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What Is Ashura?

Allah SWT has selected some days or times of the year to be more special and blessed than others. The Day of Ashura, the tenth day of the sacred month of Muharram, is one of them. There are many reasons why it is so unique and should be given special attention each year.

In this article by Studio Arabiya, we take you on a journey that goes way before humans were created, to observe the significance of the Day of Ashura, important events in Islamic history that are related to it, and the best ways in which to spend this special day. Keep reading!

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What is Ashura in Islam?

On the tenth day of the sacred month of Muharram, which is one of the four sacred months in Islam and the only one called "the month of Allah", the Muslim community will celebrate the first special day of the Islamic calendar: the day of Ashura. It is set to start at maghrib time on Tuesday, August 18, 2021 insha'Allah.

So, what does Ashura mean? The name "Ashura" is derived from the Arabic word عَشْرَة ['ashrah], which means "ten", because Ashura falls on the tenth day of Muharram.

According to Abu Bakrah (May Allah Be Pleased With Him), Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said: "The year is twelve months of which four are sacred, the three consecutive months of Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab mudar which comes between Jumaada and Shabaan." (Bukhari)

In these special months, we should try our best to do as many good deeds as possible, even more so than usual, as their rewards are multiplied. Similarly, we should also make extra effort to refrain from sinful behaviors and acts as they are multiplied as well. In His Holy Book, Allah SWT said:

"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. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein…" (Surah At-Tawbah, 9:36)


The History of Ashura Day

Ashura is one of Allah's days, and it is so vital to appreciate and learn about its qualities and history. Let's take a look at the events that took place on this blessed day over the centuries.

The Creation of Everything

Ashura has been replete with noteworthy occurrences since before the beginning of human history. Imam Al-Ghazali said that Umar ibn Al-Khattab (May Allah Be Pleased With Him) was asked why Ashura was so highly regarded. Umar recounted a few events that had occurred on Ashura, including:

  1. Allah created the heavens and the earth.
  2. Allah created Angel Jibril, Prophet Adam, and Hawwa (May Allah Be Pleased With Them All).
  3. Allah established Jannah and allowed Prophet Adam (Peace Be Upon Him) to reside in it.
  4. Ashura was the first day on which rain fell on earth.


Other events that are said to have happened for other prophets on this blessed day include:

  1. Allah stopped the fire that King Nimrod's people threw Prophet Ibrahim (Peace Be Upon Him) into.
  2. Allah accepted the repentance of Prophet Adam (Peace Be Upon Him).
  3. Prophet Isa (Peace Be Upon Him) was raised to the heavens.
  4. Prophet Sulayman (Peace Be Upon Him) was given a huge empire that no one had ever had before. He could control the winds, and his army was made up of humans, jinn, birds, and animals.
  5. Allah freed Prophet Ayyub (Peace Be Upon Him) from the long test he had patiently endured with unwavering faith.
  6. Allah rescued Prophet Yunus (Peace Be Upon Him) from the belly of the whale and pardoned his people for their earlier disobedience.


A Relief to Prophet Nuh (PBUH)

The mission of Prophet Nuh (Peace Be Upon Him) was to warn his people, who had succumbed to iniquity and evil. Prophet Nuh (Peace Be Upon Him) was entrusted by Allah SWT with preaching to his people, urging them to abandon paganism and worship only Allah. Prophet Nuh's (Peace Be Upon Him) teaching and prophethood lasted for 950 years, according to the Quran.

"And Noah said, 'My Lord, do not leave upon the earth from among the disbelievers an inhabitant. Indeed, if You leave them, they will mislead Your servants and not beget except [every] wicked one and [confirmed] disbeliever.'" (Surah Nuh, 71:26-27)

Prophet Nuh's (Peace Be Upon Him) followers numbered just a few dozens of individuals after 950 years of prophethood. When he prayed to Allah SWT, Allah heard him and gave him the ultimate instruction to break free on Ashura Day. He told him to build a massive ship to transport Prophet Nuh (Peace Be Upon Him) and his supporters while leaving the disbelievers to drown.

"And it was revealed to Noah that, "No one will believe from your people except those who have already believed, so do not be distressed by what they have been doing. And construct the ship under Our observation and Our inspiration and do not address Me concerning those who have wronged; indeed, they are [to be] drowned." (Surah Hud, 11:36-37)

The fact that Allah selected this day to bring His loyal servant back to land, together with the believers, distinguishes the day of Ashura as one of the most important days of the year.

An Escape for Prophet Musa (PBUH)

On Ashura, the Children of Israel escaped from Egypt and the oppression of the Pharaoh. That's when Allah SWT divided the Red Sea to allow Prophet Musa (Peace Be Upon Him) and his followers to escape, then undivided it to drown the Pharaoh's men. Allah tells us in the Quran:

"So We inspired Moses: "Strike the sea with your staff," and the sea was split, each part was like a huge mountain. We drew the pursuers to that place and delivered Moses and those with him all together. Then We drowned the others. Surely this is a sign. Yet most of them would not believe it." (Surah Ash-Shu'ara, 26:63-67)

When they successfully escaped the Pharaoh, Prophet Musa (Peace Be Upon Him) and his people decided to fast on that day to commemorate their survival and show gratitude to Allah SWT for He's the one who saved them.


What can we do on the Day of Ashura to spend this special best in the best of ways? Keep reading below to find out!


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What are the best things we can do on the Day of Ashura?

The deeds that are generally highlighted for Ashura Day are fasting, giving out charity (voluntary charity known as Sadaqah, or the mandatory alms-giving called Zakat for those who meet the requirements), be generous and nice to our family, and reciting duas and dhikr. The reality though is that any other good deed is also encouraged on this day. Each one of these good deeds is rewarded immensely by Allah SWT and we shouldn't miss this special opportunity to be rewarded.

Fasting

The history of fasting on this day goes back to when Prophet Muhammad (Peace And Blessings Be Upon Him) found out that the Jews in Madinah would fast this day to commemorate Prophet Musa (Peace Be Upon Him) and Israelites' escape from the Pharaoh Upon hearing this, he announced that Muslims fast on this day too.

Ibn Abbas said, "The Prophet (PBUH) 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 (PBUH) fasted on this day." He said, "We have more right to Musa (PBUH) than you", so he fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on that day." (Bukhari)

In the hadith, the Prophet Muhammad urges Muslims to fast on Ashura (10th of Muharram), and this day of fasting used to be mandatory for all Muslims, but it was made voluntary when the fasting of Ramadan was established.

On the authority of Aishah (May Allah Be Pleased With Her) who said: "The people used to fast on Ashura before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day the Kaaba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said, 'Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of Ashura) may do so, and whoever wishes to leave it can do so"' (Bukhari)

The Prophet (Peace And Blessings Be Upon Him) later encouraged to fast the preceding day as well in order to differentiate themselves from Jews: 

It was narrated from Ibn 'Abbas (رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ) that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: "If I live until next year, I will fast the ninth day (of Muharram) too." (Sunan Ibn Majah 1736)

Fasting on this day aids in repentance for all minor sins done in the preceding year. Make sure to try and fast on Ashura Day and the day preceding it too, or at the very least on Muharram tenth (Ashura Day). If you are not able to fast on Ashura, focus on having the intention and ask Allah SWT to accept it from you.

In another Hadith, Abu Qatadah (May Allah Be Pleased With Him) stated that when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was asked about fasting on Ashura, he said: "It expiates [wipes out the minor sins of] the past year" (Muslim)

Learning about Islamic history

Educating yourself about Islam, and especially about all the Prophets that we believe in and their stories, is also a great way to earn a greater understanding of our deen and all the sacrifices that they made for Allah SWT. Their stories are inspiring and learning more about them will be beneficial.

Make sure to check out our special course for kids: Qasas An-Nabiyin - Stories of the Prophets! 

Increasing in other good deeds

You cannot go wrong when it comes to doing good deeds, so whatever you are able to do during this sacred month of Muharram will benefit you in this life and the next insha'Allah! Here are some more ideas for you:

  • Make sure to pray your five daily prayers on time
  • Offer extra prayers, especially the voluntary night prayers
  • Read, recite or listen to the Quran
  • Ponder upon the meaning of the Quran
  • Give charity
  • Spend time with your family and offer your help
  • Volunteer your time to help those in need or support worthy causes
  • Make dua
  • Ask for Allah's SWT forgiveness and repent with a sincere heart and intention
  • Express and show gratitude and thankfulness to Allah SWT through dhikr

May Allah SWT accept all our good deeds, forgive our sins and allow us to grow closer to Him on this special day, and the rest of the year, ameen!

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