What is Ashura?
The Day of Ashura falls on the 10th day of Muharram, and it’s one of the most important days of the Islamic calendar. Most of us know that fasting Ashura is a sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (saw), but did you know this sunnah originated with Prophet Musa (as)?
One hadith narrates that when asked about Ashura, Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: ‘This is a tremendous day. Allah saved Musa and his people on this day and drowned Pharaoh and his people. Musa fasted it out of thanks, so we fast it too….’ (Bukhari).
The hadith goes on to say that the Messenger (saw) fasted this day, and ordered that it be fasted. The reward of doing so is that Allah (swt) will forgive your sins from the previous year. But most of you already knew that, didn’t you? Because, usually, when it comes to Ashura, we limit our thoughts and actions to fasting.
Ashura – A Day of Promise and Hope
The truth is, this day should be one of inward reflection, gratitude, and prayer. It’s the day that Allah (swt) miraculously parted the Red Sea so Musa (as) and the Children of Israel could flee the murderous tyrant who tortured and enslaved an entire nation for generations. Yes, Ashura is the day when fasting will wipe away a year of sins, but it’s also a day that represents Allah’s power, might, justice, and protection for those He loves; as well as His retribution, wrath, and vengeance for those who harm and oppress.
For those of us experiencing oppression or hardship, as our beneficiaries are, the Day of Ashura is a day of hope, celebration, and gratitude – because although Allah (swt) hasn’t yet relieved you of your calamity, you’ve been given evidence, forever documented in the Quran that relief will come – even if Allah (swt) has to part a sea for you.
By the time Allah (swt) saved Musa (as) from Pharaoh, Musa (as) had reached his limit, physically and emotionally; when he had nowhere else to turn; when he had Pharaoh behind him and the Red Sea in front of him.
Things looked entirely hopeless.
People beside Musa (as) began whispering, ‘Indeed, we are sure to be overtaken’ (Quran: 26: 61).
Musa (as) replied: ‘No! Indeed, with me is my Lord’ He will guide me.’ (Quran 26: 62)
Allah (swt) says: ‘Then We inspired to Moses, “Strike with your staff the sea,” and it parted, and each portion was like a great towering mountain.”’ (Quran 26: 63)
So, you see: relief came after tawwakkul; at the exact point that reason told everybody, but Musa (as), to give up.
For those of you going through a trial, the Day of Ashura is a day of promise. Allah (swt) is reminding you that He parted the sea for someone He loves. He is the Most Powerful, capable of anything. Relief will come, and for Allah (swt), it’s simply a case of ‘“Be,” and it is’. (Quran 36:82)
The other side of Ashura is that it stands as a warning to oppressors. Allah (swt) is telling us, very plainly, the end of those who cause hurt and harm to people.
What about Muharram?
The Day of Ashura is undoubtedly a special day, but we can’t ignore the importance of the entire month of Muharram.
It’s the month of opportunity, new beginnings and new horizons, but many of us don’t take advantage of it because we don’t really know what it is.
So, what is Muharram?
Muharram is the first month of the Hijri calendar; it marks the start of a new year. It’s also known as the Month of Allah, and it’s one of the four sacred months Allah (swt) mentions in the Quran.
‘Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months, so was it ordained by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are Sacred [i.e. the 1st, the 7th, the 11th and the 12th months]. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein.’ (Qur’an 9:36).
It’s a month of great spiritual significance. We know that in it, good deeds are multiplied, and sins are even graver.
How can we make the most of it?
Just like we do in Ramadhan, we should take full advantage of our deeds being multiplied. That means doing as much good as humanly possible to maximise our reward.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are four, easy acts of worship you can perform.
As mentioned, the Day of Ashura is on the 10th Muharram. If you fast this day, Allah (swt) will wipe away your sins from the previous year (Muslim). This chance for forgiveness is something we need to take advantage of.The Prophet (saw) also made the intention to fast the 9th Muharram (Muslim), but he passed away before he could.
We should fast as much as we can throughout Muharram, as the Prophet (saw) said ‘The best of fasting after Ramadan is fasting Allah’s month of Muharram’ (Muslim). Try to increase your fasting this month, whether that’s on Mondays and Thursdays, or the three white days (13th, 14th, 15th).
Don’t forget to make lots of dua when you’re fasting:
‘There are three prayers that are not rejected: the prayer of a father for his child, the prayer of the fasting person and the prayer of the traveller.’ – Prophet Muhammad (saw) (Tirmidhi)
- Recite Quran
If you’ve slipped in your Quran recitation, now is a good time to pick it back up. Create realistic goals around your other commitments, whether your aim is to complete the Quran or recite a certain number of pages a day.Even reading a translation in English is a worthy action that we sometimes neglect, and it’s particularly important for people who don’t speak Arabic.
Reading just a few pages a day, in Arabic or English, is enough to stack up those good deeds.
- Recite Dhikr
Make your tongue moist with the remembrance of Allah. Crack open your ‘Fortress of the Muslim’ (if you don’t have one, here’s a free online version) and make it a daily habit to recite your morning and evening supplications.
Say ‘Subhanallahil adheem wa bihamdihi’ (Allah is free from imperfection and all praise is due to Him) and a tree will be planted for you in Paradise (Tirmidhi).
Sometimes we forget dua is dhikr and worship too. Calling out to Allah (swt) and asking Him for your needs is a sign of your belief in Him, your trust in Him, and recognition of your reliance upon Him. That’s why Allah (swt) loves that you ask him. So, make sure you do!
- Keep a gratitude journal
Just as Ashura was a day of thanksgiving for Musa (as) and Nuh (as), during this month, keep a note of everything you’re grateful for. You might be surprised by how long your list gets – after all, Allah (swt) says:
‘And if you should count the favours of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’ (Quran 16:18)
Being grateful is another form of worship that is easy to overlook. It doesn’t take much effort – just a bit of reflection and humility. Take the time to think about everything you have and then say ‘Alhamdulillah’ (all praise is due to Allah).
Best of all, Allah (swt) says: ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour]’ (Quran 14:7)
- Give charity
We know that Prophet Muhammad (saw) said ‘[C]harity does not in any way decrease wealth…’ (Sahih Muslim), but the question is: do we live by this?Muharram, and the Day of Ashura in particular, is a great time to give to charity. Not only will your reward be multiplied, but giving sadaqah removes your sins and stands in the way of calamity. If you’re seeking Allah’s (swt) mercy this month, one of the best ways to achieve it is by being merciful to others.
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No amount is too small. Remember: the Prophet (saw) told us ‘…the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few’ (Ibn Mājah).
In fact, Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As (ra) said: ‘Whoever fasts Ashura, it is as if he has fasted the entire year. And whoever gives charity this day it is like the charity of an entire year.’
Don’t miss out on this opportunity.