The holy month Muharram is the first month of Hijri calendar and the Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar. It is also known as Arabic calendar, Islamic calendar or Muslim calendar. It depends on the movement of the moon. Each of the months of Islamic or Hijri calendar begins when a new moon is sighted and it lasts for a full lunation, which is the time span from one New Moon to the next. Lunar calendar is the standard measure of time according to Qur’an. Allah (SWT) says: “They ask you (O Muhammad) about the new moons. Say, ‘They are measurements of time for the people and for Hajj’…” (Sura Baqarah: 189). According to another Ayah, Allah (SWT) created moon as the natural calendar so that people can count the number of days of the months using nothing more than the sky. If it’s a full moon, one can understand that it’s the 15th day of the month, if it’s a new crescent, he can understand that it’s the first. Thus he does not need to follow a calendar, he can understand the date using only the sky. Allah (SWT) says: “It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light and determined for its phases – that you may know the number of years and account (of time). Allah has not created this except in truth. He details the signs for a people who know.” (Sura Younus: 5).
The first month of Hijri (lunar) calendar is Muharram. The word Muharram means ‘forbidden’, ‘sacred’ or ‘honourable’. Muharram is one of the four Haram or sacred (honourable) months (Dhul-Qadah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab). Allah (SWT) made the month sacred by mentioning it in the Qur’an. Allah (SWT) says: “Indeed, the number of months ordained by Allah is twelve—in Allah’s Record since the day He created the heavens and the earth—of which four are sacred. That is the Right Way. So do not wrong one another during these months And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively. And know that Allah is with the righteous (who fear Allah) (Sura Tawbah: 36). Concerning these months the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “… The year is twelve months, of which four are sacred: three consecutive months, Dhu al-Qa‘dah, Dhu al-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab of Mudar which comes between Jumaada and Sha‘baan.” (Bukhari).
The tenth day of Muharram is called ‘Ashura’. Although Muharram is a sacred month as a whole, but Ashura is the most sacred among all its days. This is a great day, on which Allah (SWT) saved Musa (AS) and his followers, and drowned Pharaoh. After his migration to Madina, our beloved prophet (PBUH) came to know that the Jews practice fasting on the Ashura and Musa (AS) used to fast on the Ashura in commemoration of the freedom of Bani Israil from Firaun (king of Egypt). Abdullah Ibn Abbas, (Ra.) narrated, “The Prophet (PBUH) came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashura’”. He asked, “What is this?” They replied, “This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Musa (AS) fasted on this day.” The prophet (PBUH) further said, ‘We have more right to Musa than you’. So, he fasted on that day and commanded (the Muslims) to fast on that day.” (SahihBukhari).
Fast of Ashura will erase the sins committed in the previous year. Abu Qatada (Ra.) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said that the fast on the day of Ashura atones for the sins of the preceding year. (Sahih Muslim). Although Fasting on Ashura has a great virtue and an immense reward but it is not Wajib (mandatory). It was obligatory to fast on the day of Ashura before the Prophet’s mission. The prophet (PBUH) and the companions would fast on this day before the obligation was abrogated by the fasts of Ramadan. Aisha (Ra.) narrates in a hadith: “Allah’s messenger ordered (the Muslims) to fast on the day of ‘Ashura, and when fasting in the month of Ramadan was prescribed, it became optional for one to fast on that day (Ashura) or not. (Sahih Bukhari). Now it is a voluntary fast. Abdullah Ibn Umar (Ra.) said, Fasting was observed on the day of 'Ashura' by the people of the Pre-lslamic Period. But when (the order of compulsory fasting) in the month of Ramadan was revealed, the Prophet (Pbuh) said “Fast if you wish and those who do not, are not obliged to do so”. (Sahih Bukhari). The prophet (PBUH) recommended us to be different from the Jews, to fast on the 9th or 11th day of Muharrum. The prophet (PBUH) said: “Fast the day of Ashura, but do so differently than the Jews by fasting the day before it or the day after it." (Musnad Ahmad). The Prophet (PBUH) meant that he would also fast on the 9th as well as the 10th to which he was accustomed. We also should try fasting on the 9th and the 10th of Muharram.
The writer is Khatib of Baitush Shafiq Mosque and Principal of Baitul Hikmah Academy, Gazipur