Muharram and the fasting of Ashura


We seek refuge with Allah SWT from the accursed Satan. In The Name of Allah SWT, The Most Merciful, The Most Beneficent. Allah SWT says in the Glorious Qur’an: “Verily, the number of months with Allah SWT are twelve months (in a year), so it was ordained by Allah SWT on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them, four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein…” [Surah At-Tawbah 9: Verse 36].

Abu Bakrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The year is twelve months of which four are sacred, the three consecutive months of Dhu’l-Qa’dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab Mudar which comes between Jumaada and Sha’baan.” [Bukhari 2958]. Rajab is the 7th month of the Islamic Calendar. Dhul Qa’dah, Dhu’l Hijjah and Muharram are the 11th, 12th and 1st months of the Islamic calendar which follow each other consecutively. The sanctity of these months was o accepted in the pre-Islamic era when fighting was totally forbidden.



Muharram as already mentioned is the first month of the Islamic Calendar for Muslims. In this sacred month of Muharram there is a very important day. The tenth day of Muharram. The day of Yawmal Ashura. The word Ashura literally means the “tenth”, and Yawmal Ashura is the 10th day of Muharram.

The evening after Maghreb of Thursday the 20th August 2020 marked the first day of the month of Muharram of the year 1442 after Hijrah. Therefore, this coming Saturday the 29th August 2020, is the day of Yawmal Ashura when it is prescribed to observe the recommended fasting for those who are able to do so. Having established the sanctity of the month of Muharram according to the authority of the Noble Quran and authentic Sunnah (i.e. tradition of the Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW), let us now conveniently delve a bit into the historic origins and importance of the Islamic calendar.


The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar which consists of 354 to 355 days a year, and it is 10 to 11 days shorter than the Solar Calendar. The Lunar month is based on the time the moon takes to complete a single orbit around the earth. Therefore, various dates in the Islamic Calendar such as Ramadan and Hajj, rotate every year and are not fixed (like in the Solar Year or Calendar). The new moon marks the beginning of each new lunar month and it is easy for Muslims to see the new moon and know that a new month has begun. The Islamic Calendar was started by the second Caliph of Islam, Umar Ibn Al Khattaab in 16th year After Hijrah (corresponding to 637 CE) The Hijrah or the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) from Makkah to Madinah in 622 CE, was chosen to begin the Islamic Calendar because it was the first major sacrifice made for the preservation of Islam in its formative period. These are mentioned by At-Tabari in his Tarikh Al- Rusul 5/22 and by Ibn Sa’d in Tabaqat Al- Kubra 3/281).

The Hijrah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his Companions was indeed an epic event which forever altered world history and the face of the earth until the end of times. After being insulted, humiliated, persecuted, arbitrarily killed and starved, the Muhaajirun (or emigrants) from Makkah literally gave up their families, properties and homeland for the sake Allah SWT and the religion of Islam and migrated to Madina. The Ansaar (or helpers) in Madinah welcomed them with great enthusiasm, love and hospitality hitherto unparalleled and unknown in human history. In Ibn Hajar’s Fath Al-Bari, Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khataab is reported to have remarked: “The Hijrah has separated truth from falsehood, therefore, let it become the Epoch of the Era”. The Hijrah is hence a strong reminder to all Muslims of the selfless sacrifices made by the Prophet Muhammad SAW and his companions to ensure that Islam thrives and become a global religion of peace and mercy for all mankind. The use of and reference to the Islamic (or Hijri) Calendar should therefore definitely serve as a constant reminder to Muslims of their beautiful religion and great history.

The Prophet SAW said: “The best fast, after Ramadan, is in the month of Muharram” [Muslim]. Fasting the day of Ashura expiates sins of the previous year. The Prophet SAW said: “… and fasting the day of Ashura I hope Allah will expiate thereby (sins) for the year that came before it.” [Muslim]. The Prophet SAW used to be very keen and made sure he fasted the day of Ashura because of its great status and numerous benefits. Abdullah Ibn Abbaas (may Allah SWT be pleased with him) said: “I never saw the Prophet SAW so keen to make sure he fasted any day and preferring it over another except this day, the day of Ashura, and this month (meaning Ramadan)”. [Bukhari, 1867]. It is part of the numerous bounties of Allah SWT to bestow upon Muslims the fasting of just one day which has the reward of expiating minor sins of the whole previous year. It would therefore be very prudent not to miss this great opportunity.

Fasting the Day of Ashura has a history worth noting. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, local Jews observed the fasting of Ashura. According to Jewish tradition, Ashura marked the day when Allah SWT saved Prophet Musa AS and his followers from Pharaoh. Ashura was the day when Allah SWT parted the Red Sea to create an escape route for Prophet Musa AS and his followers and drowned Pharaoh and his minions. The Prophet Muhammad SAW learned of this tradition upon reaching Madina, and found it to be a tradition worth following. He fast himself fasted and encouraged Muslims to fast.

Thus began a tradition for Muslims which remains till this day. The above in encapsulated in the following Hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him), who said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He said, “What is this?” They said, “This is a good day, this is the day when Allah SWT saved the Children of Israel from their enemy and Musa fasted on this day.” He (the Prophet Muhammad SAW) said, “We are closer to Musa than you.” So he fasted on this day and told the people (i.e. Muslims) to fast. [Bukhari 1865].


Ibn Al-Qayyim, in his Zaad Al-Ma’ad, explains that the underlying wisdom behind the fasting of Ashura is to stress the strong affinity between the prophets who all came from Allah SWT. However, in order not to exactly follow the Jews, the Prophet Muhammad SAW encouraged Muslims to differentiate their fasting by doing the following: “Observe the fast of Ashura and differ from the Jews by fasting a day before it or after it” [Recorded by Imam Al Bayhaqi Sunan in Al-Kubra 4/287]. It is important to re-emphasize that the fast for Ashura is not obligatory for Muslims, but it is rather a highly encouraged and recommended tradition (i.e. Sunnah). Overall, Ashura is a rather quiet day for many Muslims. It is not marked by celebrations of outward display or public events. Conservative Muslims simply stick to what the Prophet Muhammad SAW did and advised to do, and that is to keep fast. Like my friend Professor Hamaar Jawo always likes to say, “the Sunnah the better”. Perhaps I may just break my fast at Koto Sherrif Bojang’s or Momodou Sabally’s. Please kindly join us for a simple Iftar meal of fresh dates and monoo with fine sour milk. May Allah SWT accept our fasting and all other good deeds. Ameen. Please let us kindly remember to pray for our deceased and loved ones. 2020 is a sad year which has claimed many of our venerable Imams and elders as well as young ones. Let us fast. Let us pray.

JazakalAhu khairan.