Messages Behind ‘Ashura

Messages Behind Ashura

By Hwaa Irfan


An outpouring from on High in the form of a total solar eclipse on November 13/14 2012 took place pushing  forth a big shift in reality much resented by the global governing forces, and those still attached to the world as we have known it. At the same time, a New Moon  occured in the constellation of Scorpio on 13 November, with the New Moon welcoming the month of Muharram, the beginning of the new Hijriyy Year (Islamic year) maybe on 15/16 November 2012. Like throwing a rock on a pile f dust, emotions will be high, and negative if one is not read for real change in the direction we have descended to globally and personally. The body of this article was written in a previous year, but all concurs with what is taking place now!

There are not many who could say that the year that has past has not been met with many challenges. It may have been that when faced with those challenges; we have not acted at our best. Even in the process, we may have committed a wrong. Prophet Muhammed (SAW) marked the 10th Muharram, ‘Ashura, as a day of voluntary fasting in atonement of sins committed from the previous year.

The tradition of fasting on Ashura (meaning the 10th in Arabic) goes back to pre-Islamic times, first marking the day when Noah’s Ark came to rest, and the day that Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham was born.  Prophet Muhammed observed how the Jews of his time observed Ashura and:

 “Ibn’Abbas (Allah be pleased with both of them) reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) arrived in Medina and found the Jews observing fast on the day of ‘Ashura. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said to them: What is the (significance) of this day that you observe fast on it? They said: It is the day of great (significance) when Allah delivered Moses and his people, and drowned the Pharaoh and his people, and Moses observed fast out of gratitude and we also observe it. Upon this the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: We have more right, and we have a closer connection with Moses than you have; so Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) observed fast (on the day of ‘Ashura), and gave orders that it should be observed.”  (Muslim Book #006, Ahadith #2520)

When questioned about adopting the practices of the Jews and the Christians of his time, Prophet Muhammed replied:

“… When the next year comes, God willing, we would observe fast on the 9th But the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) died before the advent of the next year.”  (Muslim Book #006, Ahadith #2528)

Before Ramadhan became an obligatory fast for Muslims, Ashura took on that role:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: The Prophet observed the fast on the 10th of Muharram (‘Ashura), and ordered (Muslims) to fast on that day, but when the fasting of the month of Ramadan was prescribed, the fasting of the ‘Ashura’ was abandoned. ‘Abdullah did not use to fast on that day unless it coincided with his routine fasting by chance.”  (Al-Bukhari Book #31, Ahadith #116)

To encourage the practice Prophet Muhammed (SAW):

“… sent (a person) on the morning of Ashura to the villages of Ansar around Medina (with this message): He who got up in the morning fasting (without eating anything) he should complete his fast, and he who had had his breakfast in the morning, he should complete the rest of the day (without food). The Companions said; We henceforth observed fast on it (on the day of ‘Ashura) and, God willing, made our children observe that. We went to the mosque and made toys out of wool for them and when anyone felt hungry and wept for food we gave them these toys till it was the time to break the fast.”  (Muslim Book #006, Ahadith #2531)

Once Prophet Muhammed (SAW) received Divine guidance as to the obligatory fasting of Ramadhan, Prophet Muhammed (SAW) advised:

Narrated ‘Aisha: (The tribe of) Quraysh 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 Ramadhan 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.”  (Al-Bukhari Book #31, Ahadith #117)

Muharram marks the first month of the Islamic calendar, the month when Prophet Muhammed (SAW) retreated to the cave, and the month of migration from Mecca to Medina, hence the beginning of the Islamic calendar

It was the 10th Muharram 61 AH/680 AD, that ‘Ashura was to take on a further significance. That day in history marked the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammed (SAW), Imam Hussein in Iraq at the Battle of Kerbala on the River Euphrates.

Besieged by the large army under the Umayyad regime, Imam Hussein and his companions and family totaling in number were massacred. Like the politics of today of a form of diplomatic relations that juxtapositions an entity into a corner whereby they have no other choice, Imam Hussein bin ‘Ali could not swear allegiance to the Caliph Yazid at that time. He was not allowed to continue with the peace treaty that was undertaken by his belated brother Hassan under the previous Caliph Muawiya. Yazid was the son of Muawiya, and grandson of Abu Sufyan, who was the arch enemy of Prophet Muhammed (SAW) – here there was a truth in the saying son like father. Yazid saw the religious authority of Imam Hussein as a threat to his power, yet all Imam Hussein did in Yazid’s time was take care of his religious duties, but this was intolerable for the pleasure seeking, wine and woman loving Yazid. How could a defender of the faithful submit to this without compromising the ‘Ummah further. No one could stand up to Yazid’s tyranny, so if Imam Hussein did not…

“By Allah I shall not go by a deviated path. Let that which Allah wills happen.”

Muslims had lived many years under the rulership of Abu Sufyan, Muawiya, and Yazid. In that time, many Muslims have deviated from living in a stare of Islam. There was much corruption, and more speeches and sermons would not suffice. The Governor of Medina tried to impress upon Imam Hussein to take the oath of allegiance, but Imam Hussein sought guidance by going to pray at his grandfather’s grave for two night.

“I am not rising (against Yazid) as an insolent or an arrogant person, or a mischief-monger or tyrant. I have risen (against Yazid) as I seek to reform the Ummah of my grandfather. I wish to bid the good and forbid the evil.”

On the 10th Muharram Imam Hussein and his 32 companions on horseback, and 40 on foot were martyred by 30,000 men under the powerful and corrupt Yazid. They were fast starved of water and food before being killed. Of the companions who refused to leave when given the option to do so by Imam Hussein, were family members of Imam Hussein including women.

The Lessons

Of the few that were able to board the Ark with Prophet Nuh/Noah, those who were left behind, had forsaken their purpose on this earth. They had lost their way, and concerned themselves with what only pleased them. The Ark came to rest when the earth had been cleansed of that which corrupted it, to be given a fresh start by those who had not forgotten their purpose on earth, because we are born into this world as souls embodied in flesh, and it is our souls that have a contract with our Creator.

The Jews too were given a second chance after they had learnt much humility as to their purpose on earth, and were relieved from the tyranny of the Pharoah at that time. However, this remembrance did not last long. ‘Ashura did not begin with them, but they did not hold dear the significance when it was the day when: 

  • Allah (SWT) accepted the repentance of Prophet Adham/Adam after his exile from Paradise
  • Allah (SWT) saved Prophet Nuh/Noah and his companions in the ark
  • Allah (SWT) extinguished the fire in which Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham was thrown by Nimrod
  • Allah (SWT) spoke directly to Prophet Musa/Moses and gave him the Commandments.
  • Prophet Ayyub/Job was restored to health from leprosy
  • Prophet Yusuf/Joseph was reunited with his father Ya’qub/Jacob
  • Prophet Yunus/Jonah was taken out from the belly of the fish
  • Prophet Dawud/David was forgiven
  • The kingdom of Sulayman/Solomon was restored
  • Prophet Issa/Jesus was raised to Jannah/Paradise

The fact that they rejected Prophet Issa/Jesus demonstrates their rejection of the principle of the Unity of God, and as Muslims we are in great danger of that too! The great Muslim scholar and mathematician Abu Rehan Biruni also rejected the commemoration of ‘Ashura because for the Jews it has become Yom Kippur. Biruni interpreted the putting aside of ‘Ashura as an obligatory fast as an ending of a tradition incorporated into Islam, not as the voluntary act that it is as it has a tradition with the 10th day of the first Jewish month, which was incorrect as proven by Sheikh ‘Abdul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi:

“The first day of the month of Muharram in the first year of Hijrah (Migration) was Friday, which corresponds to the 16th of Tamuz, 933 (A.E.). As against it, the first day of that year among the Jews was Sunday, the 12th of Awwal which corresponds to the 29th of Safar. Hence, the fast of ‘Ashura should have fallen on Tuesday, the 9th of Rabi-ul-Awwal, while the Migration had taken place during the first half of that month. The two dates, at any rate, do not correspond to each other.”

May our desires not blind us! Sheikh ‘Abdul Hasan Nadwi further explains:

“The second misconception under which Biruni labors is that the fast of ‘Ashura mentioned in the Tradition signifies the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tisri, which is also known as Yom Kippur or the Fast of Atonement and is observed by them with greater ceremony than any other fast. But there is nothing in the tradition to warrant such a conclusion, and it is also not supported by the Torah because the Fast of Atonement was instituted in expiation of a mortal sin and observed as a day of penance and mourning. The Day of Atonement, which is the tenth day of the seventh month of Tisri, is referred to in these words in the Third Book of Moses called, Leviticus:

“And this will be a statute for ever unto you; that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger who sojourneth among you: for on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute forever” (Lev. 16:29-31)

“We, therefore, conclude that ‘Ashura, which is mentioned in the traditions related by Ibn-i-Abbas and others and on which day the Muslims have been exhorted to fast and was included among the near-obligatory duties in Islam before the fasts of Ramadan were prescribed, corresponds, in the largest measure, to the day which falls in the middle of the Hebraic month of Abib, whose name was changed to Nisan by the Jews during the period of their exile in Babylon and was celebrated by them as an ‘Id and an event of fasting and entertainment. It was on this day that the Israelites had come out of Egypt and the Pharaoh was drowned.”

The significance of the migration beyond the establishment of the Islamic year is also something we can learn from. To be willing to flee for an ideal, is reflected in the fight for an ideal by the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. 

” (Oh Allah) How could an argument be given about Your Existence by a being whose total and complete existence is in need of you? When did you ever disappear so that you might need an evidence and logic to lead (the people) towards You? And when did You ever become away and distant so that your signs and effects made the people get in touch with you? Blind be the eye which does not see You (whereas) You are observing him. What did the one who missed You find? And what does the one who finds You lack? Certainly, the one who got pleased and inclined toward other than You, came to nothingness (failed).” – Imam Hussein on Mount Arafat

{Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah’s cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah: they are the people who will achieve (salvation).} (At-Tawbah, 9:20)

The great migration from Mecca to Medina is symbolic of the significance of migration in Islam – marking the shedding of what is redundant for what is beneficial, sustainable, and unifying of soul and mind, mind and body, heart and soul, the desiring self for the higher self, and the individual for the community that is whole, because the individuals are whole. From being a slave to the desiring self = weak, to being a master of the higher self = strength from divisive to unifying. We can look on the state of Muslim nations today and fast that they will remember for Islam is a way of life towards tawhid – the greater Unity, not a series of fasts and feasts between acts of worship that have become reduced to just being acts!

With the migration to Medina, a city was transformed. It was transformed by:

  • Establishing places of worship, and worship as a life transaction
  • Establishing places of learning – 9 schools were opened during the time of Prophet Muhammed
  • Brotherliness, and being responsible for each other as well as newcomers
  • The establishment of inter-faith and inter-community dialogue
  • Keeping the city clean:  “We came to Madinah and it was the most polluted land of Allah. The water there was most stinking.” (Al-Bukhari, #1756)
  • Establishing a water system that provided clean water for all.
  • Creating gardens and farming initiatives to provide work, healthy food, and  a pleasant environment
  • Eliminating poverty through the system of charity
  • Providing a safe place to live, work and worship in.

In other words be the change we want to be!


Ayati, I. “A Probe into the History of ‘Ashura.” Islamic Seminary Publ. Pakistan.

“The Historical Significance of ‘Ashura”

Nadwi, A.H.A., “The Fast of ‘Ashura.”

Syed, I B. “The Significance of the Hijrah.”
Related Topics: 

Heavenly Signs: New Moon in Scorpio and November 2012

The Self Control Gland and Fasting

Night Prayer and the Human Body Clock 

Who or What Gave You Life?

The Great Flood & Noah’s Ark

The Tresses of Forgetfulness. 

Muslim Cordoba Going for a Song 

No Wonder Women Are Bored!

From the Symbolic Ascension to the Ascension of Our Lives

Ordinary Women Doing the Impossible 

Can You Just Change Your Mind Just Like That!

Distractions of Life vs. God

The Charity of Love

The Triple Filter Test

Arguing God from Being?

And He Shows Us His Signs!

The Idols of Our Lives

Eight Things to Learn

Letter to the Self#30: Remember Me


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