (his Companions) said to him: Messenger of Allah, it is a day which the Jews and Christians hold in high esteem. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: When the next year comes, God willing, we would observe fast on the 9th (too). But the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) died before the advent of the next year. [Sahih Muslim Hadith 2528]

~ Modern history of this period ~

What should be understood is that the wonderful religion of Islam was perfected and completed before the death of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ).

 This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islâm as your religion. [Qur’an, 5:3]

Historically, after the death of the prophet (ﷺ) there have been other events that occurred in early Muhurrum and even on the Day of ‘Āshūra, such as the martyrdom of Husain, may Allah be pleased with him, the grandson of the prophet (ﷺ) and the invasion of the Tartars when they ransacked Baghdad massacring Muslims in their hundreds of thousands. These tragic incidents have historical significance but should not and do not have any innovated religious significance.

~ Following the practice of the prophet (ﷺ) and the companions ~

Often in the media at this time, there is a portrayal that some sections of the Muslim community indulge in self-flagellation in the most barbaric manner. This is a practice amongst the Shi’ah communities who lament over the death of the grandson of the prophet (ﷺ) by the forces of Yazeed ibn Mu’awiyyah.

This was because Yazeed  was trying to assume power after the death of his father, the Khaleefah Mu’awiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan who had instructed his son to be the next ruler thereby making leadership hereditary which it never had been prior to this time.

Husain, the son of Ali ibn Abi Tālib, may Allah be pleased with him. did not agree with Yazeed becoming the next ruler as he was not best suited for this great and noble position.

A military stand off ensued and this tragic episode, the blessed grandson of the prophet (ﷺ) was killed along with many members of the prophetic family by Yazeeds forces. This happened on the 10th of Muhurrum which coincided with the day of ‘Āshūra.

This is a very sad episode and one which caused animosity between two group from amongst the Muslims. The Shi’ah went to extremes in lamenting over the death of Husain (may Allah be pleased with him). Conversely, the Nasabis would insult Husain (may Allah be pleased with him) and they would celebrate the anniversary of the death of Husain by cooking special foods and celebrating.

The mainstream Sunni Muslims do not go to either extreme and continue to follow the way of the prophet (ﷺ), respecting the prophetic family and all of the prophets companions, recognizing the high status of the prophets’ grandson and recognise the tragic events that unfolded.

As for these extreme groups, in the modern day, the Nasibis no longer exist in any great numbers in the modern world so there is no celebration of these sad events.  For the other group, the Shi’ah, the death of Imam Husain has become a central theme and is mourned by the practice of public self-flagellation yearly on 10th Muhurrum.  This was a practice that was never done by the prophet (ﷺ) or companions, but was introduced by the Buwayhids in 325H around Baghdad. During the Buwayhid rule, they would enforce the practices of grief by having people walk the streets barefoot to the beating of drums, tearing their clothes, slapping their cheeks and beating themselves as a mark of lamentation. Shops would be closed and people could be heard wailing. Special plays would be put on to re-enact the slaying of Husain. These practices continue to this day among the Shi’ah community who account for about 10% of the Muslims world, mainly in Iran and Iraq. Even in the first 300 years of Shi’ah history, none of the Imams revered by the Shi’ah followed these practices.

In summary therefore, the mainstream Muslims continue to do whatever the prophet (ﷺ) and his companions would do during the month of Muhurrum and what the prophet (ﷺ) and the companions did on the day of Āshūra. They fasted copiously during the month of Muhurrum, especially singling out the day of ‘Āshūra and the day before it (or after it). They did not self-flagellate or wail and cry as the ignorant people before Islamic times used to do when mourning deaths. Moreover, the prophet (ﷺ) commanded Muslims not to do those actions, not to commemorate anyone’s death, including the death of even the prophet himself.

Narrated Abdullah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who slaps his cheeks, tears his clothes and follows the ways and traditions of the Days of Ignorance is not one of us.” [Sahih Bukhari Hadith 1294]

The Islamic religion is perfect and complete, and there is no other festival or commemoration that can be added to something perfect, because adding to perfection would be a blameworthy innovation that will no longer be perfect.

May Allah keep us steadfast on the way of the prophet (ﷺ).