Twenty first Sep.2018 is the day of Ashura according to the Hijri calendar to be remembered by all Muslims, Sunni and Shiite, to bear witness to the history of the prophets and mourn the terrible tragedy of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It offers lessons for justice, forgiveness and unity for all.
Ashura literally means “ten” and corresponds to the 10th day of the lunar month of Muharram, which is also the beginning of the Hijri calendar. Both Jewish and Islamic sources refer to a number of historic events that have taken place on this day. It was on this day that the Prophet Moses saved the Children of Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh, upon which the Jews were asked to fast. After the great flood, Noah’s ark landed on the Mount Ararat on this day. According to scripture, Ashura also witnessed the repentance of Adam and David, the birth of Moses and Jesus, the crowning of Solomon and the rescue of Jonah from the belly of the whale.
All of these traditions reported in Jewish and Islamic scripture have made Ashura a special day of remembrance, contemplation and gratitude. Jews celebrate it as Yom Kippur, which literally means the “day of atonement.” It corresponds to the 10th day of Tishrei, the 7th month in the Jewish calendar when Moses defeated the injustice of Pharaoh, who symbolized all evil and destruction. Like Jews, Muslims celebrate Ashura by fasting, praying and cooking a special sweet dish known in Turkey as ashura. The history of this dish, also known as Noah’s Pudding, goes back to the story of Noah when food was scarce and Noah and his companions had to improvise. The result was the mixing of whatever they were able to find – wheat, grains, nuts and dried fruits. Despite the hardships of the journey, their only food turned out to be a sweet one, promising hope and salvation.
The day of Ashura is also a day of mourning as it corresponds to the day when Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his family members were brutally martyred by the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I in Karbala, in present day Iraq, in year 61 of the Hijri calendar, or 680 A.D. In this ferocious battle, Hussein stood up against oppression, tyranny and injustice and came to symbolize the pinnacle of justice, bravery and nobility. Muslims remember him as the “master of the martyrs” and invoke his courage, rectitude and devotion in the face of oppression and cruelty.
The story of Hussein in Karbala is not a Shiite or Sunni story. It is the story of brave souls defending their beliefs and principles in the face of a merciless enemy. It is underlined by devotion and dedication, a noble effort to preserve the heritage of the Prophet and uphold the principle of justice. It is a story that confirms once again that injustice and disunity bring death and destruction. This is a lesson that Muslims of all faiths, sects and inclinations should heed today. Hussein did not die to create more fissures and division among Muslims – he died to preserve the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He did not fight as a Sunni or Shiite or Hanafi or Jafari or anything else. He lived and died as a true believer. His courage was not for worldly bravery but an act of submission to God.
Based on the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saws), Sunni Muslims celebrate Ashura as the day when Prophet Moses (Moosa) fasted on that day because Allah saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. One of the many Ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) that attests to that is in Bukhari that states:
Narrated by al-Bukhari (1865) from Ibn ‘Abbaas, who said: The Prophet (saws) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashoora. He said, “What is this?” They said, “This is a good day, this is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy and Moosa fasted on this day.” He (the Prophet Muhammad) said, “We are closer to Moosa (Prophet Moses) than you.”
So Prophet Muhammad fasted on this day in Muharram and told the people to fast.
There are many other versions of this Hadith in the books of “Muslim” and “Bukhari”.
According to a version narrated by Muslim, This is a great day when Allah saved Moosa (Moses) and his people and drowned Pharaoh and his people.”
Sunni Muslims celebrate Ashura by fasting on that day. Usually, Sunni Muslims are recommended to fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram.
Al-Shafa’i and his companions, Ahmad, Ishaaq and others said: It is mustahabb [recommended] to fast both the ninth and the tenth, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) fasted the tenth and intended to fast the ninth. Based on this, there are different ways of fasting ‘Ashoora’, the least of which is to fast the tenth only, but it is better to fast the ninth as well. The more one fasts in Muharram, the better. (islamqa.info)
In Jewish tradition, this festival is celebrated as the Passover, which is their way to commemorate their liberation over 3,300 years ago by God from slavery in ancient Egypt that was ruled by the Pharaohs, and their freedom under the leadership of Prophet Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
Other Ahadith on the subject are the following:
The prophet observed the fast on Ashura (the 10th of Muharram), and ordered (Muslims) to fast on that day. (Agreed upon Hadith i.e. Bukhari & Muslim).
Narrated by Abi Katada: The prophet was asked about fasting on Ashura (the 10th of Muharram), he said: “it expiates the previous year (for sins).” (Sahih Muslim)
It was proven from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that the best fasting after Ramadan is fasting in the month of Muharram. It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The best fasting after Ramadan is the month of Allah, Muharram, and the best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” Narrated by Muslim, 1163.
Today, extremist Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other in the name of religion. They accuse each other of betraying the legacy of the Prophet. They seek to create their little Sunni and Shiite kingdoms to the detriment of their religion and humanity. They hold on to their narrow and sectarian views, not realizing the damage they are causing to their faith and tradition. Instead, they should turn to the example of Hussein and unite against oppression and injustice rather than waste their faith and intelligence on sectarian fighting.
The only way to respect and preserve the memory of Hussein is to protect the principles of justice, unity and sincerity for which Hussein gave his life. It celebrates, in humility and devotion, the forgiveness and mercy God has over the children of Adam. It invites us to go beyond religious, ethnic and sectarian differences and remember our humanity and the noble task it places on us all.