Allah has given us two indicators in day and night: the sun in the day and the moon in the night. Upon the emergence of a new day, life is renewed and every worshiper musters his energy to practice more acts of devotion. It is because of this that Allah has likened sleeping at night to death while likening the day time to resurrection. “It is He who takes your souls by night [i.e. when you sleep] and knows what you have committed by day. Then He revives you therein [i.e. by day] that a specified term [i.e. One’s decreed life span] may be fulfilled. Then to Him will be your return; then He will inform you about what you used to do.” (Qur’an, 6:60)
It is a manifestation of the mercy of Allah toward His worshipers that Allah has made the sun and the moon follow computed courses. By observing the sun, people can know the different seasons and from moon, they can calculate a month's beginning. Allah has divided the year into 12 months: “Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion [i.e. way], so do not wrong yourselves during them....” (Qur’an, 9:36)
Of the four sacred months, three are consecutive: Dhul Qadah, Dhul-Hijj and Al-Muharram. The fourth is Rajab.
The advent of a new month is known by appearance of the crescent in the west after sunset; once the crescent is manifest, one month has come to an end and another has begun. Therefore, we also come to know that the day starts at the sunset and not at midnight, because the first day of the month is marked by the sunset of the last day of the previous month.
Al Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Holy Quran 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 heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified".
All the commentators of the Holy Quran are unanimous on this point, because Muhammad (saw) 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 sanctity, 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 sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah.
In fact, every month, out of the twelve, is originally equal to the other, and there is no inherent sanctity, which may be attributed to one of them in comparison to other months. When Allah chooses a particular time for His special blessings, then it acquires sanctity out of His grace.
Thus, the sanctity of these four months was recognized right from the days of Sayyidina Ibrahim. Since the pagans of Makkah attributed themselves to Sayyidina Ibrahim they observed the sanctity of these four months and despite their frequent tribal battles, they held it unlawful to fight in these months.
In the shariah of Muhammad (saw) the sanctity of these months was upheld and the Quran referred to them as the "sanctified months".
The month of Al Muharram has certain other characteristics peculiar to it.
Fasting during the month:
Muhammad (saw) said, "The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Al Muharram."
Although the fasts of the month of Al Muharram are not obligatory, yet, the one who fasts in these days out of his own accord is entitled to a great reward by Allah. The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Al Muharram are most rewardable among the non-obligatory fasts.
There are many bounties of this month, especially the 10th of Al Muharram or "Ashura".
The day of Ashura:
Although the month of Al Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, Ashura is the most sacred among all its days. According to the Ibn Abbas, when Muhammad (saw) migrated to Madina, he found that the Jews there used to fast on the 10th day of Al Muharram. The Jews said that it was the day on which Musaand his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and Firawn was drowned in its water. On hearing this from the Jews, Muhammad said, "We are more closely related to Musa than you," and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura. Narrated by al-Bukhaari (1865)
It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that 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 the fast on the day of Ashura was made optional. Sayyidah Aishah said: "When Muhammad (saw) came to Madina, he fasted on the day of Ashura 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 Ashura was abandoned. One can fast on this day, if he so wills, or can avoid fasting, if he so wills."
However, Muhammad (saw) used to fast on the day of Ashura even after the fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory.
Abdullah Ian Masud reports that Muhammad (saw) preferred the fast of Ashura to the fast of on other days and preferred the fast of Ramadhan to the fast of Ashura. (Bukhari and Muslim)
In short, it is established through a number of authentic hadith that fasting on the day of Ashura is Sunnah of the Muhammad (saw) and makes one entitled to a great reward.
According to another hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashura should either be prefixed or suffixed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th an 10th of Al Muharram or the 10th and 11th of it. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by Muhammad (saw) is that the Jews used to fast on the day of Ashura alone, and the Muhammad (saw) wanted to distinguish the Islamic-way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of Ashura.
Some traditions signify another feature of the day of Ashura.
According to these traditions one should be more generous to his family by providing more food to them on this day as compared to other days. These traditions are not very authentic according to the science of hadith. Yet, some scholars like Baihaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable.
What is mentioned above is all that is supported through authentic sources about Ashura.
However, there are some legends and misconceptions with regard to Ashura that have managed to find their way into the minds of the ignorant, but have no support of authentic Islamic sources, some very common of them are these:
*This is the day in which Adam was created.
*This is the day on which Ibrahim was born.
*This is the day in which Allah accepted the repentance of Sayyidina Ibrahim.
*This is the day on which the Qiyamah (dooms-day) will take place.
*Whoever takes bath on Ashurah will never get ill.
All these and other similar whims and fancies are totally baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not worthy of any credit.
Some people take it as sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal on Ashura. This practice, too, has no basis in the authentic Islamic sources.
Some other people attribute the sanctity of Ashura to the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain (ra) during his battle with the Syrian army. No doubt, the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain (ra) is one of the most tragic episodes of our history. Yet, the sanctity of Ashura cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of Ashura was established during the days of Muhammad (saw) 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 Ashura.
Another misconception about the month of Al 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 Al Muharram. This is again a baseless concept which is contrary to the express teachings of the Quran and the sunnah. Such superstitions have been totally negated by Muhammad (saw). 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 this bad luck, out of 365 days of the whole year, because each and every day has a history of the demise of some eminent person. The Quran and the sunnah have made us free from such superstitious beliefs, and they should deserve no attention.
Events during Al Muharram:
Sayadina Hussain (ra) was martyred in this month.
Shaykhain Tirmizi and Haakim narrated from Anas that the following verse: "Allah may forgive thee of thy sins that which is past and that which is to come." (Al-Fath) was revealed on the 10th of Al Muharram.
Muhammad (saw) went to defeat Bani Muhaarin and Bani Tha'laba (Tribes of Bani Gatfan) in the year 4 A.H. (Asahhus-siyar)