History and Significance of Ashura Fasting
The practice of fasting on Ashura was known even before the rise of Islam. When the Prophet (S.A.W.) arrived in Madinah at the time of migration, the Jews were observing the fast on ‘Ashura’ and they said:
“This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh,”
On that, the Prophet (S.A.W.) said to his companions (R.A.):
“You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses’ victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day.” (Sahih Bukhari:4680)
When different Companions (R.A.) told Prophet (S.A.W.) that fasting on the day of Ashura is glorified among Jews and Christians, then Prophet (S.A.W.) encouraged them by saying:
“If I live until next year, I will fast the ninth day (of Muharram) too.” (Ibn Majah:1736)
Unfortunately, Prophet (S.A.W.) did not live to see the next year. Therefore, Muslims consider the 9th and 10th of Muharram as significant days in the Islamic calendar and observe fast on these days.
Earlier on, it was obligatory to fast on the 10th of Muharram. However, later, fasting was made obligatory during Ramadan only, and fasting on the 10th of Muharram was made optional. As narrated by Ayesha (R.A.) the Prophet (S.A.W.) said:
“Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may do so, and whoever wishes to leave it can do so.” (Sahih Bukhari:1592)
However, the Prophet (S.A.W.) used to fast on the day of Ashura even after fasting during Ramadan only was made obligatory.
When Ibn Abas (R.A) was asked about observing of fast on the day of Ashura, whereupon he said:
“I do not know Allah’s Messenger (S.A.W.) singling out any day’s fast and considering it more excellent than another, except this day (the day of Ashura) and this month, meaning the month of Ramadan.”
[Sahih Muslim: 1132 (a)]
So fasting on the day of ’Ashura’ is a confirmed Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and makes one entitled to a great reward from Allah.
According to Sahih Hadith, one of the many blessings of Allah for a person who observes fast on the ‘Day of Ashura’ is that his / her sins of the past year will be forgiven.
Narrated by Abu Qatada (R.A.) that the Prophet (S.A.W.) said:
“Fasting the day of ‘Ashura’, I hope, will expiate for the previous year’s sins.” (Ibn Majah:1738)
The Hadith mentions the word of the Prophet (S.A.W) as “I hope” which means that the person should observe the fast wholeheartedly for Allah only and seek reward from Allah only and, Inshallah, Allah almighty will reward that person by forgiving his sins that he committed in the previous year.
Virtues of fasting on the day Ashura:-
What is the reward of fasting ‘Ashoora’?
Fasting the day of ‘Ashoora’ does expiate for the past year, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Fasting the day of ‘Arafah I hope Allaah will expiate thereby for the year before it and the year after it, and fasting the day of ‘Ashoora’ I hope Allaah will expiate thereby for the year that came before it.” Narrated by Muslim, 1162. This is by the bounty that Allaah bestows upon us, whereby fasting one day expiates for the sins of a whole year. And Allaah is the Owner of great bounty.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to be very keen to make sure he fasted on the day of ‘Ashoora’ because of its great status. It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: I never saw the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) so keen to make sure he fasted any day and preferring it over another except this day, the day of ‘Ashoora’, and this month – meaning Ramadaan. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1867.
What is meant by being keen to make sure he fasted it is so as to earn its reward.
Why did the Prophet fast the day of ‘Ashoora’?
With regard to the reason why the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) fasted on the day of ‘Ashoora’ and urged the people to do likewise is mentioned in the hadeeth narrated by al-Bukhaari (1865) from Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him), who said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came to Madeenah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashoora’. He said, “What is this?” They said, “This is a good day, this is the day when Allaah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy and Moosa fasted on this day.” He said, “We are closer to Moosa than you.” So he fasted on this day and told the people to fast.
The words “this is a good day” – according to a version narrated by Muslim, “This is a great day when Allaah saved Moosa and his people and drowned Pharaoh and his people.”
The words “so Moosa fasted on this day” – Muslim added in his report: “In gratitude to Allaah, so that is we fast on this day.”
According to another version narrated by al-Bukhaari, “So we fast it out of respect for it.”
The words “and told the people to fast” – according to another version narrated by al-Bukhaari, “He said to his companions, ‘You are closer to Moosa than them, so fast this day.”
What are the sins that are expiated by fasting ‘Ashoora’?
The expiation of sins that is achieved by fasting ‘Ashoora’ refers to minor sins; with regard to major sins, they need separate repentance.
Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
Fasting the day of ‘Arafaah expiates for all minor sins, in othr words this brings forgiveness for all sins except for major sins.
Then he said:
Fasting the day of ‘Arafaah is an expiation for two years, and the day of ‘Ashoora is an expiation for one year, and if a person’s Ameen coincides with the Ameen of the angels, his previous sins will be forgiven… Each of the things mentioned may bring expiation. If he does something that expiates for minor sins he will be expiated, and if there are no minor or major sins, it will be recorded for him as good deeds and he will rise in status thereby… If there is one or more major sins and no minor sins, we hope that it will reduce his major sins. Al-Majmoo’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab, part 6.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The expiation of purification, prayer, and fasting Ramadaan, ‘Arafah and ‘Ashoora’ applies to minor sins only. Al-Fataawa al-Kubra, part 5.
And Allah knows best.