Celebrate a moment in history by fasting

Ashura Fasting

The tenth day of the month of Muharram on the lunar calendar, which falls on Friday, October 23rd this year, is a day to thank Allah. It is an occasion to celebrate, because on that day Allah saved the believers, the followers of Musa who fled from Pharaoh. It is a day that gives hope that in the end, no matter how harsh and how long the suffering, good will prevail over evil.

Muslims celebrate this day, called Ashura, by fasting. In fact, it was a traditional practice of the Arabs to fast on this day, even before it became a recommend act in Islam.

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) migrated from Makkah and arrived in Madinah, he found that the Jews there fasted on the tenth of Muharram. He asked them the reason for their fasting on this day, they said, “This is a blessed day. On this day Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy (in Egypt) and so Prophet Musa [Moses] fasted on this day giving thanks to Allah.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “We are closer to Musa [Moses] than you are.” (Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on this day.

The following year, Allah commanded the Muslims to fast the month of Ramadan, and so the fasting of Ashura became optional; a voluntary fast in aspiration of gaining rewards from Allah.

It is also reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) intended to fast on the ninth of Muharram, in addition to the tenth.

Ibn Abbas reported, “The Messenger of Allah fasted on the day of Ashura and ordered the people to fast on it. The people said, “O Messenger of Allah, it is a day that the Jews and Christians honor.” The Prophet said, “When the following year comes, Allah willing, we shall fast on the ninth [also].”

The death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) came before the following year. (Muslim and Abu Dawud)

The rewards that await the one who fasts on this day and also a day before or a day after are bountiful.

According to a Hadith in Muslim, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Fasting the day of Ashura [is of great merits], I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for [the sins committed] the previous year.”

Although, we are keen to gain rewards by fasting on this day, we must be sure to differentiate between what is obligatory and what is a highly recommended voluntary act of worship.

Mu`awiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) 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).

Some scholars have stated that there are several options when it comes to fasting Ashura:

1. Fasting for three days: on the 9th, 10th, and 11th of Muharram,
2. Fasting the 9th and 10th of Muharram
3. Fasting the 10th and 11th of Muharram
4. Fasting only the 10th of Muharram.

As we prepare to fast Ashura, in hopes of wiping out the sins we committed in the past year, we must also renew our intention to withhold from sins in the first place. It is a good day for inner reflection, and self-evaluation, especially of the persistent sins we may be committing. Just as Hippocrates said when it comes to physical health, we should also address our spiritual health; Hippocrates said, “If you are not your own doctor you are a fool.”

We each need to dig deep within our souls, and make a resolve to steer away from the acts that do not please Allah, and to increase our acts of worship that do please Allah. Why wait for the next Ramadan to quit bad habits and make new, good habits? It could be a struggle with waking up for fajr prayer, deciding to wear the hijab, refraining from backbiting, or another personal struggle. Pick Ashura to fast on that day, and to strive to be a better Muslim.

The great scholar, Ibn Al-Qayyim, warned of relying on voluntary fasts to gain reward but not working hard enough to perform the obligatory acts of worship, because obligatory acts should hold precedence.

Ibn Al-Qayyim said, “This misguided person does not know that fasting in Ramadan and praying five times a day are much more important than fasting on the day of Arafah and Ashura, and that they expiate for the sins between one Ramadan and the next, or between one Friday and the next, so long as one avoids major sins. But they cannot expiate for minor sins unless one also avoids major sins; when the two things are put together, they have the strength to expiate for minor sins.

“Among those deceived people may be one who thinks that his good deeds are more than his sins, because he does not pay attention to his bad deeds or check on his sins, but if he does a good deed he remembers it and relies on it. This is like the one who seeks Allah’s forgiveness with his tongue (by words only), and glorifies Allah by saying ‘Subhanallah’ one hundred times a day, then he backbites about the Muslims, slanders their honor, and speaks all day long about things that are not pleasing to Allah.” (Al-Mawsu’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, part 31, Ghurur)


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