The Month of Allah, Muḥarram is upon us, and it is recommended to fast as much as possible during it. The Prophet (SAW) said, “After the month of Ramadān, the best fast is in the Month of Allāh which you call Muḥarram.” (Muslim) By giving this month the title, the Month of Allāh, our Messenger (SAW) is highlighting its virtue and significance.
Additionally, Muḥarram is one of the four sacred months, Allāh’s Messenger (SAW) said, “The year is twelve months, of which four are sacred: three are consecutive, Dhū’l-Qaʿdah, Dhū’l-Ḥijjah and Muḥarram, and Rajab of Muḍar which comes between Jumāda and Shaʿbān.” (Bukhārī, Muslim)
These months are called sacred for two reasons: 1) Fighting is forbidden during these months unless initiated by the enemy 2) Transgression of Allāh’s sacred limits in these months is worse than at other times.
GRATITUDE & FORGIVENESS – The Day of ʿAshūrāʾ
It is highly recommended to fast this day. This is the day that Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy, so Mūsā (AS) would fast in gratitude; and as a result, so do we. Ibn ʿAbbās reported that the Messenger of Allāh (SAW) came to Medina and found the Jews fasting on the day of ʿAshūrāʿ. The Prophet said, “What is this day you are fasting?” They said, ‘This is a great day in which Allāh saved Mūsā and his people, and he drowned Pharaoh and his people. Mūsā fasted on it in gratitude, so we also fast on it.’ The Prophet (SAW) said, “We are more deserving and are closer to Mūsā than you.” The Prophet (SAW) fasted the day of ʿAshūrāʾ and he commanded fasting on it. (Bukhārī & Muslim)
ʿAshārāʾ was actually a day of fasting for the previous Prophets as well, “The Prophets would fast on the Day of ʿAshūrāʾ and so should you.” (Bazzār, ḥasan)
Ibn ‘Abbas said, ‘I never saw the Prophet (SAW) as keen to fast on any day, preferring it over another except this day – the day of ʿAshūrāʾ, and this month – meaning Ramadan.’ (Bukhārī) In fact, he (SAW) himself would fast this day while in Mecca (Bukhārī) and enjoined his Companions to fast it when arriving at Medina after the Hijra.
Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “Fasting the day of ʿArafah: I hope Allāh will expiate (the sins) of the year before it and the year after it. Fasting the day of ʿAshūrāʾ: I hope Allāh will expiate (the sins) of the year that came before it.” (Muslim)
It is recommended to fast a day before ʿAshūrāʾ as well: Ibn Abbas said, “When the Messenger of Allāh (SAW) fasted on ʿAshūrāʾ and commanded the Muslims to fast as well, they said, ‘Messenger of Allāh, it is a day that is venerated by the Jews and Christians.’ The Messenger of Allāh (SAW) said, ‘If I live to see the next year, in shā Allāh, we will fast on the ninth day too.’ But it so happened that the Messenger of Allāh (SAW) passed away before the next year came.” (Muslim)
Other ḥadīth also mention adding a day after ʿAshūrāʾ, but some scholars argue that these are weak. However, it is established that some of the Salaf did so.
We should note that it is recommended to fast on ʿAshūrāʾ but not an obligation, Ibn ʿUmar reported that the Prophet (SAW) said, “ʿAshūrāʾ is a day among the days of Allāh. Whoever wishes to fast may do so, and whoever wishes to break his fast may do so.” (Muslim) There is a consensus on this point as quoted by ibn ʿAbdu’l-Barr and others.
To summarise the rulings concerning this
1) Fasting ʿAshūrāʾ is highly recommended, and permissible to fast ʿAshūrāʾ by itself
2) It is recommended to fast 2 days: a day before ʿAshūrāʾ along with ʿAshūrāʾ
3) If unable to do 2), it is good to fast 2 days: a day after ʿAshūrāʾ along with ʿAshūrāʾ
4) It is fine to fast the day before, the day after and the day of ʿAshūrāʾ itself. Indeed some scholars such as Ibn Hajr stated that this was the best course of action.
5) Fasting the Day of of ʿAshūrāʾ has no connection to the events of Kerbala or the Shia commemoration of this day.