Salam Dear Sheikh,
Hope you are doing fine. Below is a message I got which I would appreciate if you could kindly enlighten us on the issue. Jazakumullah.
FASTING ON THE DAY OF ASHURA
Growing up in a Sunni Islamic orthodox community, we were taught that fasting on the day of Ashura to be something that is prophetic, really important and by doing so, we may gain an extra reward. In fact, there is a hadith saying that fasting on the day of Ashura will expiates the sins of the previous year. However, I refuse to believe in the authenticity of such hadith even though it may come from Bukhari or Muslim. I am going to explain some of the reasons as to why I do not believe in hadith of the fasting on the day of Ashura.
A popular hadith recorded in Bukhari says that Mohammed when he entered Medina in the first year of Hijrah, he saw the Jews were fasting on the day of Ashura. This is as to remember the incident of how the Children of Israel were saved by Moses from the Pharaoh. So, Mohammed then told them that Muslims should be better off than them thus saying that Muslims should fast on the day of Ashura.
There are a few things that can be seen sceptical in this hadith. First of all, this hadith was narrated by Ibn Abbas, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Abu Hurairah and Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan. Let us look at these four Companions and what were they doing at that time:
1. Ibn Abbas was only four years old at that time since he was born three years before Hijrah.
2. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari was in Yemen, spreading the da’wah of Islam. He was not together with Mohammed during the event of Hijrah.
3. Abu Hurairah was not seen during that time. He was only seen in Medina again after the Battle of Khaybar (which happened in the seventh year of Hijrah) while Mohammed entered Medina in the first year of Hijrah.
4. Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan converted to Islam in the 8th year of Hijrah.
Those where the narrators of the hadith were when the event of Hijrah took place. How can you narrate a hadith when you yourself were not even there? Now, let us look at the definition of ‘Ashura‘. Ibn Athir, an Arabic language scholar, said that ‘Ashura‘ has two meanings (an old meaning and a new meaning):
Old meaning of Ashura: the 10th day of any month. New meaning of Ashura: the 10th day of Muharram and it only occurred after the death of Husayn ibn Ali in the Battle of Karbala.
Now, the hadith reported that the Jews were fasting on the 10th day of Muharram. Please bear in mind that Jewish calender and Islamic calendar are not the same. The Jews were fasting on the 10th day of Tishrei. The day is called Yom Kippur. The Jews fasting on the 10th day of Tishrei has got nothing to do with the 10th day of Muharram. This is because, mathematically, the 10th day of Tishrei only corresponded with the 10th day of Muharram in the 28th year of Hijrah.
Besides that, the fasting on Ashura has got nothing to do with Moses saving the Children of Israel from the Pharaoh. This is because Yom Kippur (Arabic: Yaum al-Kaffarah; English: Day of Atonement) is not the day to remember when Moses saved the Children of Israel from Pharaoh, instead it is the day of atonement or repentance for what the Children of Israel did when Moses were off meditating for 40 days. The Children of Israel were worshiping a calf when waiting for Moses to finish his meditation. The day when Moses saved the Children of Israel was not on the 10th of Tishrei. It happened on the 15th of Nisan (which is supposed to be on the 23rd of Ramadan and not on the 10th of Muharram!).
Other than that, the hadith itself is historically incorrect. Mohammed did not enter Medina in Muharram. Mohammed entered Medina in Rabi` al-awwal. So if there was a fast that is supposed to be recommended, it shouldn’t be in Muharram, instead it should be in Rabi’ al-awwal.
Allah Knows best.
The Umma has been fasting, is fasting and in sha Allah will continue to fast voluntarily in Muharram especially the 10th and around the 10th as this `amal has long been agreed upon as Sunna, and Ashura’ is the most meritorious non-fard fast. Whoever wishes to fast let them fast it and whoever does not is free to leave it.
Hajj Gibril Haddad