Lessons from ‘Ashura

Written by Zawareen Zakaria

The Day of ‘Ashura is an incredibly important date in Islamic tradition that is commemorated worldwide. The name is derived from the word “‘Asharah,” which means ten in Arabic, because this day falls on the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar and one of four sacred months as mentioned in the Qur’an (9:36) and in Hadiths (Al-Bukhari). ‘Ashura is a day of repentance, and it is most often commemorated through a voluntary day of fasting and through acts of charity. Its history, however, and the lessons we should take away from it is vital to understanding the acts of worship that take place on this day globally, thereby strengthening such acts further.


As narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with them both (Tirmidhi), the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) met Jews who were fasting on the 10th of Muharram and learned that they were doing so in remembrance of the Prophet Musa (AS) and his fast after Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies (Qur’an, 26:63-68). The Prophet (ﷺ) then commanded Muslims to also fast on this day in connection to Musa (AS) (Tirmidhi), and to fast another day prior to or after the 10th of Muharram so as to differentiate from the Jewish fasting tradition (Ahmad).


The Day of ‘Ashura is also the day that the Ark of the Prophet Nuh (AS) came to rest on Mount Judiyy’ (Tafsir Ibn Kathir) after Allah commanded the earth to swallow its water and the sky to withhold its rain (Qur’an 11:44). From this, we come to understand the prophetic legacy that this day is rife with. We come to see how increased acts of worship through fasting and charity, among other acts, bring us closer to Allah SWT and His Messengers, may peace be upon them all. Understanding this history further allows us to see how our remembrance can impart on us patience and the actions of one taken in the face of victory as learned from Allah’s prophets, may peace be upon them all.


The history of the 10th of Muharram in history makes clear for us the tradition of standing up for Allah and the gratitude we have for the victories He awards us with due to our steadfast remembrance of Him. We begin with the success of Musa AS against the atrocities of the Pharaoh, we remember the trials of Nuh AS in his 950 years of life and prophethood as we remember the victory of the docking of his ark on Mount Judiyy’, and we remember the martyrdom of the great grandson of the Prophet SAW, Hussein ibn Ali, whose stood up against oppression and tyranny even if it meant to sacrifice everything.  Success, after all, as eloquently put in a khutbah by Sh. Omar Suleiman, is measured differently in the scales of Allah SWT than they are in our scales.


We thus honor all that has happened on the Day of ‘Ashura, on the tenth day of one of the sacred months of Allah, with increased commemoration and acts of remembrance of Allah and those who followed Him before us. Let us remember the patience and the steadfastness of all those who came before as well as the gathering of communities in the face of immense hardship and cruelty. Let us all emulate such characteristics and behaviors without fear of anyone but Allah SWT during this coming day of ‘Ashura as well as in our day to day actions and mindsets as well.