By Shaykh Abdool Rahman Khan
Today October 14th 2015; the first day of Muharram, marks the beginning of the Muslim New Year. It heralds 1437 A.H. (After Hijra). Muslim calendar year, unlike many others around the globe, begins and ends with sacred months. The year begins with Muharram and ends with Zhil Hijjah and both of these months are among the four sacred months in Islam in addition to Zhil Qa’dah and Rajab.
The month of Muharram has certain other characteristics peculiar to it, the first of which is fasting. It was narrated that Abu Hurairah (RA) said: The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “The best fasting after Ramadhan is in the month of Allah, Muharram, and the best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” Narrated by Muslim This Hadith refers to doing Nafl or optional fasting on any of the days in Muharram and not all of it as it was proven that the Prophet (PBUH) did not fast any month in full, apart from Ramadhan. Thus it is highly encouraged to fast any days in the month of Muharram. Secondly, The Day of Ashura is the most sacred among the days of Muharram. It is the tenth day of Muharram. Ibn ‘Abbas (RA) said: The Prophet (PBUH) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashura’. He said, “What is this?” They said, “This is a good day, this is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy and Musa fasted on this day.” He said, “We are closer to Musa than you.” So he fasted on this day and told the people to fast.
It is also reported that in the beginning, fasting on the day of Ashurah was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later that when fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory and the fast on the day of Ashurah was made optional. Aisha (RA) narrated: “When the Prophet (PBUH) came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of Ashura and directed the people to fast it. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of Ashurah was abandoned. One can fast on this day, if he so wills, or can avoid fasting, if he so wills.”
In addition to fast the 10th of Muharram it is recommended to fast a day before or after it, which means: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. Let us be reminded that the virtue of fasting the Day of Ashura is great. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Fasting on the day of ‘Arafah, I hope Allah will expiate thereby for the year before it and the year after it, and fasting the day of ‘Ashura’ I hope Allah will expiate thereby for the year that came before it.” Narrated by Muslim.
The 10th of Muharram will be Friday October 23rd Inshaallah thus fasting should be on either on October 22nd and 23rd or October 23rd and 24th.
The Battle of Karbala
As we reflect upon this incident of Pharaoh and Musa (AS) we are often confronted with such Pharonic personalities time and again who would strive to crush anyone who refuse to surrender to their power and their egos. History is full of such personalities and also stories of the brave men and women who confront such tyrants. There are:
- People who stood up for what they believed in, no matter the cost.
- People who challenged the tyrants and oppressors.
- People who saw injustice, and acted against it even if it meant their own demise.
Stories are many but there is one which stands out in history. It took place on the 10th of Muharram on The Day of Ashura of 61 A.H. It still hurts the Ummah until today. It is the story of the massacre of the beloved grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Imam Hussain (RA) by the forces of Yazid in a battle that is known as The Battle of Karbala.
But while Musa (AS) was able to escape safely with the Children of Israel by Allah’s power, Imam Hussain (RA) was martyred by very people who claim to be adherents to Islam.
This incident took place 61 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and after The Day of Ashura was established, but Karbala to this day remains a heartbreaking story of exemplary courage and bravery to uphold the real principles of Islam. While we do not in any way commemorate this occasion, we must not allow this event to wash away in the annals of time.
Perhaps one of reasons why we avoid talking about the Battle of Karbala is because of its sensitivity, the pains and emotions that are surfaced.
Al-Fakhri wrote: “This is a catastrophe, whereof I care not to speak at length, deeming it a like too grievous and too horrible. For it was indeed a catastrophe so detestable that a more shameful incident has not occurred in Muslim history. There occurred such a foul massacre as to cause any person’s flesh to creep with horror.”
Even non-Muslim writers spoke with sympathy about the happenings at Karbala.
Professor E. Gibbon writes Tribute to Imam Hussain (RA): “In a distant age and clime the tragic scene of the death of Hussain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” [Decline and fall of the Roman Empire]
Sometimes it is the difference of account of the Battle of Karbala that Muslims often get into unnecessary debate and controversy about personalities and historical details. We get into much dispute between the Sunni version and the Shi’a version and forget the bigger picture; the reason for the battle and the sacrifices that were made.
As we learn that The Muslim Caliphate briefly came to Imam Hassan (RA) (elder grandson of the Prophet [PBUH]) after the martyrdom of Caliph Ali bin Abi Talib (RA).
Sensing a possible split in the Muslim empire Imam Hassan (RA) entered into a peace treaty with Mu’awiyah (RA) that after the rule of Mu’awiyah the Caliphate was to be returned to Imam Hassan (RA).
But by the year 50 A.H. Imam Hassan (RA) died. Mu’awiyah (RA) lived for another ten years. At his death in 60 A.H. instead of the Caliphate returning back to the family of Ali (RA) meaning Imam Hussain (RA) as was agreed upon, the Caliphate was given to Yazid the son of Mu’awiyah (RA).
For Imam Hussain (RA) it did not matter who was the ruler so long as they rule in accordance with the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) his beloved grandfather, and that peace and justice prevailed. It was for this very reason that they did not take the government in the year 41 A.H.
So when Yazid became the ruler, Imam Hussain bin Ali (RA) did not challenge him merely to become caliph or to get back the Caliphate. But rather:
- this was a struggle against corruption and injustice
- they were not only prepared to fight for what is right, but were also willing to die for it;
- it was selflessness not selfishness,
- humility not ego,
- They were challenging principle not craving for power.
Imam Hussain (RA) didn’t surrender. He would only have to give one word of allegiance to Yazid to save himself and his loved ones. But instead, he stood for truth and justice and for Allah and Islam.
So while he was in Makkah he was called by the people of Kufa to come to their aid for the injustices that were carried out against them by Yazid and his armies. So he left Makkah which was becoming hostile to him and headed for Kufa. His cousin Muslim bin Aqeel went before him to make sure it was fine only to have his death in a detail that would melt the hardest of rock.
He met with the power of Ibn Ziad a young violent army general sent by Yazid to Kufa to quell disturbances there. This was the stronghold of Caliph Ali (RA) where he met his martyrdom at the hands of the Khawarij.
Even after he learnt about the death of Muslim bin Aqeel Imam Hussain (RA) still proceeded and was determined to go to help the people of Kufa. When he got there he was confronted with a very hostile army. This time Ibn Ziad diverted the army of 4,000 that was sent to Turkey to deal with Dylamites in the region of Dylam. Ibn Ziad intercepted them and got permission by Yazid to use the troops. Imam Hussain (RA) requested one of three options:
- either to return to Makkah;
- or to face Yazid himself at Damascus;
- Allowed to go to a distant frontier, where, if fighting must be done, he would fight against the enemies of Islam.” All his requests were rejected and finally he was martyred on the 10th of Muharram 61 A.H.
What we realize is that Imam Hussain (RA) was martyred at the hands of:
- Those who considered themselves to be followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
- Those who claimed to act in the name of Islam yet fight against it
- Those who (like so many today) are prepared to kill for Islam yet are totally unable and unwilling to live by it.
- Yes, by those who would kiss the Black Stone, faced the same Qiblah, prayed their Salah, claimed to be lovers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) yet cut off the precious head of that dear grandson of the Prophet (PBUH), a head which the Prophet so often caressed and kissed with affection
That grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about whom he said: Narrated Ibn Abi Na’m: I was present when a man asked Ibn `Umar about the blood of mosquitoes. Ibn `Umar said, “From where are you?” The man replied. “From Iraq.” Ibn `Umar said,
“Look at that! He is asking me about the blood of Mosquitoes while they (the Iraqis) have killed the (grand) son of the Prophet. I have heard the Prophet (PBUH) saying, “They (Hassan and Hussain) are my two sweet−smelling flowers in this world.”
Imam Shaf’i wrote:
“O Family of the Prophet! Allah has made it obligatory on us in the Qur’an He has revealed to love you. It suffices you that as a matter of pride for you that without sending salutations to you your Salah is not valid.”
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) described Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain in a Hadith: “Al Hassan and Al-Hussain are leaders of the youth of Paradise” [Tirmidhi]
That Imam Hussain whose head was severed from his body the Prophet said, “Hussain is from me, and I am from Hussain. Allah loves whoever loves Hussein. Hussein is a disciple of the disciples.” [Tirmidhi]
Imam Hussain (RA) will remain special throughout the Muslim history:
- His sacrifice of family, possession, and life itself in the cause of justice in the way of Allah.
- His courage, sincerity, steadfastness, dignity, and unwavering devotion in times of great crisis – have inspired and continue to inspire people of all walks of life.
- His struggle and eventual martyrdom became a source of strength and endurance for the oppressed in times of suffering, persecution and oppression.
Finally, there are many people who attach to the month of Muharram lots of Bida’aat (innovations) and Khurafaat (heresies) and these have no basis in our faith and should be totally avoided. Yes, Karbala as painful as it is we do not celebrate nor grieve on this occasion.
We also should know that it was by the Qadr of Allah SWT that the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would be on the Day of Ashura and while it is a very significant event it took place long after this day was established.