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West London Islamic Centre & Jamia Masjid

Islamic Articles::Islamic History

Muharram: Start of the Islamic New Year

Friday 22nd September marked the beginning of the Islamic New Year 1439AH. The 1st of Muharram, the month with which Muslims begin their lunar Hijrah Calendar, is one of the four sanctified months about which Allah (swt) says, 'The number of the months according to Allah is twelve months (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day in which He created the heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified'. [Al- Qur’an 9: 36]

This is a solemn occasion for many Muslims, a time to reflect and reinvigorate. Traditionally Muslims do not hold any celebration at the beginning of the Islamic New Year. Instead this is a time to consider the immense sacrifice and contribution of those who have dedicated their lives in the service of their Creator.

As we enter the new Hijrah year, we should take this opportunity to remember a few powerful examples from the history of Islam: of self-sacrifice, or striving for freedom from oppression, and of dedication to the community.

The sacred month of Muharram is filled with many significant events, and from our traditions we wish to highlight two pre-hijrah and one post-hijrah events: the day when the Prophet Nuh (as) left the Ark, the day when the Prophet Musa (as) was saved from the Pharaoh and the day when Imam Husain (ra), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was martyred.

The crossing of the Red Sea, when Prophet Musa (as) was able to lead his community out of oppression and into freedom, is one of the miracles described by the Qur’an. It is a fitting tribute to remember Musa’s (as) struggle for freedom during this current month.

The four months mentioned in the Qur’anic verse above, according to the authentic traditions are the months of Zulqadah, Zulhijjah, Muharram and Rajab. All the commentators of the Holy Qur’an are unanimous on this point, because the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in his sermon on the occasion of his last Hajj declared:

'One year consists of twelve months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Zulqadah, Zulhijjah, Muharram, and the fourth is Rajab.'

The specific mention of these four months does not mean that any other month has no station, because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sanctified months for the simple reason that their purity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah. When Allah (swt) chooses a particular time for His special blessings, then it acquires nobility out of His Grace.

Allah (swt) says about the sacred month of Muharram, ‘so wrong not yourselves therein’, which means do not wrong yourselves in these sacred months, because sin in these months is worse than in other months.

It was reported that Ibn `Abbas said regarding the above verse that sins in these months are more serious and good deeds bring a greater reward.

Qatadah said concerning this phrase (so wrong not yourselves therein) that wrongdoing during the sacred months is more serious and more sinful than wrongdoing at any other time. Wrongdoing at any time is a serious matter, but Allah (swt) gives more weight to whichever of His commands He wills.

Allah (swt) has chosen from among the angels Messengers and from among mankind Messengers. He chose from among speech His remembrance or dhikr. He chose from among the earth the mosques, from among the months Ramadan and the sacred months, from among the days Friday and from among the nights Laylat al-Qadr, so venerate that which Allah (swt) has told us to venerate. People of understanding and wisdom venerate the things that Allah (swt) has told us to venerate.

The month of Muharram has certain other characteristics specific to it, which are specified below.

Fasting During the Month of Muharram

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) has said:

'The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.' [Reported by Muslim]

The apparent meaning of the above Hadith is to fast all of the month of Muharram. But it was proven that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never fasted any whole month apart from Ramadan, so this Hadith is probably meant to encourage increasing one's fasting during Muharram, without meaning that one should fast for the entire month. Therefore, one should avail of this opportunity as much as he can.

Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet, the one who fasts in these days out of his own will and choice is entitled to a great reward by Allah (swt). The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Muharram are the most reward-able ones among the Nafl fasts, the fasts one observes out of his own choice without them being obligatory on them.

The Day of Ashurah

The 10th day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days, the day is named Ashurah, it will fall on Saturday 30th September 2017, Muslims are encouraged to fast on the 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th of Muharram.

According to the companion Ibn Abbas (ra). The Prophet (pbuh) upon migrating to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Prophet Musa (Moses) may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and Pharaoh was drowned in its waters.

On hearing this from our Jewish brethren, the Prophet (pbuh) said, 'We are more closely related to Musa than you are' and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashurah. [Abu Dawood]

It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of Ashurah was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later on that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory and the fast on the day of 'Ashurah was made optional. Sayyidah Aishah has said:

'When the Holy Prophet came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of Ashurah and directed the people to fast it. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of Ashurah was abandoned. One can fast on this day, if he so wills, or can avoid fasting, if he so wills.'

However, the Prophet (pbuh) used to fast on the day of Ashurah even after the fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory.

Abdullah Ibn Masud (ra) reports that the Prophet (pbuh) preferred the fast of Ashurah to the fast of other days and preferred the fasts of Ramadhan to the fast of Ashurahh. [Bukhari and Muslim]

In short, it is established through a number of authentic ahadith that fasting on the day of Ashurah is a Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and makes one entitled to a great reward.

According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashurah should either be prefixed or suffixed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Prophet (pbuh) is that the Jews used to fast on the day of Ashurah alone, and the Holy Prophet wanted to distinguish the Islamic-way of fasting from that of the Jewish community. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of Ashurah.

Some Incorrect Claims upon the Day of Ashurah

However, there are some myths and misconceptions with regard to Ashurah that have managed to find their way into the minds of the uninformed, but have no support of authentic Islamic sources, some very common are:

-This is the day in which Adam (pbuh) was created.

-This is the day in which Ibrahim (pbuh) was born.

-This is the day in which Allah (swt) accepted the repentance of Sayyidina Ibrahim (pbuh).

-This is the day on which the Qiyamah (dooms-day) will take place.

-Whoever takes a bath in the day of Ashurah will never be ill.

All these and other similar whims and fancies are without base and the traditions referred to in this respect hold no reliable credit. Some people take it as Sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal on the day of Ashurah. This practice too, has no basis in authentic Islamic sources.

Other people attribute the sanctity of Ashurah to the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain (ra). No doubt, the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain (ra) is one of the most tragic and heart-rending episodes of our history and the beloved grandson along with his brother Sayyidina Hasan (ra) are the leaders of the youth in Paradise as cited by the Prophet (pbuh).Yet, the sanctity of Ashurah cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the standing of Ashurah was established during the days of the Prophet (pbuh) much earlier than the birth of Sayyidna Husain (ra).

On the contrary, it is one of the merits of Sayyidna Husain (ra) that his martyrdom took place on the day of Ashurah.

Another misconception about the month of Muharram is that it is an evil or unlucky month, for Sayyidna Husain (ra) was killed in it. It is for this misconception that people avoid holding marriage ceremonies in the month of Muharram. This is again a baseless concept which is contrary to the express teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of our Messenger. Such superstitions have been totally negated by the Prophet (pbuh). If the death of an eminent person in a particular day renders that day unlucky for all times to come, one can hardly find a day, free from such misfortune, out of 365 days of the whole year, because each and every day has a history of the demise of some eminent person. The Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) have made us free from such credulous beliefs, and they deserve no attention.

Another wrong practice related to this month is to hold the lamentation, mourning and in some cases self-harm ceremonies in the memory of the martyrdom of Sayyidna Husain (ra). The latter type of behaviour is antithetical to Islamic and human nature.

As mentioned earlier, the event of Karbala is one of the most disastrous events of our history, but the Prophet (pbuh) has forbidden us from holding the mourning ceremonies on the death of any person. The people of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) used to mourn over their deceased relatives or friends through loud lamentations, by tearing their clothes and by beating their cheeks and chests. The Prophet (pbuh) stopped the Muslims from doing all this and directed them to observe patience by saying 'Inna lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji oon', which means that from Him we have come and to Him is our return. A number of authentic hadith are available on the subject.

'He is not from our group who slaps his cheeks, tears his clothes and cries in the manner of the people of jahiliyyah.'

All recognised jurists are unanimous on the point that the mourning of this type is absolutely impermissible. Even Sayyidna Husain (ra) shortly before his demise, had advised his beloved sister Sayyidah Zainab (ra) not to mourn over his death in this manner. He said:

'My dear sister, I swear upon you that you, in case I die, shall not tear your clothes, nor scratch your face, nor curse anyone for me or pray for your death'.

It is evident from this advice of Sayyidna Husain (ra) that this type of mourning is condemned even by the blessed person for the memory of whom these mourning ceremonies are held. Every Muslim should avoid this practice and abide by the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) and his treasured grand child Sayyidina Husain (ra). We are accustomed to the fact that this life has many injustices and disfavours that occur against the vulnerable and the weak, however our belief dictates that such sacrifices, patience and any inequity will be fully recompensed and settled on the Day of Resurrection. And Allah (swt) knows best.


'And the men and women who remember Allah frequently, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward' [Al Quran 33:35]
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