On Thursday with the blessed month of Dhul Hijjah (the month of Haj) behind us, we have entered another sacred month that marks the beginning of the Islamic lunar year – Mujharram.

Muharram literally means “that which is honored or sanctified.” Muharram is a month that was held sacred even during the pre-Islamic Jahiliyyah era. Islam maintained its sanctity, as is proved by the following verse in the Qur’an:

“Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so was it ordained by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are Sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein.” (Qur’an, 9:36)

Some Islamic months, whether sacred or not, have certain days and nights that are exalted or specified for certain kinds of worship. Examples of these are the last five odd-numbered nights of Ramadan, six days of fasting in Shawwal and the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah. Muharram too has its own virtue.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The best fasting after Ramadan is the month of Allah, Muharram, and the best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” (Sahih Muslim)

Notice how the Prophet (peace be upon him) described Muharram as “the month of Allah.”

This narration does not mean fasting the entire month of Muharram. Rather, it encourages fasting on some days – the most significant being the 10th of Muharram, called Ashoura.

The fast of Ashoura was obligatory in the early days of Islam, but after the fasting of Ramadan became obligatory, this fast became recommendatory and not obligatory:

Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “When the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to Madina, he fasted on the day of Ashoura and directed the people to fast. However, when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of Ashoura was rescided. Whoever so desires should fast on that day and who so likes may not fast on it.” (Abu Dawood)

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) was asked about fasting on the day of Ashoura and he said, “I do not know of any day on which the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) fasted that was better than this day.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Fasting the day of Arafah I hope, Allah will expiate thereby the sins for the year before it and of the year after it, and fasting the day of Ashoura I hope Allah will expiate thereby for the year that came before it.” (Sahih Muslim)

Therefore, supererogatory fasts in this “month of Allah” should be observed, with the highest priority given to the fast of the tenth.

In addition, the fast on the ninth or eleventh should also be observed, because the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) expressed his intention to fast a day before the tenth. This was in order to differ from the practice of the Jews, who fasted only on the tenth, to celebrate the drowning of Pharaoh and the emancipation of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) and the Children of Israel.

Allah’s messenger (peace be upon him) said, “If I would be still alive next year, I will certainly fast the ninth.” (Sahih Muslim, no. 1134)

Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “He meant, along with the tenth.”

Therefore, we Muslims should uphold our Prophet’s intention and fast on two days for Ashoura, either the ninth and tenth, or the tenth and eleventh. There is no harm in observing the fasts of all three either.

Besides fasting, the month of Allah should be spent with specific focus on doing good deeds and abstaining from sins. As the narration above exhorts, the best prayer after the obligatory ones is praying late-night in tahajjud. The winter months make it easier for us to pray at night, as the nights are long, and we will not miss sleep by getting up extra early before Fajr to pray and ask Allah for forgiveness.

In addition, we must remember that any innovation in the Religion causes deviation from following Prophet Muhammad’s sunnah. Mourning during Muharram is totally against the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Let us try and fast the days of Ashoura (9th is on Saturday and 10th is on Sunday), as well as endeavor to fast the remaining Mondays and Thursdays during Muharram.

The fasts of the 13th, 14th and 15th can also be observed, all of which are the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him).