Muharram is a significant and important month. Muharram itself is the first month of the Islamic calendar and is often met with passing interest by the Muslim community as simply a day to reflect and change the date on the calendar. But, in fact, it is much more symbolic than just that historical and momentous event of beginning the chronicling of Islam time.
The name ‘mu harram’ extends from the Arabic root letters of ha, ra and mim that form the Arabic word ‘haram’, a word that means ‘sacred’. This combination of Arabic root letters ha ra mim can also mean ‘forbidden’ in a different verb form.
The wisdom still holds, as we reflect that in the month of Muharram, a sacred month, fighting is prohibited. Also, reflect on how we refer to the Masjid that houses the Kaaba as Masjid Al-Haram, a sacred place where conflict and arguments are prohibited.
“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 … “
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "(The division of time has turned to its original form which was current when Allah created the Heavens and the Earths. The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: Three are in succession Dhul-Qa' da, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab of (the tribe of) Mudar which comes between Jumadi-ath-Thaniyah and Sha ban” (Bukhari).
Within this revered month, the 10th day of the month of Muharram, Ashura, is perhaps the most important day. Ashura is so significant that the Prophet and the Companions would fast on this day even before it was abrogated by the revelation making the fast of Ramadan obligatory on the believers.
Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said, “(The tribe of) Quraish used to fast on the day of Ashura in the pre-lslamic period, and then Allah's Apostle ordered (Muslims) to fast on it till the fasting in the month of Ramadan was prescribed; whereupon the Prophet said, "He who wants to fast (on Ashura) may fast, and he who does not want to fast may not fast” (Bukhari).
Fasting on Ashura is a recommended act by the life example and words of the Prophet.
Abu Hurayrah, a Companion of the Prophet, and prolific narrator of hadith 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’” (Muslim).
The Prophet was asked about fasting the day of Arafat and he said, “It will expiate the sins of the previous and upcoming years.” Then, the Prophet was asked about fasting the day of Ashura and he said, “It will expiate the sins of the past year” (Muslim).
The importance and significance of fasting for Muslims is expounded upon in the reported sayings of the Prophet. However, history does not completely explain why the tribes of Quraysh were fasting on this day, but it was surmised to be a day of atonement. When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, he found the religious people of the Abrahamic faith fasted on this day.
Ibn Abbas, a scholar of the Prophetic traditions reported, the Prophet came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He asked them about that. They replied, "This is a good day, the day on which Allah rescued Bani Israel from their enemy. So, Moses (Musa) fasted this day." The Prophet said, "We have more claim over Moses than you." So, the Prophet fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast (on that day)” (Bukhari).
When Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, told the people that Muslims have more connection to Musa, may God’s peace be on him, he encouraged his Companions to fast as an expression of gratitude and commemoration of that salvation granted to the followers of Prophet Musa.
“Then We inspired Moses, “Strike with your staff the sea,” and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain. And We advanced thereto the pursuers. And We saved Moses and those with him, all together. Then We drowned the others.
Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers.
And indeed, your Lord – He is the Exalted in Might, the Merciful.”
(Quran 26: 63-68)
Allah gives us signs to reflect and understand. We are reminded that Prophet Musa is mentioned more times in the Quran than any other Prophet. During the Isra and Miraj experience of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, he interacted with Musa, peace be upon him, more than any other Prophet. These are signs that there is a connection between the community of Muhammad and the community of Musa. Peace and blessings be upon them. Both were forced to migrate, both were under tyrannical rule, and both were delivered salvation by Allah. Allah hears the cries of the believers.
Surah Rahman reminds us to reflect on the bounty and mercy that comes from Allah. Surah Baqarah teaches us that fasting is always only for the sake and pleasure of Allah. Let us be grateful that Allah has instructed us in the manner in which to be obedient to Him.