With the sighting of the new moon, the Islamic New Year is ushered in. The first month, Muharram, is a month of great reward and virtue and is from those months which have been mentioned as sacred in the holy Quran.
Almighty Allah states in the Holy Quran: “Four of them ( Zil-Qadah, Zil-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab) are sacred.” (Surah Al-Tawbah: Verse: 36)
From out of the four sacred months, Muharram has been blessed with certain specific virtues:
Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) said: “The best of fasts besides the month of Ramadan is the fasting of Allah’s month of Muharram.” (Muslim)
Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, the one who fasts in these days out of his or her own will and choice is entitled to a great reward by Almighty Allah.
The Day of Ashura (10th Muharram)
Although the month of Muharram is a sacred month as a whole, the 10th of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named ‘Ashura’. According to the holy companion, Ibn Abbas (RA), when the holy Prophet Muhammad migrated to Madinah, he found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Prophet Musa (Moses) and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously, and the Pharaoh was drowned in its water. On hearing this from the Jews, the holy Prophet said, “We are more closely related to Musa than you.” So the Prophet directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura. (Abu Dawood)
According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashura should be either preceded or succeeded by an additional fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Prophet is that the Jews used to fast on the day of Ashura alone, and the Prophet wanted to distinguish the Islamic way of fasting from that of the Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to the day of Ashura.