Fasting Ashura: Why Muslims Fast on This Day and Why is it Significant

We recently welcomed the new Islamic year with the commencement of Muharram. For Muslims worldwide, this is a time when many of us take the opportunity to renew our intentions as we contemplate our plans for the forthcoming year. 

Whilst Muharram is filled with significance, the month has one specific day which gives us a chance to boost our spirituality and connection with Allah. The 10th of Muharram (also known as Ashura) is a special day for Muslims and many of us take this chance to refresh our faith by fasting. 

But Why Do Muslims Fast On Ashura?

The main reason why Muslims fast on this day is that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ fasted on this day and encouraged his followers also to fast. According to prophetic traditions, fasting on Ashura alone erases our sins from the previous year! With a new and fresh start such as this, there can be no better way to embrace the new Islamic year.

Muharram may be one of the most significant months in Islam, yet the day of Ashura is the most significant day of the month. In the early days of Islam, fasting on Ashura was made obligatory. However, when the fasts of Ramadhan became obligatory, fasting on the day of Ashura was made optional. 

But fasting on Ashura was never abandoned by the Prophet ﷺ. According to one prophetic tradition, it is recorded, “There are four things which the Prophet never gave up: fasting Ashura, fasting during the ten days [of Dhul Hijjah], fasting three days of each month, and praying two rak’at before al-ghadah [i.e., Fajr].” [Sunan Al-Nasa’i]. 

The fast of Ashura was wonderfully revived when the Prophet ﷺ first arrived in the blessed city of Madinah. In one Hadith we are told, “When the Prophet arrived at Madinah, 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 said to his companions, ‘You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses’ victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day.’” [Sahih Bukhari]

Is There Another Reason Why Ashura is Significant?

The significance of Ashura can be traced back to the times of earlier prophets. Even before the Prophet ﷺ fasted on this day, the Meccan tribe of Quraysh fasted on this day and honoured it with their lives. Their reason for doing this was simple; to commemorate the prophets that came before them. 

According to one prophetic tradition, Ashura “is the day that the ship of Prophet Nuh settled upon Mount Judi, and so Prophet Nuh fasted the day out of thankfulness to Allah.” [Musnad Ahmad]

After the Prophet’s ﷺ death, his grandson Hussain RA was martyred at Karbala on the very same day. Although death may seem like bad news for many, Hussain’s RA martyrdom symbolises being saved by Allah from tyrannical oppression, just as Prophet Musa AS was saved from Pharaoh on this day. 

Many events have come together to solidify the significance of Ashura. It seems that the lives of many prophets are tied via this day as it’s a day of being saved by Allah in some way or another. Whether it’s the story of Prophet Nuh AS and his people, or Prophet Musa AS escaping from the oppressive ways of the Pharaoh, this day strongly represents protection, strength and a fresh start. Muslims who fast on this day should keep in mind the narratives of these prophets as they spend the day refraining from food and drink. With examples of great individuals who stood up for the truth, opposed tyranny and paved the way for people to come, let us ask Allah to give us the ability to follow in their footsteps. 

How Should Muslims Fast on Ashura

It is advised that one keeps a fast on either the 9th or the 10th or the 10th and the 11th. However, if one is unable to complete two fasts, fasting solely on the 10th is permissible. The reason for prefixing or suffixing a day is because the Prophet ﷺ advised, “Fast the day of ‘Ashura and be different from the Jews by fasting a day before it or a day after it.” [Musnad Ahmed]

Juber Ahmed

Juber Ahmed is our Digital Editor and travel enthusiast with a keen interest in Islamic history and heritage. He travels with his wife to various places around the world and writes about his experiences.   Juber's favourite Quote... "The World Is a Book and Those Who Do Not Travel Read Only One Page" [Saint Augustine]

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