The Holy Qur’an says: “The number of the months according to Allah is 12 months (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day in which He created heavens and the earth. Among these (12 months) there are four sanctified.”
The authentic traditions give the names of the months as Zulqadah, Zulhijjah, Muharram and Rajab. And Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his sermon on his last Hajj, had declared that:“One year consists of 12 months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Zulqadah, Zulhijjah, Muharram, and the fourth is Rajab.”
The sanctity of these four months was established right from the days of Sayyidina Ibrahim (as). Then the pagans of Makkah who lay claim to allegiance to Sayyidina Ibrahim, strictly observed the sanctity of the four months. They held that it was unlawful to fight battles in the months. This is despite their frequent tribal ways.
The month of Muharram has certain other characteristics peculiar to it, which include:
The virtues of Fasting on Muharram 9th & 10th (Ashura and Tasu’a)
Fasting on the day of Ashura – the 10th of Muharram – is of great merit in Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Fasting the day of ‘Ashura’ (is of great merits), I hope that Allah will accept it as an expiation for (the sins committed in) the previous year.” (Muslim).
It is the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) to fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram.
The Holy companion, Ibn Abbas said the Holy Prophet, when he migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews there fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said it was the day the Holy Prophet Musa (Moses) and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and Pharaoh who was persecuting them drowned in the sea along with his followers.
The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) had said to the Jews, “I am closer to Musa than you are.” He fasted it and also told his Companions to fast on the day.
Prophet (pbuh), before the end of his life, told Muslims to add the 9th day also. Thus, it is recommended to fast on both the 9th and 10th of Muharram.
It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of Ashura was obligatory for Muslims.
It was later that the Ramadan fast was made obligatory and the fast on the day of Ashura was made optional.
Sayyidah Aishah(ra) said: “When the Holy Prophet came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of Ashura and directed the people to fast it. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of Ashura was abandoned. One can fast on this day, if he so wills, or can avoid fasting, if he so wills.”
The late Sheikh Sayyed Sabiq in his book, Fiqh As-Sunnah, states: ‘Abu Hurayrah reported: “I asked the Prophet: ‘Which Prayer is the best after the obligatory Prayers?’ He said: ‘Prayer during the mid of the night.’ I asked: ‘Which fasting is the best after that of Ramadan?’ He said, ‘The month of Allah that you call Muharram.’” (Ahmad, Muslim, and Abu Dawud).
Also, Mu’awiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: “Concerning the day of `Ashura’, it is not obligatory upon you to fast on it as I do. Whoever wishes may fast and whoever does not wish to is not obliged to do so”. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Muslim scholars have stated also that fasting of Ashura is of three levels as follows:
1). Fasting for three days, i.e., on the 9th, 10th, and 11th of Muharram, 2). Fasting the 9th and 10th of Muharram, and 3). Fasting only the 10th of Muharram.
From the foregoing, it will be seen that although the month of Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, the 10th day of the month (Ashura) is the most sacred among its days.
In a writeup, Muhammad Taqi Usmani, pointed out that, Abdullah Ibn Masud reports that the Holy Prophet preferred the fast of Ashura to the fast of other days and preferred the fast of Ramadan to the fast of Ashura. (Bukhari and Muslim)
In short, it is established through a number of authentic hadith that fasting on the day of Ashura is Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and makes one entitled to a great reward.
As already pointed out above, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashura should either be prefixed or suffixed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th an 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th of it. The Holy Prophet wanted to distinguish the Islamic way of fasting from that of Jews.
Some traditions indicate another feature of the day of Ashura. On this day, according to the traditions, one should be more generous to his family by providing more food to them as compared to other days. These traditions are not very authentic according to the science of Hadith. Yet, some scholars like Baihaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable.
Misconceptions about Ashura
Some legends and misconceptions with regard to Ashura that have no support of authentic Islamic sourcesinclude:
This is the day in which Adam was created.
This is the day in which Ibrahim was born.
This is the day in which Allah accepted the repentance of Sayyidina Ibrahim.
This is the day on which the Qiyamah (dooms-day) will take place.
Whoever takes bath in the day of Ashurah will never get ill.
All these and other similar whims and fancies are totally baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not worthy of any credit.
Some attribute the sanctity of Ashura to the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain during his battle with the Syrian army. No doubt, the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain is one of the most tragic episodes of our history. Yet, the sanctity of Ashura cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of Ashura was established during the days of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), much earlier than the birth of Sayyidna Husain(as).