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The Importance Of Ashura In Islam

How exactly should we commemorate the holy day of Ashura? And what is the history behind it?

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How exactly should we commemorate the holy day of Ashura? And what is the history behind it?

Like all other religions, Islam has special days recognized for their importance and venerated accordingly. Muslims celebrate Eid, for example, twice a year, once after the Holy month of Ramadan and once after the completion of the Hajj. 

While some days are celebrated with jubilation and joy, there are holy days that require respect and contemplation. Chief among such days is the Day of Ashura. Let us discover when is Ashura, what is the significance of Ashura, and how Muslims should spend Ashura to gain the maximum favor of Allah Almighty. 

The Islamic Calendar And Ashura

The Islamic Hijri calendar is lunar. This means that the moon’s phases determine the length of the months. The calendar’s starting point marks the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWW)’s migration from Makkah to Madina. 

The first month of the Hijri calendar is Muharram. Muharram, which means ‘forbidden,’ is the first of the four sacred months during which fighting is prohibited. 

The tenth day of Muharram is called Ashura. Ashura means ‘ten’ and the name indicates the date. However, Ashura is observed throughout the Muslim world as a remembrance day and is treated with much respect.

Significance Of Ashura

The Day of Ashura is significant for many different reasons. Here is why Ashura is a special day in Islam:

Martyrdom Of Hazrat Hussain (RA)

Ashura marks the day of remembrance for the martyrdom of Hazrat Hussain (RA), the beloved grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAWW). The solemn occasion took place during the Battle of Karbala which saw the clash between the forces led by Hazrat Hussain Ibn Ali (RA) on the one hand and those led by Umar Ibn Saad, following orders from the Ummayad Caliph Yazid, on the other hand. 

The battle was more of a skirmish that lasted only a few hours after a standoff of a few days. The two forces were ill-matched. Hazrat Hussain (RA) had around 50 men and the women of his household accompanying him because they had expected to be joined by the people of Kufa. Ibn Saad’s army was 4,000 men strong. 

At the end of the battle, Hazrat Hussain (RA)’s side had lost 70 to 75 men while Ibn Saad’s army lost 88 men. The day is a dark chapter in the history of Islam as the conflict for power saw the bloodshed of the Holy Prophet (SAWW)’s descendants. 

Karbala remains a tragedy unparalleled throughout the annals of Islam. At the same time, Hazrat Hussain (RA)’s sacrifice immortalized him as the bearer of truth and piety even in the face of insurmountable odds. He did not negotiate terms that would have spared his life and the life of his companions in return for pledging allegiance to Yazid ibn Muawiyyah. 

The day of Ashura is a reminder of not just the sacrifice but also the resolve of Hazrat Hussain (RA) and his companions. It is a day of contemplating and self-reflection. 

Creation Of The Heavens

Ashura is also said to be the day of the creation of the heavens by Allah Almighty. The birth of Hazrat Adam (AS) and Hazrat Hawwa and their forgiveness is also said to be on the day of Ashura. This highlights the day’s importance, even before civilization on this earth. 

Landing Of Hazrat Noah (AS)’s Arc

Prophet Noah (AS)’s nation was struck with a massive flood due to their disbelief. Allah Almighty commanded Prophet Noah (AS) to construct a boat and take his followers and other living creatures. 

The subsequent punishment came in forty days and nights of constant rain. The flooding meant that only those on the arc remained safe. The boat finally landed on Mount Judi in modern-day Turkey on Ashura. It marked the day of the end of the punishment. All the disbelief was cleansed from the world and civilization began afresh from that day onwards.

Birth Of Prophets

According to Hazrat Umar (RA), it was on Ashura that Prophet Ibrahim (AS) and Prophet Isa (AS) were born. 

Day Of Allah’s Mercy

Ashura is a day of Allah’s forgiveness and mercy. On this day, Allah forgave Prophet Yunus (AS) and rescued him from the belly of the fish. Prophet Yaqub (AS) regained his ability to see on this day and it was Ashura when Prophet Yusuf (AS) was rescued from the well, taken to Egypt, and sold as a slave. 

Deliverance Of Bani Israel

Another significant event was the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea into twelve paths so Prophet Musa (AS) and his people could gain freedom from the Pharaoh. 

The event is celebrated by Jews even to this day. During the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (SAWW), the Jews of Madina were used to commemorate Ashura by casting on the day. According to a tradition narrated by Abu Musa (RA):

When the Prophet (SAWW) arrived in Madina, he noticed that some people among the Jews used to respect Ashura (i.e. 10th of Muharram) and fast on it. The Prophet (SAWW) then said, “We have more right to observe fast on this day.” and ordered that fasting should be observed on it. [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Book 58, Hadith 278]

Observing Ashura

Now that you know how important Ashura is it is necessary to talk about the proper way to observe the day. Here are some ways in which Ashura should be observed:

Fasting

This is instructed by the Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) himself. A tradition narrated by Ibn Umar goes as follows:

Fasting was observed on the day of Ashura (i.e. 10th of Muharram) by the people of the Pre-Islamic Period. But when (the order of compulsory fasting) in the month of Ramadan was revealed, the Prophet (SAWW) said, “It is up to one to fast on it (i.e., day of Ashura) or not.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, Book 60, Hadith 28]

While the Messenger of Allah (SAWW) made fasting on Ashura voluntary, it was the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (SAWW). 

Additionally, the companion of the Holy Prophet (SAWW) used to miss the compulsory Ramadan fasts during travel but used to keep the Ashura fast. This was because while one can keep make up for the fasts kept during Ramadan for a genuine reason; the same is not true for the fast on Ashura. 

Praying

The day is a sacred one marked by significant historical events that changed the course of the world as we know it. It is also a day of Allah’s Mercy. Extra prayers and supplications, like reciting the Holy Quran or other prayers like Dua e Qunoot is recommended.

Giving Charity

We should never forget the poor and needy, so giving charity to Ashura is very important. Feeding people or giving money to help them is always a gesture of kindness. During Ashura any act of kindness of rewarded manifold. 

Solemnity Of Ashura

Ashura is a day of remembrance and considering the sacrifices that resulted in the preservation of Islam. It is also a day filled with Allah’s mercy. We should strive to become better Muslims by remembering the events of Karbala and thank Allah for all His blessings. 

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