The Virtues of the Month of Muharram
Allah’s sacred month of Muharram is a blessed and important month. It is the first month of the Hijri calendar and is one of the four sacred months concerning which Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“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-Tawbah 9:36]
(1) Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 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 Mudar which comes between Jumaada and Sha’baan.” – (Reported by al-Bukhari, 2958).
Muharram is so called because it is a sacred (Muharram) month and to confirm its sanctity. Allah’s words (interpretation of the meaning): “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 said that this phrase (so wrong not yourselves therein.) 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. Qutaadah said concerning this phrase (so wrong not yourselves therein.) 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 Katheer, may Allah have mercy on him. Tafsir of Surat al-Tawbah, ayah 36).
The Virtue of observing more Naafil fasts during Muharram
(2) Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘The best of 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-Qaari said: “The apparent meaning is all of the month of Muharram.” But it was proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) never fasted any whole month apart from Ramadan, 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 and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to fast more in Sha’baan. 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 al-Nawawi ‘ala Sahih Muslim).
‘Aashooraa’ in History
(3) Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Aashooraa’. He said, ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Moosa fasted on this day.’ He said, ‘We have more right to Moosa than you,’ so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day.” – (Reported by al-Bukhari, 1865).
“This is a righteous day” – in a report narrated by Muslim, [the Jews said:] “This is a great day, on which Allah saved Moosa and his people, and drowned Pharaoh and his people.”
“Moosa fasted on this day” – a report narrated by Muslim adds: “..in thanksgiving to Allah, so we fast on this day.” According to a report narrated by al-Bukhari: “.. so we fast on this day to venerate it.” A version narrated by Imam Ahmad adds: “This is the day on which the Ark settled on Mount Joodi, so Nooh fasted this day in thanksgiving.” “and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day” – according to another report also narrated by al-Bukhari: “He said to his Companions: ‘You have more right to Moosa than they do, so fast on that day.’”
The practice of fasting on ‘Aashooraa’ was known even in the days of Jaahiliyyah, before the Prophet’s mission. It was reported that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her said: “The people of Jaahiliyyah used to fast on that day.”
Fasting on ‘Aashooraa’ was a gradual step in the process of introducing fasting as a prescribed obligation in Islam. Fasting appeared in three forms. When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Madinah, he told the Muslims to fast on three days of every month and on the day of ‘Aashooraa’, then Allah made fasting obligatory when He said (interpretation of the meaning): “…observing the fasting is prescribed for you.” [al-Baqarah 2:183] (Ahkaam al-Quran by al-Jassas, part 1).
The obligation was transferred from the fast of ‘Aashooraa’ to the fast of Ramadhan, and this one of the proofs in the field of Usool al-Fiqh that it is possible to abrogate a lighter duty in favor of a heavier duty. Before the obligation of fasting ‘Aashooraa’ was abrogated, fasting on this day was obligatory, as can be seen from the clear command to observe this fast. Then it was further confirmed later on, then reaffirmed by making it a general command addressed to everybody, and once again by instructing mothers not to breastfeed their infants during this fast. It was reported from Ibn Mas’ood that when fasting Ramadhan was made obligatory, the obligation to fast ‘Aashooraa’ was lifted, i.e., it was no longer obligatory to fast on this day, but it is still desirable (mustahabb).
The virtues of fasting ‘Aashooraa’
(4) Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ‘Aashooraa’, 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.
(5) The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “For fasting the day of ‘Aashooraa’, 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. And Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty.
Which day is ‘Aashooraa’?
(6) ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) said: “When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) fasted on ‘Aashooraa’ 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 (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘If I live to see the next year, inshaAllaah, we will fast on the ninth day too.’ But it so happened that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) passed away before the next year came.” – (Reported by Muslim, 1916).
Al-Shafi’ee and his companions, Ahmad, Ishaq and others said: “It is mustahabb to fast on both the ninth and tenth days, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah 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 ‘Aashooraa’, 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.
[This article is an abridgement of an article by Shaikh Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid which has the same name]