Muharram is the month that marks the beginning of the Hijrah calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Holy Qur’an says, “The number of the months according to Allah is 12 (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.”
These four months, according to the authentic traditions are the months of Dul Qaada, Dul Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. All the commentators of the Holy Qur’an are unanimous on this point, because the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in his sermon on the occasion of his last Haj declared: “One year consists of 12 months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Dul Qaada, Dul Hijjah, Muharram and the fourth is Rajab.”
The specific mention of these four months does not mean that any other month has no sanctity, because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sanctified months for the simple reason that their sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah.
When Allah Almighty chooses a particular time for His special blessings, then it acquires sanctity out of His grace.
Thus, the sanctity of these four months was recognized right from the days of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him).
In the Shariah of our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) the sanctity of these months was upheld and the Holy Qur’an referred to them as the “sanctified months.” The month of Muharram has certain other characteristics peculiar to it, which are specified below.
Fasting during the month
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has said: “The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.”
Although the fasts of Muharram are not obligatory, the one who fasts in these days out of his own will and choice is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Muharram are most rewardable ones among the Nafl (voluntary) fasts.
The day of Ashurah
Although the month of Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, the 10th day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named Ashurah.
According to Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him, the Prophet (peace be upon him), when migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which Prophet Musa (Moses) (peace be upon him) and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its water.
On hearing this from the Jews, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “We are more closely related to Musa than you” and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashurah. (Abu Dawood)
It is also reported that in the beginning fasting on the day of Ashurah was obligatory for Muslims. Later fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory and the fast on the day of Ashurah was made optional. Sayyidah Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) has said: “When the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of Ashurah and directed the people to fast. 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 Ashurah was abandoned. One can fast on this day, if he so wills, or can avoid fasting, if he so wills.”
However, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to fast on the day of Ashurah. Abdullah Ibn Masud reports that the Prophet (peace be upon him) preferred the fast of Ashurah to the fast of other days and preferred the fast of Ramadan to the fast of Ashurah. (Bukhari and Muslim)
According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashurah should either be prefixed or suffixed by another fast. It means that one should fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Prophet (peace be upon him) is that the Jews used to fast on the day of Ashurah alone, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) wanted to distinguish the Islamic-way of fasting from that of Jews.
However, there are some legends and misconceptions with regard to Ashurah, but have no support of authentic Islamic sources, some of them are:
• This is the day in which Adam was created.
• This is the day in which Ibrahim was born.
• 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 are totally baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not authentic.
Some people take it as Sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal on the day of Ashurah. This practice, too, has no basis in Islamic.
Some other people attribute the sanctity of Ashurah to the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain (may Allah be pleased with him). No doubt, the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain is one of the most tragic episodes of our history. Yet, the sanctity of Ashurah cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of Ashurah was established during the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him) even before the birth of Husain.
Another misconception about Muharram is that it is an unlucky month because Husain was martyred in this month. It is for this misconception that people avoid holding marriage ceremonies in Muharram. This is again a baseless concept which is contrary to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Another wrong practice related to this month is to hold the lamentation and mourning ceremonies in the memory of martyrdom of Sayyidna Husain.
As mentioned earlier, the event of Karbala is one of the most tragic events of our history, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) has forbidden us from holding the mourning ceremonies on the death of any person. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stopped the Muslims from doing all this and directed them to observe patience by saying “Inna lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji oon.” A number of authentic Hadith are available on the subject.
To quote only one of them: “He is not from our group who slaps his cheeks, tears his clothes and cries in the manner of the people of jahiliyyah.”
Even Husain shortly before his demise, had advised his beloved sister Zainab not to mourn over his death in this manner. He said:
“My dear sister, I swear upon you that you, in case I die, shall not tear your clothes, nor scratch your face, nor curse anyone for me or pray for your death.”