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There is a temptation in our modern world to treat time as the most egalitarian, equal opportunities phenomenon in existence. That every day is the ‘same’ as any other ‘day’ – it simply depends on you and what you’re doing. Friday is like Monday, Saturday is like Sunday, 5pm is like 8pm, and so on, and so forth.

But in our tradition, the situation is rather different. On the one hand, time is a creation of Allah, subhana wa ta’ala. And thus, He chooses to do what He sees fit, when He does, and how He does. And it is part of His way, part of His sunna, that certain months are different to others, that certain days are different to others, and certain times are different to others.

And yet – and here is a hidden mercy that not enough is mentioned about – He is never limited to those times. Allah’s mercy is boundless, and if He chooses to place a blessing in a certain place and certain time, even beyond that which we might have already thought was the indicated time and place, then that continues to be His prerogative. Time itself is a creation of His.

What is our situation is to know when we ought to do things; and do them in accordance with the book (al-Qur’an) and the way (the sunna of the final Prophet, ‘alayhi salat wa salam). After that, before that, during that – we consign our affairs to God.

وَأُفَوِّضُ أَمْرِي إِلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَصِيرٌ بِالْعِبَادِ

It may be that we intended to do a prayer at a particular time, and that time is special – but despite our best intentions, and our firm resolve, we were unable to do so. It may be that in Allah’s mercy, He kept us from that particular time and place – and still rewards us, nevertheless, as though we had been there at that time.

إِنَّمَا الأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى

It’s why when people get so worked up about particular times, and getting them ‘right’ beyond a certain level, it’s really a foolhardy errand. The level at which we ought to expend our energy in this way is at the level of the shari’a – in other words, we move in accordance with the sacred law, and if it turns out to be wrong later on, then we respond in accordance with the sacred law. But to obsess about the ‘right’ time – the ‘right’ time is that which God has chosen. We are simply required to act in accordance with what He has commanded; with what is wajib/fard; with what is mandūb/mustahhab; and to avoid that which He has deemed blameworthy or forbidden.


That being kept in mind: our shaykhs remind us that the month of Muharram is indeed a glorious and blessed month. According to many of the scholars, it is the best month for fasting after Ramadan, and it is from among the sacred months, mentioned in the Qur’anic verse:

“The number of months in the sight of Allah are twelve. {They were noted} in the Book of Allah on the day when He created the heavens and the earth; four of them are sacred.”

Muharram is indeed immensely special. Among the many reasons is that it includes the 10th day of Muharram, which is the day of ‘Ashura; a day upon which the rewards of worship are increased in abundance.

It was typical of the Arabs that they would consider Muharram as the beginning of the year, and the Muslim continued in this. But the year that was chosen as the first year for the calendar depended on the migration of the Prophet (Hijra, hence giving the name Hijri to the calendar) that year to the city of Yathrib, where he became the leader of the city. It was renamed Madinat al-Nabi, or the “City of the Prophet”.

This migration is seen as a pivotal event in the lifecycle of the early Muslim community, when it went from being a persecuted minority in Makka, to being a community of temporal sovereignty in the city of Madina. It is significant that the calendar doesn’t begin with the birth of the Prophet, despite the undeniable significance of that event for Muslims — but rather when the community, under the leadership of the Prophet, begins to take shape and form.

The month of prophets

Many of the scholars of Islam said that after Ramadan, Muharram is the most superior of months. One of them, Wahb bin Munabbih, stated, “God revealed to Moses saying, ‘Order your people to gain proximity to Me in the first ten days of Muharram. When it is the tenth day, they must come out to Me and I will forgive them’.” There are spiritual practices that are said to be more “superior” during the month of Muharram. Fasting, for example, is said to be most superior in Muharram, after the month of Ramadan, according to one Prophetic narration. He is recounted to have said, “If you want to fast in any month after Ramadan, fast in Muharram because it is the month of God. It is a month in which God accepted the repentance of a nation and will accept the repentance of other nations.”

In that narration, we see the second category of reasons why Muharram is special — Prophetic history. The “nation” whose repentance is accepted here is the nation of Moses. The Prophet Muhammad is narrated as having said, “The Prophets used to fast on the day of Ashura (the tenth day of Muharram), so you should also fast on this day.” The prophets mentioned here are the pre-Muhammadan prophets. Muslims see the tenth of Muharram as the day in which God saved the Prophet Moses and his people from Pharaoh, and fasting on the day to display gratitude for that. In one narration, the Prophet is reported as having said, “I have this expectation from God that [fasting the tenth day] will atone for the sins of the past year.”

But there are other Prophetic historical reasons noted as well. The tenth of Muharram is noted as the day on which the ark of the Prophet Noah was anchored. Other earlier narrations from the first Muslim community indicate that it is when the repentance of the Prophet Jonah was accepted; when the repentance of the Prophet Adam was accepted, and the day when he descended to earth. The latter is also deeply important, because the Prophet Adam, and his descendants, are promised their return to Paradise thereafter, if they follow the Prophets. As a Prophetic narration related by Imam Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam, indicates, “In God’s sacred month (Muharram), God has relented towards certain people, and He will also relent towards others.”

Imam Zain al-Abidin, a great-grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, includes the following in one of his recommended supplications:

O One Who accepted the repentance of Adam on Ashura; O One Who delivered Jonah from his burden on the day of Ashura; O One Who reunited Jacob (with his son) on the day of Ashura; O One Who heard the plea of Moses and Aaron on the day of Ashura; O One Who rescued Abraham from the fire on the day of Ashura; O One Who raised Idris [another of the Islamic prophets, identified with Enoch among biblically named prophets] to heaven on the day of Ashura; O One Who answered the plea of Salih regarding the she-camel [referring to an event in the life of one of the Islamic prophets] on the day of Ashura; O One Who helped our Master Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, on the day of Ashura.

Another supplication included, “O One Who granted relief to Job on the day of Ashura.”

One of the most spiritual personalities in Islam, Abdal Qadir al-Jilani, the eponymous founder of the Qadiri order of Sufis, also relays that on the day of Ashura, God spoke to the Prophet Musa and gave him the commandments, reunited the Prophet Joseph with his father, the Prophet Jacob, forgave Prophet David, restored the kingdom of the Prophet Solomon, and it was the day when the Messiah, the Prophet Jesus, ascended to Paradise.

So, there are many ancient reasons to mark Muharram, and particularly the tenth day of it, according to Islamic tradition, which predated the Muslim community of the Prophet Muhammad.

The month of martyrs

It is also narrated by some historians that the second caliph of Islam, Umar bin al-Khattab, was martyred on the first day of Muharram. Typically, however, there aren’t many common events that are held on that day in Muslim communities to mark his death, even though his much-celebrated life will be widely taught as part of Islamic history.

And then there is Imam al-Husayn, the son of Imam Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam. The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn — one of the Prophet’s grandsons, and called “leader of the youth of Paradise” universally in Muslim communities — is very often remembered in different Muslim communities; indeed, the aforementioned Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani notes the martyrdom of al-Husayn on the day of Ashura, the 10th of Muharram.

This event took place around fifty years after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad. A tyrannical and, by all accounts, disreputable figure, Yazid, was forcibly assuming leadership of the Muslim community, and was demanding that al-Husayn swear the oath of allegiance to him. Al-Husayn rejected the proposition, seeing Yazid as altogether unfit for office.

Yazid’s continued threats upon al-Husayn’s life eventually led to a small caravan of al-Husayn and his supporters being blockaded by an army of Yazid’s forces at Karbala. When the battle commenced, Islamic history reports that some 5,000 of Yazid’s forces stormed al-Husayn’s contingent, which amounted to little more than eighty people. It was a massacre. Many historians write that nearly all the companions and family — including young children and a six-month-old baby of al-Husayn, Ali al-Asghar — were slaughtered. The last one standing in battle was al-Husayn himself, who is reported to have been stabbed 33 times by spears, 34 times by swords, and by more than 100 arrows. Following a valiant charge against thousands, he was then killed himself.

Yazid’s army then took the remains of al-Husayn and his companions, and the surviving women and children, to Kufa in a procession — a procession in which the heads of the dead, including al-Husayn, were put atop spears, and the survivors put in shackles. Imam al-Husayn’s sacrifice is noted by Muslims more generally to be a situation where speaking truth to an unjust ruler is sometimes mandatory to the point of death.

Universally across the Muslim community, it is difficult to find anything but empathy and support for Imam al-Husayn, who continues to serve as a paragon of virtue and bravery in the face of oppression and tyranny. In Egypt, the remains of al-Husayn — some say his head — lie in a tomb that is frequented very often by the Egyptian faithful. The granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, Zaynab, who was also at Karbala, is also buried in Cairo. She, too, is widely revered by the Egyptian faithful.

Unfortunately, sectarian violence also finds its excuse during the time, as the differences between how different groups regard al-Husayn are most evident. But the differences are in emphasis — they do not have to do with whether al-Husayn should have been killed. Indeed, Sunni historians have a range of views about Yazid himself, which include comparing him with the Pharaoh who oppressed the Prophet Moses. There were even some who said he was worse than Pharaoh! There were also historians who tried to provide excuses for Yazid, and they were refuted by other, Sunni, historians. But with all of them, irrespective of their views on Yazid, there is always a respect and reverence of al-Husayn, as the grandson of the Prophet.

On the day of Ashura itself, most Sunni Muslim communities will note the occasion by fasting, but also by celebration. Of course, Sunni Muslims aren’t celebrating the martyrdom of al-Husayn, whom they respect and revere, but of all the Prophetic historical events, in particular the victory of the Prophet Moses over Pharaoh. Even with Sunni communities that are widely known for being intrinsically connected to al-Husayn — such as in Tarim, where many of the Bani Alawi of Yemen (all of whom are descendants of al-Husayn) reside — the day is treated as a time for celebration.

The “month of God”, of Prophets, and of celebrated heroes and martyrs, Muharram continues to be one of the most significant months for Muslims — both in terms of worship, and on account of the opportunities it affords to learn more about their long history.


There are different du’as that are recommended by different shaykhs for the end of the old year (last day of Dhu al-Hijja; according to many scholars, best done after Asr), and the beginning of the new year (first day of Muharram; according to many scholars, best done after Maghrib), mentioned by the likes of Habib Ali al-Habshi and Imam al-Ghazali, recorded in books like Kanz al-Najah by Abdal Hamid Quds. You will be able to find them beneath this article. None of them are prescribed, per se, but it is always good to engage in du’a, and to mark the end of the year, and the beginning of the year, in this way is a good thing to do. If one wants to read other supplications, they may do so.

Shaykh Abdal Hamid Quds in the Kanz also narrates that Sayyid Ahmad b. Zayni Dahlan (who was also one of the shaykhs of Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks of Azzawia) recommended reading Ayat al-Kursi, with the bismillah, 360 times in the first day of Muharram, before following it up with:

اللهم يا محوّل الأحوال حوّل حالنا إلى أحسن الأحوال بحولك وقوتك ياعزيز يامتعال و صلى الله تعالى على سيدنا محمد و على أله و صحبه و سلم

“O Changer of circumstances, change for the best, my circumstances, through Your Power and Might, O Most Mighty, Most High. Send O Allah Your peace and salutations on our Sayyidna Muhammad and his family and companions.”

If you find 360 to be too much, do what you will, and then read the du’a.

Our shaykhs also recommended reciting the basmalah 113 times at the beginning of the year. They also recommended reciting ‘Ya Musawwir’ 100 times daily, for the first ten days of Muharram.


There are other practices that are recommended for the day of Ashura itself; which are all from the recommended acts of ‘ibada. Fasting; giving sadaqa; the reading of Qur’an; visiting the sick; being extra generous; engaging in more optional prayers; supplication; the reading of the hasbunAllah.

Fasting in particular is incredibly noted, for it is narrated in al-Bukhari that the Prophet said: “Fasting the Day of ‘Ashura wipes out (the sins) of the previous year.” Imam al-Tirmidhi notes that it is reported that Ibn Abbas said that the Messenger said:

‘Whoever fasts the Day of Ashura will be given the reward of sixty years of worship by its fasting and standing (in prayer during the night). Whoever fasts the Day of Ashura will be given the reward of ten thousand angels. Whoever fasts the Day of ‘Ashura will be given the reward of a thousand pilgrimages, and a thousand minor pilgrimages. Whoever fasts the Day of Ashura will be given the reward of ten thousand martyrs. Whoever fasts the Day of ‘Ashura will be given the reward of the seven heavens. Whoever provided food for a believer to break his fast with him on the Day of Ashura, it will be as if he provided iftar for all the poor of the nation of Muhammad. Whoever satisfies a hungry person on the day of Ashura, it is as if he fed all the poor of the nation of Muhammad and filled their stomachs. And whoever wipes his hand over the head of an orphan on the Day of Ashura will be raised a rank in the Garden for every hair on his head.’

It is also recommended to fast the 9th of Muharram, along with the 10th. Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that after the Prophet last fasted the day of ‘Ashura, he said thereafter, “Next year, if Allah wills, we will fast on the ninth day.” But by the time the following year came, he had passed away.

Finally, spending generously on one’s family on the 10th. It is narrated that the Prophet said: “Whoever spends generously on his family on the Day of ‘Ashura, Allah will spend generously on him for the rest of the year.”

May Allah grant us the fullness of the blessings of this month and its days! Amin.

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