Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ashoura': Insights & Reflections

By Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
President — The International Union for Muslim Scholars

Jun. 17, 2008

`Ashoura' (the tenth of Muharram) signifies a special date in the Islamic calendar. Muslims, based on the Prophet's teachings, commemorate this day by observing fast during it.

In this regard, Ibn `Abass reported that when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) came to Madinah, he found the Jews fasting on the day of 'Ashura' (i.e. 10th of Muharram). They used to say: "This is a great day on which Allah saved Musa and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Musa observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah." The Prophet said, "I am closer to Musa than they." So, he observed the fast (on that day) and ordered the Muslims to fast on it.‏ (Al-Bukhari)

A Muslim may wonder why the Prophet observed fast on the same day as the Jews while he previously ordered the Muslims not to follow the non-Muslims.

However, anyone who has carefully studied the Hadiths concerning the fasting of `Ashura' will discover that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fast on this day even before he migrated to Madinah. The Arabs before Islam used to fast on that day and glorified it, and it was the day when they used to cover the Ka`bah. In doing so, they were following their predecessors. It is reported from `Ikramah that Quraysh committed a sin in the Jahiliyah (pre-Islamic era) and they regretted it and were sorry, so they were advised to fast that day to expiate their sin.

Thus, the Prophet neither fasted `Ashura' in accordance with the Jews nor did he started fasting it in Madinah. When He (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "We are closer to Musa than you are,", and when he fasted and ordered the Muslims to fast on that day, he was, in fact, affirming the significance of this day and delivering a message to the Jews that Allah's religion is one at all times. All the Prophets are brothers and each has contributed toward the establishment of the truth. Thus, Muslims are more entitled to follow all the previous prophets more than those who claim adherence to the prophets while they falsified their books and altered their religion.

So if the day of `Ashura' celebrates the ill fate of Pharaoh and the victory of Musa, it is also a victory for the truth; the same truth that was revealed to Muhammad and upheld by him. Since Musa (peace and blessings be upon him) fasted this day as a way of showing gratitude to Almighty Allah, the Muslims are more entitled to follow him than the Jews.

Besides, it is to be born in mind that this agreement between the Muslims and the Jews in fasting this day occurred in the early days of Muslims in Madinah. The Prophet, in fact, liked to be in line with the People of the Book in non-prohibited matters in pursuit of attracting their hearts and winning them over to his cause.

Later, when their hatred and animosity toward the Prophet and the Muslims were made manifest he ordered the Muslims not to follow them in their way of fasting. However, to keep the significance of the day, the Prophet said,

"Observe fasting on the day of `Ashura', but differ from the Jews and fast one day before it Or one day after it."


In fact, the issue we are handling had also confused the Companions of the Prophet themselves; though the Prophet was keen that the Muslims should not follow the Jews or the Christians, he observed fasting `Ashura' and ordered them to observe it. So, they said to him, as reported by Ibn `Abbas, "O Messenger of Allah, this is a day that is glorified by the Jews and the Christians." The Prophet said, "In the following year, Allah willing, I shall fast (also) on the 9th day." But the Prophet passed away before the coming of the next year.(Muslim)

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