Muharram literally means ” Forbidden” . It is one of the four sacred months during which waging a war and fighting is not allowed.
Allah says in the Holy Quran:
“Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months in Allah’s ordinance since the day when He created the heavens and the earth, of these four being sacred;That is the right reckoning .”[Surah 9 :Taubah, Verse 37- 37]
The month of Muharram is one of the four sacred months of the Islamic calender as mentioned in the hadith of our Prophet Muhammad saw narrated by Abu Bakra ra:
“The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: Three are in succession Dhul-Qa’ da, Dhul-Hijja and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab of (the tribe of) Mudar which comes between Jumadi-ath-Thaniyah and Sha ban” [Bukhari Vol 004, Book 054, Hadith 419]
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 God’s month; al-Muharram, and the most excellent prayer after what is prescribed is prayer during the night.” [Muslim 6: 2661]
This does not mean that one has to fast the entire month but that each fast in Muharram holds a reward with Allah more than voluntary fasts in any other month. We must make the most of this important month in the light of this hadith.
FIRST MONTH OF HIJRI CALENDAR
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic Hijri calendar. It is based on the migration of the Prophet Muhammad saw from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. However, the use of the Hijri calendar began in AD 639 or 17 AH during the Khilafat of Hazrat Umar Farooq ra.
The governor of Yemen during his reign was Abu Musa Ashari. The letters which Umar ra, used to send to him did not bear any date. He informed umar ra about it who then decided to resolve this issue by setting up a small committee.
It was decided that the Islamic calendar will begin from the hijrat (migration) of the Muslims from Mecca to Medina. Therefore AD 622 became the 1 AH and since the decision to migrate was made right at the end of the month of Dhul-Hajj, and the first moon to rise after this was that of Muharram, thus Muharram came to be the first month of the Islamic Hijri calendar.(Fatah Al bari 334/7 Hadith 3934)
Since the basis of the Hijri calendar and Muharram being the first month of the year, was the migration of Rasool Allah (saw) therefore this month does not symbolize or glorify any historical event or any personality, but it serves as a great reminder of the sacrifices and patience of the muhajireen and their love for Allah Subhana Tala and his Rasool saw.
FASTING ON 10th MUHARRAM and 9th MUHARRAM
The entire month of Muharram is sacred and special and fasting on any day of Muharram has special rewards from Allah, but the 10th day 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 002, 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.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 he 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, and the narration transmitted by Abu Bakr is: “He meant the day of Ashura.” [ Muslim: Book 006, Hadith Number 2529
Hence, one should combine another day with the 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.
Atonement of Sins
Fasting on the day of Ashura expiates the sins of the previous year as told by our Prophet Muhammad (s)
“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]