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.
Significance of Ashura fasting:
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.
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.
Date of Ashura fasting:
This year, the crescent for Muharram was sighted on August 9 in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and other Arab states who marked the first day of Muharram on August 10. Hence, Ashura in these countries will be celebrated on August 19 while the 9th fast will fall on August 18, 2021.
In India, the Markazi Ruyat e Hilal Committee under Imarat e Shariah New Delhi confirmed the start of the Islamic New Year 1443 AH on Wednesday August 11, 2021 hence, Ashura will be marked in the country on August 20, 2021. This means that the fast for 9th Muharram will be observed on August 19, 2021.
Observing a fast on this day is considered a ‘sunnah’ since Prophet Muhammad to kept a roza on this day. However, the 10th day of the month or Ashura is mourned by Shia Muslims in the rememberance of the matryrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussain Ibn Ali, in Karbala.
The Shia community remembers the massacre on Ashura when Imam Hussain was said to be beheaded in the battle of Karbala. To mark public mourning and remembering the pain given to their great leader and his family, members of Shia community don black clothes, observe abstinence, fast and take out processions on the 10th day of the month of Muharram.