Source: Quran for All Blog
The Significance of Muharram can be best understood by the saying of Prophet Muhammad saw narrated by Abu Huraira (ra) “The most excellent fast after Ramadan is in Allah’s month; al-Muharram, and the most excellent prayer after what is prescribed is prayer during the night.” [Muslim 6: 2661] Prophet Muhammad (saw) called Muharram “Allah’s Month” which shows its importance and sanctity and the fasts of the month of Muharram are most reward able ones among the Nafl (voluntary) fasts.
Fasting on Ashura
The entire month of Muharram is sacred and special and fasting on any day of Muharram has special rewards from Allah, but the 10th of Muharram, called Ashura holds a more significant position than the rest of the days. We know from a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of Ashura was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory that the fast on the day of Ashura was made optional. Narrated by Aisha (ra): “The people used to fast on ‘Ashura (the tenth day of the month of Muharram) before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day the Ka’ba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so.”[Bukhari Vol 02, Book 026, Hadith Number 662] However, Rasul Allah saw used to fast on the day of Ashura even after fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory.
Atonement of Sins
Fasting on the day of Ashura expiates the sins of the previous year as told by our Prophet Muhammad saw. “Abu Qatada al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was asked about his fasting… He was asked about fasting on the day of ‘Ashura (10th of Muharram), whereupon be said: It expiates the sins of the preceding year…”[Muslim: Book 06: Hadith 2603]
Hazrat Musa (as) and his people the Bani Israel were saved from the Egyptian Pharaoh by the miracle of the parting of the sea on the day of Ashura. It was for this reason that the Jews used to fast on this day. Prophet Muhammad (saw) also then ordered the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura as well. Ibn e Abbas ra narrated: “When the Prophet came to Medina, 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 Moses and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah.” The Prophet said, “I am closer to Moses than they.” So, he observed the fast (on that day) and ordered the Muslims to fast on it. [ Bukhari: Vol 4, Book 055, Hadith Number 609]
Command to distinguish the Muslim fast of Ashura with the fast of the Jews
Ibn ‘Abbas ra reported: ”When the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) fasted on the day of ‘Ashura and commanded that it should be observed as a fast, they (his Companions) said to him: Messenger of Allah, it is a day which the Jews and Christians hold in high esteem. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: When the next year comes, God willing, we would observe fast on the 9th But the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) died before the advent of the next year.” [ Musim : Book 006, Hadith Number 2528] Abdullah ibn Abbas (ra) also reported that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) had said: “If I live till the next (year), I would definitely observe fast on the 9th.[ Muslim: Book 006, Hadith Number 2529] Hence, one should combine another day with the fast of Ashura and fast on either the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th in order to distinguish the Muslim way of fasting from that of the Jews.