Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The holy month of Muharram and Ashura

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. It is one of the four sacred months of the year in Islam with Rajab, Dhu al qi`da and Dhu al-Hajj, and it is not uncommon to find that it is the most sacred.

The specific mention of these four months does not mean that the other months are of no sanctity because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the holiest month of the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sacred months for the simple reason that their sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah.

In fact, every month of the twelve is originally equal to the others, and there is no inherent sanctity that may be attributed to one of them compared to the other months.

Its name is connected with the word haram which means forbidden, for religious reasons, and in fact in this month was considered taboo for wars, and often warriors withdrew from battles in respect of Islam. Since the calendar is rigidly Islamic, the month of Muharram has no fixed position relative to the Gregorian calendar.

The first day of Muharram begins the Islamic New Year. The festival of Muharram is especially felt in the Shiite world, which commemorates the battle of Kerbala, during which fell Husayn ibn Ali, the son of Ali, by the Umayyad supporters of Yazid. This commemoration reaches its climax on the 10th of the month on the day of Ashura.

The festivities of Ashura is also celebrated in different parts of the Sunni world, and particularly in North Africa, where, however, it has a much joyful connotation, connected more with festivities for the beginning of the year with the mourning for the grandson of the Prophet.

There are several religious explanations that are provided for this celebration outside the Shiite world. According to some, this event would celebrate the passage of Moses through the Red Sea, who fled from Pharaoh. According to others, on the tenth day of Muharram was created Adam and Eve, the heaven and the hell, life, and death.

Shiites observe fasting for the first ten days of Muharram, and often the Sunnis also celebrate the Ashura with fasting, although in this case, it is a voluntary fast and not mandatory as during Ramadan.

According to some interpretations, the celebration of an Islamic New Year, with celebrations, and exchange of gifts and so on is considered unorthodox innovation or even haram or forbidden.

Although Muharram is a sacred month as a whole, the tenth day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. This day is called Ashura. The Madinah Jews used to fast on the tenth day of Muharram. They said that this was the day on which the Prophet Musa (Moses) and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its waters. Upon hearing this from the Jews, the Prophet, Sallallahu instructed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura.

In the beginning, fasting on the day of Ashura was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, and fasting in Ashura was made the optional day as when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of Ashura was abandoned.

According to another Hadith, it is best that the fast of Ashura is either preceded or followed by another fast. This means that one should fast for two days the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Prophet, Sallallahu, is that the Jews used to fast on just one day of Ashura, and the Prophet, Sallallahu, wanted to differentiate the Islamic way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of Ashura.