Every year, Muslims all over the world celebrate the day of `Ashura’ on the 10th day of Muharram. The day of `Ashura’ is not only celebrated by Muslims, but other faith communities, Jews for example, used to celebrate this day too. Also, Quraysh (Prophet Muhammad’s tribe) used to fast on the day of `Ashura’ in the pre-Islamic period, and so Allah’s Messenger too used to fast on this day. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) migrated to Madinah he found the Jews observing fast on the day of `Ashura’. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to them, “What is the (significance) of this day that you observe fast on it?” They said, “It is the day of great (significance) when Allah delivered (Prophet) Musa and his people, and drowned the Pharaoh and his people, and Musa observed fast out of gratitude and we also observe it.” Upon this the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “We have more right, and we have a closer connection with Musa than you have”. So, Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) observed fast (on the day of `Ashura’), and gave orders that it should be observed. (Muslim)
Before the obligation of fasting the month of Ramadan, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had declared it obligatory on Muslims to fast on the day of `Ashura’. However, when fasting in Ramadan became obligatory, the Prophet made fasting on `Ashura’ an optional, though recommended, act of worship. (Muslim)
For Muslims, fasting on the day of `Ashura’ is so virtuous and blessed. Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) said, “I never saw Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of `Ashura’, and this month, meaning Ramadan.” (Al-Bukhari)
In another hadith we are told that fasting the day of `Ashura’ expiates the sins of the previous year as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Fasting the day of `Ashura’ (is of great merits), I hope that Allah will accept it as an expiation for (the sins committed in) the previous year.” (Muslim).
Promoting Human Brotherhood
Muslims are required to believe in all prophets of God as well as in all Divine books. A Muslim’s faith will not be accepted if he or she disbelieves in other God’s Prophets and Books. The Qur’an unequivocally states,
The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) the believers. Each one believes in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers; We make no distinction between any of His messengers and they say: “We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Your forgiveness, our Lord. Unto You is the final return. (Al-Baqarah 2: 285)
Moreover, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) made it clear that all Prophets of God are brothers, saying, “Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion is, however, one…” (Muslim)
Celebrating the day of `Ashura’ per se by Muslims and other communities—as elaborated above—promotes the concept and values of human brotherhood and sisterhood. Humans are real brothers and sisters; their father is one—Adam—and their mother is one—Eve. Islam, in fact, emphasizes the significance of human brotherhood, irrespective of people’s cultures, faiths, races, or gender. Fasting `Ashura’, which is highly recommended by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), is one of the examples that proves Islam’s promotion of the values of human brotherhood and sisterhood.
Moreover, fasting on the day of `Ashura’—throughout centuries since the time of Prophet Musa until our time by people of different faiths and cultures—gathers people under the umbrella of human brotherhood. It is a common duty, therefore, on all people, individuals and communities, to preserve and promote ties and values of brotherhood and sisterhood.
Common Values and Responsibilities
Human brothers and sisters share noble values and morals such as faithfulness, justice, freedom, security, equality, honor, and respect. All, therefore, shoulder common responsibilities to maintain and promote these shared values. All members of the human family should work for the common interest of humanity. Every individual and community should defend justice, freedom, security, etc. No member is allowed to deny others their legitimate human rights.
The whole world will live in peace and security when values of human brotherhood and sisterhood prevail. Brothers and sisters could peacefully live together and lead a happy, secure life. This common objective is attainable and should be achieved for the public interest of all people of the world.
Cooperation in Goodness
People with various cultures and faiths should cooperate in goodness. Muslims are Islamically asked to cooperate with all communities in order to promote goodness and encounter vices and evils. Allah says in the Qur’an,
Help you one another unto goodness and righteousness. Help not one another unto sin and transgression. (Al-Ma’idah 5: 2)
Human brothers and sisters should be concerned about the wellbeing of each other. They should cooperate in advancing causes of justice, freedom, equality, and security. The Qur’an calls on all faith communities to cooperate in maintaining noble beliefs and values, saying,
Say: O People of the Scripture. Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partners unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. (Al `Imran 3: 64)
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that `Ashura’ is a real opportunity for people of various cultures and faiths to maintain the true values of human brotherhood and sisterhood.
Taken with slight editorial modifications from onislam.net.
Dr. Wael Shihab holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and is the Head of the Shari`ah and Fatwa sections at the English website of Onislam.net.