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Reflections on the Islamic New Year: The Significance of the 10th of Muharram

Posted by Mariya Collins on

Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, is considered one of the four sacred months in Islam.

The Islamic New Year itself is generally a quiet affair without the celebratory customs found in other cultures' New Year observances, emphasizing instead spiritual renewal and gratitude.

A simple and serene display for the Islamic New Year

The Islamic calendar is rich with significant dates, each offering unique opportunities for reflection and worship. Muharram is especially noted for the 10th day, or the Day of Ashura, during which Sunni Muslims observe by fasting, following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The Prophet, peace be upon him, recommended fasting on this day to commemorate the deliverance of Musa, peace be upon him, and his followers from Firawn's tyranny. This day is deeply embedded in Islamic history and spirituality and is observed by Muslims worldwide with various traditions and practices.

July 2024 Hijri Calendar dates with the 10th of Muharram cirecled

Historical Significance

Ashura has a profound historical backdrop that resonates across different Islamic traditions. For Sunni Muslims, this day is remembered for the deliverance of Prophet Musa (Moses) from the tyranny of Firawn (Pharaoh). According to Islamic tradition, when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) migrated to Madinah, he found the Jews observing a fast on this day in commemoration of this event. In response, he stated that Muslims have more right to Prophet Musa and encouraged fasting on Ashura, thus establishing it as a recommended practice.

A visual depiction of the parting of the Red Sea

For Shia Muslims, the 10th of Muharram is a day of mourning and reflection on the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. This tragic event is a pivotal moment in Islamic history, symbolizing the struggle against injustice and oppression. Husayn’s sacrifice is typically commemorated, by Shia Muslims, with street processions reinforcing the values of bravery, steadfastness, and piety.

Shia Muslims mourning in the streets on the Day of Ashura commemorating the Battle of Karbala

Spiritual Significance

The spiritual dimensions of Ashura are many. For those who fast on this day, it is believed to be an act that atones for the sins of the past year. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emphasized the merit of fasting on Ashura and recommended pairing it with fasting on the 9th of Muharram to distinguish the Islamic practice from the Jewish tradition.

It is reported that Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Whoever fasts on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), it is as though he has fasted the entire year. And whoever gives charity on this day, it is like the charity of an entire year.” (Recorded by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in his Lata’if al-Ma’arif from Abu Musa al-Madini)

A quran, glass of water, dates and tasbih beads to signify fasting

Beyond fasting, Ashura serves as a reminder of the themes of patience, resilience, and faith in the face of adversity. The stories associated with this day underscore the importance of standing firm in one’s beliefs and striving for justice, regardless of the challenges.

Cultural Practices

The cultural expressions of Ashura vary widely across the Muslim world, reflecting a rich tapestry of local traditions and customs. In many Sunni-majority regions, it is a day marked by communal prayers, fasting, and charitable activities. Mosques and community centers often organize lectures and events to educate people about the significance of the day.

Muslim women making dua and praying in the mosque

In Shia-majority areas, the observance of Ashura is more intense and elaborate. Mourners participate in processions, recite elegies, and reenact the events of the Battle of Karbala. These rituals serve as both a remembrance of Husayn’s sacrifice and a means of reaffirming communal identity and solidarity.

A Day of Unity and Compassion

While the ways in which Ashura is observed can differ, the underlying messages of the day - of faith, sacrifice, and standing up for what is right - are universal. Ashura offers a unique opportunity for Muslims to come together, reflect on our shared heritage, and commit to the values that define our faith.

Muslim Man praying and making dua in a mosque

In conclusion, the 10th of Muharram, Ashura, is a day rich with historical, spiritual, and cultural significance. It is a time for us to reflect on our faith, remember the sacrifices of the past, and engage in acts of worship and charity. As we observe this day, let us be inspired by its profound lessons and strive to embody the principles it represents in our daily lives.

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