But the blessed month of Muharram has even greater spiritual and historical significance in Islam – not only is it the beginning of the Islamic calendar but it is described in the Qur’an as one of four sacred months, and it has particular and significant associations with the Prophets Musa (as) and Nuh (as).
It is a month when the rewards for good deeds are multiplied; when the Prophet (saw) encouraged voluntary fasts and described it as the ‘sacred month of Allah’, and when the value of the gift of water has special significance.
The word Muharram itself means banned or forbidden, and the month is regarded as the second holiest after Ramadan. Even before the Prophet (saw) brought Islam to the Arabian Peninsula, warfare between the tribes of those lands was banned during Muharram.
“Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so it was ordained by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them, four are sacred [(i.e. the first, the seventh, the 11th and the 12 months]. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein.” [Qur’an Surah al-Tawbah 9:36]
Based on numerous Hadith, scholars and interpreters unanimously agree that the four months are Muharram; Dhul Qa’dah (11th); Dhul Hijjah (12th), and Rajab (7th).
While every month in the Islamic year is regarded as sacred and Ramadan the most, these four were specifically named as their sanctity was observed even by the pagan tribes before the Prophet’s (saw) lifetime.
It was narrated by Abu Bakrah (ra) that the Prophet (saw) said: “Time has come back to its original state which it had when Allah created the Heavens and the Earth; the year is 12 months, four of which are sacred. Three of them are in succession: Dhul Qa‘dah, Dhul Hijjah, Al Muharram and Rajab of Mudar [named after the tribe of Mudar as they used to respect this month], which stands between Jumada (ath-Thani) and Sha‘ban”’. (Hadith Bukhari)
The tenth day of Muharram is known as the Day of Ashura. While some regard fasting on this day as a commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (ra) and his family and companions at the Battle of Karbala, fasting on Ashura can be traced as far back as the Prophets Nuh (as) and Musa (as) and it was a Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (saw).
As a sign of his gratitude to Allah for parting the waters of the Red Sea on that day so his people could flee the tyranny of Pharaoh, Musa (as) used to fast on Ashura, an act of worship that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) adopted.
Ibn ’Abbas (ra) said: “The Prophet (saw) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He said ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Musa [as] fasted on this day’. The Prophet (saw) said, ‘We have more right to Musa [as] than you’, so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day”’. (Hadith Bukhari)
After the revelation that made fasting in Ramadan compulsory, the Prophet (saw) declared that fasting on Ashura was a voluntary act of worship. He also stated his intention to fast on the 9th of Muharram as well as the 10th but passed away before he could fulfil that.
Ibn ’Abbas (ra) narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: “Fast the Day of ‘Ashura’ and be different from the Jews by fasting a day before it or a day after it.” (Hadith Ahmad)
Eminent scholars have agreed that Muharram was also the month in which the Prophet Nuh (as) and his companions stepped out of the Ark and onto Mount Judi (in modern day Turkey) after the great flood.
According to various Hadith, the Ark had been afloat from 1st Rajab, when all the believers were fasting, until the 10th day of Muharram. Ibn Abbas (ra) narrates that Nuh (as) and his companions fasted on that day in thanks to Allah.
Imam Hussain (ra)
For most people, the month of Muharram is synonymous with the martyrdom of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (ra), the grandson of the Prophet (saw).
Imam Hussain (ra), his family and his companions opposed the tyranny of the Ummayad Caliph Yazid I. At the Battle of Karbala (in what is now Iraq), Imam Hussain (ra) was martyred on 10 October 680 AD (10 Muharram 61AH).
Many of his companions were held captive or killed, including his six-month-old son Ali al-Asghar who died in his father’s arms after Yazid’s forces denied them food and water for three days in the searing desert sun.
In recognition of the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (ra) and the ordeals he and his companions faced, many people choose to donate the precious gift of water during Muharram to help communities which have little or no access to this essential resource of life.
Because of its sanctity, the rewards for good deeds are magnified during the month of Muharram. While the following are not specific to Muharram, to maximise the opportunities presented by this blessed month we should endeavour to:
Fast: Try to fast as much as possible during the month of Muharram. Obligatory fasting for the whole month is for Ramadan only but the Prophet (saw) said: “The best fasting after Ramadan is the Sacred Month of Allah (Muharram)…” (Hadith Muslim)
Fast on Ashura: Fasting on the 10th of Muharram, the Day of Ashura, carries immense blessings. Not only does it honour the actions of the Prophets Nuh (as) and Musa (as) and commemorates the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (ra) but it is reparation for sins committed during the year.
The Prophet (saw) stated: “For fasting the day of Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.” (Hadith Muslim)
We should also try to fast on the 9th or/and 11th of Muharram as it was a stated intention of the Prophet (saw) to fast on the 9th. He also said: “Fast the Day of Ashura and be different from the Jews by fasting a day before it or a day after it.” (Hadith Ahmad)
Give salaams and smiles: As Muharram is one of the four most sacred months (outside of Ramadan), we should seize every opportunity to carry out acts of worship and good deeds. These can range from simple acts such as saying salaams regularly, reading salah and the Qur’an, saying duas and seeking forgiveness from our Creator. Even smiling has its spiritual rewards as the Prophet (saw) said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” (Hadith At-Tirmidhi)
Give charity: The sacrifice of individual wealth or time to help those who are less fortunate is one of the foundations of Islam. Zakat is one of the Five Pillars and an obligation, but we are also encouraged to give sadaqah, voluntary charity that we can donate at any time but which carries even greater rewards at particular periods, Muharram and Ashura being among those.
“Whoever fasts on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), it is as though he has fasted the entire year. And whoever gives charity on this day, it is like the charity of an entire year.” (Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali ra)
Our good deeds carry more significance and rewards during the special month of Muharram. Just as it heralds a new year and the opportunity for new beginnings, it can also be the time to provide even more support to our brothers and sisters in the Ummah in their time of need, especially by giving the gift of water.
Reap the rewards of Muharram by donating a hand pump here or a water well here.