Allah’s sacred month of Muharram is a blessed and important month. It is the first month of the Hijri, or Islamic Calendar and is one of the four sacred months concerning which Allaah says that which translates as:
“Indeed, the number of months with Allaah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allaah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion [i.e., way], so do not wrong yourselves during them …” [At-Tawbah 9:36]
Abu Bakrah, may Allaah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: “The year consists of twelve months, of which four are sacred; the three consecutive months of Dhu’l-Qi’dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab, which comes between Jumaada and Sha’baan.” (Bukhaari).
Muharram is so called because it is a sacred month and to confirm its sanctity.
Allaah’s words which translate as: “…so do not wrong yourselves during them…” [At-Tawbah 9:36]. Mean; do not wrong yourselves during these sacred months, because committing sins during these months is worse than during the other months.
It was reported that Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with him, said that this phrase: “…so do not wrong yourselves during them…” initially 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.
Wrongdoing at any time is a serious matter, but Allaah gives more weight to whichever of His commands He will.
Abu Hurayrah, may Allaah be pleased with him, said: “The Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: “The best of fasting after Ramadaan is fasting during Allaah’s month of Muharram.’” (Muslim).
This Hadeeth is meant to encourage increasing one’s fasting during Muharram, without meaning that one should fast for the entire month.
Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with him said: “The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam came to Madeenah and observed that the Jews were fasting on the day of ‘Aashooraa’. He asked: “What is this?” They replied: ‘This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allaah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Moosa fasted on this day.’ He sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam replied: “We have more right to Moosa than you” so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to do likewise.” (Bukhaari).
A version narrated by Imaam Ahmad adds: “This is the day on which the Ark settled on Mount Joodi, so Nooh, peace be upon him, fasted this day in thanksgiving.”
It was also reported that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam used to fast on ‘Aashooraa’ in Makkah, before he migrated to Madeenah. When he migrated to Madeenah, he found the Jews celebrating this day, so he asked them why, and they replied as described in the Hadeeth quoted above. He commanded the Muslims to be different from the Jews, who took it as a festival, as was reported in the Hadeethof Abu Moosa, may Allaah be pleased with him, who said: “The Jews used to take the day of ‘Aashooraa’ as a festival. The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: ‘So you [Muslims] should fast on that day.’” (Bukhaari). Apparently the motive for commanding the Muslims to fast on this day was the desire to be different from the Jews, so that the Muslims would fast when the Jews did not, because people do not fast on a day of celebration.
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 Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam came to Madeenah, he told the Muslims to fast on three days of every month and on the day of ‘Aashooraa’, then Allaah made fasting obligatory when He said that which translates as: “… decreed upon you is fasting…” [Al-Baqarah 2:183] (Ahkaam al-Qur’aan by al-Jassas, part 1).
The obligation was transferred from the fast of ‘Aashooraa’ to the fast of Ramadaan, and this one of the proofs in the field of Usool Al-Fiqhthat it is possible to abrogate a lighter duty in favour of a heavier duty.
Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with him and his father, said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ‘Aashooraa’, and this month, meaning Ramadaan.” (Bukhaari).
The meaning of his being keen was that he sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam intended to fast on that day in the hope of earning the reward for doing so.
The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: “For fasting the day of ‘Aashooraa’, I hope that Allaah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.” (Muslim). This is from the bounty of Allaah towards us: for fasting one day He gives us expiation for the sins of a whole year. And Allaah is the Owner of Great Bounty.
‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with him and his father, said: “When the Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallamfasted on ‘Aashooraa’ and commanded the Muslims to do likewise, they said: “O Messenger of Allaah! It is a day that is venerated by the Jews and Christians.’ The Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam replied: “If I live to see the next year, in sha Allaah, we will fast on the ninth day too.” But it so happened that the Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam passed away before the next year came.” (Muslim).
Al-Shaafi'i and his companions, Ahmad, Ishaaq and others said: “It is mustahabb to fast on both the ninth and tenth days, because the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam 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.
At-Tahhaawi said: “The Messenger of Allaah sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam allowed us to fast on ‘Aashooraa’ and urged us to do so. He did not say that if it falls on a Saturday we should not fast. This is evidence that all days of the week are included in this. In our view – and Allaah knows best – it could be the case that even if this is true (that it is not allowed to fast on Saturdays), it is so that we do not venerate this day and refrain from food, drink and intercourse, as the Jews do. As for the one who fasts on a Saturday without intending to venerate it, and does not do so because the Jews regard it as blessed, then this is not makrooh…”
The author of Al-Minhaaj said: “‘It is makrooh, or disliked, to fast on a Friday alone…’ But it is no longer makrooh if you add another day to it, as mentioned in the saheeh report to that effect. A person may fast on a Friday if it coincides with his habitual fast, or he is fasting in fulfilment of a vow, or he is making up an obligatory fast that he has missed, as was stated in an authentic report.”
Al-Shaarih said in Tuhfat al-Muhtaaj:
“ ‘If it coincides with his habitual fast’ – i.e., such as if he fasts alternate days, and a day that he fasts happens to be a Friday.
‘ if he is fasting in fulfilment of a vow, etc.” – this also applies to fasting on days prescribed in Islamic law, such as ‘Aashooraa’ or ‘Arafaah. (Tuhfat al-Muhtaaj, part 3, Baab Sawm al-Tatawwu’)
Al-Bahooti, may Allaah have mercy on him, said: “It is makrooh to deliberately single out a Saturday for fasting, because of the hadeeth of‘Abdullaah ibn Bishr, may Allaah be pleased with him, who reported from his sister that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said: “Do not fast on Saturdays except in the case of obligatory fasts” (reported by Ahmad with a jayyid isnaad and by Al-Haakim, who said: according to the conditions of Al-Bukhaari), and because it is a day that is venerated by the Jews, so singling it out for fasting means being like them… except when a Friday or Saturday coincides with a day when Muslims habitually fast, such as when it coincides with the day of ‘Arafaah or the day of ‘Aashooraa’, and a person has the habit of fasting on these days, in which case it is not makrooh, because a person’s habit carries some weight.”
Imaam al-Nawawi, may Allaah have mercy on him, said:
“It expiates for all minor sins, i.e., it brings forgiveness of all sins except major sins.”