What is Muharram?

Muharram being the first month of the Islamic New Year holds great importance in Islam.

It is one of the four sacred months in the Islamic calendar. Muharram in its literal sense means “forbidden”. Similar to the other sacred months, waging war during this month is forbidden.“The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: Three are in succession Dhul-Qa’ da, Dhul-Hijja and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab…” (Bukhari 3197)

But a lot of Muslims are still confused about what is Ashura in Islam? Ashura holds special significance due to which Muhammad (PBUH) used to fast on this day. Earlier on it was obligatory to fast on the 10th of Muharram. However later, fasting was made obligatory in Ramadan only.

Narrated by Aisha (RA): “The people used to fast on ‘Ashura (the tenth day of the month of Muharram) before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day the Ka’ba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so.”(Bukhari 1592)

But why did he fast on this day? On this day, Prophet Musa (AS) performed the miracle with the help of Allah (SWT) whereby he was able to save his people from the Pharaoh by dividing the sea into two parts creating a pathway for his people to safely cross the sea, while the Pharaoh’s army drowned. Hence, the Jews used to fast on Ashura i.e. the 10th of Muharram. The Prophet (PBUH) himself fasted on this day and also ordered the Muslims to do so as he said that: “I am closer to Moses than they.” (Bukhari 3397) The Companions observed that Jews and Christians also consider the day as special, fasting on the day. So Prophet (PBUH) announced that from next year they will fast on the 9th of Muharram so as to distinguish themselves from the Jews and Christians. Unfortunately, Prophet (PBUH) did not live to see the next year. Therefore, Muslims consider the 9th and 10th of Muharram, Ashura, as significant days in the Islamic calendar and observe fast on these days.

According to a tradition, when the Prophet (PBUH) was asked about fasting on the day of ‘Ashura (10th of Muharram), he said: “It expiates the sins of the preceding year.” (Muslim 6: 2603)

Similar to the regular New Year, one should make resolutions at the start of the Islamic New Year to improve oneself. You can set small goals for yourself to become a better person. These goals can be both spiritual and social. You can strengthen your relationship with Allah (SWT) through regular Dhikr and Duas. You can help others out through participating in a social cause. It does not need to be a big social project. Allah (SWT) rewards every good deed. It might be small in your eyes but it might inspire someone else to do a good deed, thereby creating a ripple effect of goodness. Thus, a tiny good deed might be of way more magnitude than you deem it to be. Verily Allah (SWT) knows the best!

“The most excellent fast after Ramadan is in Allah’s month; al-Muharram, and the most excellent prayer after what is prescribed is prayer during the night.” (Muslim 6: 2661)