By Imam A. Rashied Omar
We welcome the New Hijri year 1440 and made du`a that Allah, in his infinite Grace, will bless us and our families with good health, protect us from all calamities, and keep us busy in this new lunar year with deeds that will draw us closer to Him and to each other.
May Your Entire Year be filled with Goodness, Peace and Good Health.
At this time when we welcome the new Hijri lunar year 1440 it behooves us to remind ourselves with regard to the significance of lunar month of Muharram and to provide some guidelines as to how we should be commemorating this important period in the Muslim calendar.
The lunar month of Muharram derives its significance and sacredness from the two most primary sources of Islamic guidance. Allah, the Sublime, proclaims in Surah al-Taubah, chapter 9, verse 36: The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred; that is the straight usage. So wrong not yourselves therein and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) identified the four sacred months referred to in the above verse to be: Dhul Qa’idah, Dhul Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. The month of Muharram, which interestingly has as one of its literal meanings as “sacredness”, thus derives its sacredness from the two most primary sources of Islamic guidance.
Fasting in Muharram
Muslim traditions inform us that the first ten days of Muharram has played an important role in the lives of earlier Prophets and Messengers of Allah. The most significant of these is the one related by Ibn Abbas (ra). He reports that when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) first arrived in Madinah, he discovered that the Jews of Madinah were fasting on the tenth day of Muharram (Yawm ‘Ashura). On inquiring with regard to the significance of their fasting, he was informed that this was the way in which the Jews were commemorating the day on which Allah saved Prophet Musa (as) and the Children of Israel from the persecution of Pharaoh. On hearing this, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ordered the Muslims to fast on the tenth day of Muharram in honoring this great day and event in the life of Prophet Musa, whom Muslims are required to revere. Moreover, in the hadith literature it is related on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked: “Which fasting is best after the month of Ramadan? The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The month of Allah that you call the sacred one.” (This is related by Ahmad, Muslim and Abu Dawood.)
One of the ways through which Muslims uphold the sacredness and holiness of the month of Muharram is through fasting. Muslim scholars have recommended three formats of fasting that can be observed during Muharram:
- Fasting for the three consecutive days of the 9th, 10th and 11th of Muharram.
- Fasting two days, either the 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th of Muharram.
- Fasting only on the 10th of Muharram.
The Events of Karbala
An event which occurred half a century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), has, however, come to dominated subsequent commemorations of Yawm ‘Ashura. On the tenth day of Muharram, 680 CE, the beloved grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Imam Husayn (ra) was martyred at Karbala in Iraq.
After the martyrdom of the fourth Caliph of Islam, Ali (ra), his son, Imam Hasan (ra) was appointed as his successor. However, he was very soon overshadowed by Mu’awiya (ra), the governor of Syria. Imam Hasan (ra) thus abdicated in favour of Mu’awiya. Notwithstanding this magnanimous manner in which Mu’awiya had become Caliph of the Islamic empire, he ensured that after his death, his son Yazid, succeeded him. Yazid, an impetuous youth, with a weak character, was in no way suited for this noble responsibility. Soon after he had taken up the position, the Islamic polity began to deteriorate into decadence and oppression.
The People of Iraq called upon Imam Husayn to liberate them from the tyranny of Yazid.
Imam Husayn responded and led a small group of his family members to confront Yazid in Iraq. While Imam Husayn was en route, he met a poet Farazdaq coming from Iraq.
On enquiring about the readiness of the people of Iraq for the uprising against the tyranny of Yazid, Farazdaq poetically replied: “O Son of the daughter of the Messenger of Allah, indeed their hearts are with you, but their swords are against you. Yazid has bought them over with wealth.”
To this Imam Husayn, recognising that wealth is the greatest obstacle to any struggle for justice, replied: “Glory be to Allah, indeed humanity will be enslaved to wealth until the Day of Resurrection.”
The martyrdom of Imam Husayn at Karbala is a clear example of the manner in which wealth was used to negatively influence the behaviour of the second generation of Muslims (tabi’in). Despite the fact that they knew that Imam Husayn’s cause was just, they did not rise up in support of him because they had been co-opted by Yazid.
I propose that a deeper reflection on the historical lessons of Karbala can assist us in understanding our role within contemporary struggles. The key lesson of Karbala for us in South Africa is the following: The pervasive influence of wealth on human behaviour, continues to bedevil our contemporary struggle for economic redress, especially on the land question. The challenge for South African Muslims is to transcend their own selfish interests and jointly pursue the most efficient and compassionate process through which to affect economic equity and redress.
Let us commemorate the sacred month of Muharram by fasting and embodying the important lesson of Karbala.