Muharram 2023: Significance of fasting on Ashura for Shia and Sunni Muslims
Muharram 2023 or Muharram 1445 Al-Hijri: Wondering whether to fast on Ashura this Muharram? Here's the significance of why Shia and Sunni Muslims fast on Ashura
Ashura is an important religious observance in Islam that falls on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar and it holds significance for both Sunni and Shia Muslims but the way it is observed can vary between the two sects. For Sunni Muslims, Ashura marks the day when Prophet Moses (Musa) and the Children of Israel were saved from Pharaoh's tyranny by crossing the Red Sea hence, it is a day of fasting and reflection to thank Allah for helping them and Muslims may also perform acts of charity and good deeds.
For Shia Muslims, Ashura has a deeper significance and is a day of mourning to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. Imam Hussein's martyrdom is seen as a symbol of resistance against injustice and oppression hence, on this day, Shia Muslims participate in mourning processions, listen to sermons and reflect on the sacrifice and courage of Imam Hussein and his companions.
Muharram is the first month of Islamic calendar which is ten or twelve days shorter than the Gregorian calendar followed by the West. The word Muharram means ‘not permitted’ or ‘forbidden’ hence, Muslims are prohibited from taking part in activities like warfare and use it as a period of prayer and reflection however, the way Ashura is observed can vary widely depending on cultural and regional traditions too where some communities may also engage in acts of self-flagellation or reenactments of the Battle of Karbala, although these practices are discouraged by some religious authorities.
Overall, Ashura is a significant day in the Islamic calendar, observed with both religious and cultural importance by Muslims around the world since it serves as a reminder of the values of sacrifice, compassion and standing up against injustice in Islam. Both Shia and Sunni Muslims fast on Ashura, but the reasons and practices behind the fast can differ between the two sects.
- For Sunni Muslims:
- Commemoration of Prophet Moses - The Islamic New Year, also known as Al Hijri or Arabic New Year, is celebrated on the first day of Muharram as it was in this holy month that Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina however, Ashura has been celebrated even in pre-Islamic times as it was on the 10th of Muharram that Allah saved Moses (Prophet Musa) and the Children of Israel from Pharaoh (Firaun) and his army. As a sign of gratitude to Allah, Prophet Musa fasted on Ashura day that is the 10th of Muharram. Later in 622 CE, when Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in the month of Muharram, he learnt from the Jews that they fasted on Ashura day following the ways of Prophet Musa. Hence, according to Sunni tradition, Prophet Moses and the Israelites were saved from Pharaoh's tyranny on the 10th day of Muharram when they crossed the Red Sea safely so, as an act of gratitude and remembrance, Sunni Muslims fast on this day to commemorate this event.
- Following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad - Wanting his followers to show the same gratitude to Allah, Prophet Muhammad decided to observe a two-day fast, one on the day of Ashura and the day prior that is the 9th and 10th days of Muharram. These are the traditional customs of Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad also fasted on Ashura to commemorate the event of Moses and the Israelites' deliverance. It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast on this day and he intended to fast two days (9th and 10th of Muharram).
2. For Shia Muslims:
- Commemoration of Imam Hussein's martyrdom - For Shia Muslims, Ashura holds deep mourning and sorrow as it marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and his companions at the Battle of Karbala. Imam Hussein was a prominent figure in the early Islamic community and stood up against the oppressive rule of the Umayyad caliphate where his martyrdom is seen as a symbol of resistance against injustice and tyranny.
- Expressing grief and remembrance - Shia Muslims observe Ashura as a day of intense mourning to remember the sacrifice of Imam Hussein and to express their grief over his tragic death. Fasting is a way to spiritually connect with the suffering of the Imam and his followers during their difficult times.
It is important to note that while both Shia and Sunni Muslims fast on Ashura, the way they observe the day and the significance they attach to it may differ due to their respective beliefs and historical perspectives. Ashura remains a significant day of reflection, remembrance and religious observance for Muslims worldwide.