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Being the first month of the Islamic New Year, Muharram 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)
Muharram holds great significance long before the Prophet’s (PBUH) time. Earlier on, it was obligatory to fast on the 10th of Muharram. However later, fasting was made obligatory in Ramadan only. As 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 Kaa’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)
Centuries ago, on the 10th of Muharram, Prophet Musa (AS) performed a 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, as thanksgiving. 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 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. Unfortunately, Prophet (PBUH) did not live to see the next year. Therefore, Muslims consider the 9th and 10th of Muharram, Days of Ashura, as significant days in the Islamic calendar and observe fast on these days.
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!
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Frequently asked questions
- Q How do we celebrate Muharram?
A We can fast on the Days of Ashura and we can start the Islamic New Year by reciting this Dua; Allahumma adkhilhu ‘alayna bil amni wal iman, was salamati wal islam, wa ridwanim minar Rahman, wa jiwarim minash shaytan O Allah, bring this [month or year] upon us with security, Iman, safety, Islam, your pleasure and protection from Satan. (Tabarani 6237)
- Q Why do the Shia hit themselves?
A It is the Shias’ way of remembering Hussain (RA) and mourning for him. Shias believe that since Hussain (RA) and his family suffered a lot in the field of Karbala, they should hit themselves with swords and knives or with bare hands as a gesture of showing empathy to Hussain (RA) and his family.
- Q What is the Ashura day?
A The 9th and 10th of Muharram are collectively known as the Days of Ashura. The 10th of Muharram holds significance for Muslims.
- Q What is Tazia in Muharram?
A Tazia is the procession staged by Shias in Muharram where they recreate certain aspects of the Karbala incident. At times, these processions even have replicas of the tomb of Hussain (RA), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). They do this in memory of Hussain (RA).