The Possible Biblical Origins of Ashura (Remnants of Yom Kippur in Islam)

On Sunday 1st October 2017 it will be 10th Muharram in the Islamic calendar, from sunset on Saturday to sunset on Sunday (Moonsighting report). On Saturday (from Friday night) it will 10th Tishri in the Hebrew calendar. Both calendars have shared common historical origins, although they each have their own modern day differences.

In the year 61AH, sixty years after Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in 1AH/622CE (peace be upon him), his grandson Husayn ibn Ali was killed and martyred at Karbala in Iraq in a bloody civil war between Muslims who backed Husayn’s right to lead the Muslims and those who backed Yazid. Each year his death is mourned, particularly by Shia Muslims, as an important religious rite and commemoration. I recommend that everyone makes effort to learn about the emotionally evocative acts of bravery, acts of violence, and tests of faith associated with the history of Karbala (including myself who several times has made intention to learn but has so far failed and learned little); learning and becoming inspired by lessons from history is always very important. However, while I concede the importance of Muharram for these reasons, this article is not about Karbala.

The 10th of Muharram, also known as “Ashura”, is also noted for another reason, one that is sometimes described by Shia Muslims as a fiction designed by the proto-Sunnis to cover up their crimes at Karbala. This article will look to see if there is any possibly of truth in so-called “Fast of Ashura”. My investigative journey began 2 years ago with a somewhat obscure statement contained in a hadith professing to record Muhammad’s experiences in the year 1AH (622CE), peace be upon him.

When the Prophet (ﷺ) came to Medina, he found (the Jews) fasting on the day of “Ashura” (i.e. 10th of Muharram). They used to say, “This is a great day on which Allah saved Moses and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I am closer to Moses than they.” So, he observed the fast and ordered the Muslims to fast on it.—Bukhari 60:70

What is this fast that the Jewish people in Medina were observing? It seems that one way in which we ought to be able to seek verification of the veracity of this statement by checking what basis (if any) it has in Jewish tradition.

Contents

  1. Calendar Intro
  2. Experiencing Yom Kippur as a Goy
  3. Stated Importance of Ashura
  4. Other Optional Fasts in Islam
  5. Forgiveness of Sins
  6. Is Ashura Antisemitic?
  7. New Year
  8. Jewish Origins
  9. Possible Non-Jewish Origins?
  10. Fasting on The 9th Day Also
  11. Egyptians Drowned?
  12. Other Miracles Occurring on Ashura?
    1. Noah (ﷺ)
    2. Jonah (ﷺ)
    3. Moses (ﷺ) (again)
  13. Rabī‘ al-awwal or Muharram?
  14. Are the Hadith Narrators Reliable?
  15. Why?
  16. So… Is the Fast of Ashura Legit?

Calendar Intro

It seems likely that this fast corresponds to Yom Kippur, as unlikely as this might at first seem. “Ashura” literally means “tenth” in Arabic. According to Jewish custom there are two days of the year where fasting is traditionally observed on the 10th day of the month: Yom Kippur on 10th Tishri, and the fast on the Tenth of Tevet (Asarah BeTevet). Taking the number ten as part of the resemblance between Muslim and Jewish custom does assume that the Islamic month began on the same day as the Hebrew month. Muslims observe the crescent moon as the marker of the beginning of each new month. In ancient times Jews also kept time by observing the crescent moon. These observations were replaced by a calculated calendar in 358–59CE but the calculated first day of the Jewish month never differs from the astronomical first day of the crescent moon by more than 1 or 2 days. Since cloud frequently stops Muslims from observing the crescent moon on its first day anyway a difference of 1 day is nothing.

Thus, the alignment between the months of the Jewish calendar and the Islamic calendar was probably, in Muhammad’s time (ﷺ), and definitely is in 2016–19CE as is shown in the table below. After 30th Adar I 5779AM (6th March 2019) Jews will observe an additional 13th month of the year 5779AM but Muslims will not have a 13th month, thus causing the two calendars to become separated again.

Biblical Number Hebrew Name Islamic Name Roman Equivalent
7 Tishri Muharram September–October
8 Marcheshvan Safer October–November
9 Kislev Rabī‘ al-awwal November–December
10 Tevet Rabī‘ ath-thānī December–January
11 Shvat Jumādá al-ūlá January–February
12 Adar Jumādá al-ākhirah Febrarury–March
13 Adar II
(in 2019)
No 13th month March–April
1 Nisan Rajab March–April
2 Iyyar Sha‘bān April–May
3 Sivan Ramaḍān May–June
4 Tammuz Shawwāl June–July
5 Av Dhū al-Qa‘dah July–August
6 Elul Dhū al-Ḥijjah August–September

The calculated Jewish calendar drifts by 1 day in every 231 years with respect to the Roman calendar. By 622CE this effect would have amounted to 1 day. This only affects the insertion of leap years. Alignment with respect to the crescent moon will be retained indefinitely.

Another anchor point for attempting to deduce the alignment of the Jewish and Islamic calendars in Muhammad’s time (ﷺ) is the concurrence of Ramadan and Shavuot, the day when Jews celebrate Moses receiving the Torah from God on Mount Sinai.

The scriptures of Abraham, upon him be peace, were revealed on the first night of Ramadan. The Torah was revealed after six nights of Ramadan had passed. The Gospel was revealed after thirteen nights of Ramadan had passed. The Quran was revealed after twenty four nights of Ramadan had passed.—Musnad Ahmad 16536 (Hasan, “fair” reliability)

Shavuot does indeed occur on 6th Sivan, corresponding to Ramadan in my proposed calendar reconstruction. (The assignment of a specific date to the “revelation” of the Gospel is more dubious however.)

It also matches the literal meanings of the names of the months. Ramaḍān, meaning, “Burning heat”, originally occurred in summertime, and Rabī‘ al-awwal, “First spring”, matches when the first rains of the year came to Mecca in November. Nowadays any Islamic month can fall within any season because each Islamic year is 10–12 days shorter than the equivalent year on the Western calendar.

I’ve grouped the remainder of the discussion under various headings. All of the hadith cited have been graded as sahih (“proven”) by Sunni scholars unless stated otherwise.

Return to contents list

Experiencing Yom Kippur as a Goy

Despite some sources saying that 10th Muharram would fall on Sunday, I found some people posting online stating that it fell on Saturday. Every time there’s a major Muslim event there’s always debate among Muslims about whether it’s happening today, tomorrow or yesterday. I decided to take the plunge and opt to make observance on Saturday, the same day as Jewish Yom Kippur, and to spend the day studying religion, praying and eventually breaking fast with the Jewish community at my university. It was a really peaceful, sombre but also uplifting day spent in the company of a lovely community, and many thanks to them for allowing me to take part in their holy day with them.

Return to contents list

Stated Importance of Ashura

Yom Kippur is frequently described as the holiest day of the year for Jews. Similarly, there are hadiths ascribing high status to fasting on Ashura.

It was narrated from ‘Ubaidullah that he heard Ibn ‘Abbas, when he was asked about the fast of “Ashura” say, “I do not know that the Prophet fasted any day because of its virtue, except this day”, meaning the month of Ramadan and the day of Ashura.—Nasa’i 22:281

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The best fasting after the month of Ramadan is the month of Allah, Al-Muharram, and the best prayer is prayer at night.”—Nasa’i 20:16

Note the phrasing, “Month of Allah”, which signals that God has identified Muharram as a special month.

However, later on in Muhammad’s mission fasting on Ashura became much less important, probably as he began to disagree with Jews and distance himself from Jewish practices.

The Prophet (ﷺ) observed the fast on the 10th of Muharram, and ordered (Muslims) to fast on that day, but when the fasting of the month of Ramadan was prescribed, the fasting of the “Ashura” was abandoned. `Abdullah did not used to fast on that day unless it coincided with his routine fasting by chance.—Bukhari 30:2

Fasting was observed on the day of “Ashura” by the people of the pre-lslamic period. But when (the order of compulsory fasting) in the month of Ramadan was revealed, the Prophet said, “It is up to one to fast on it (i.e. day of ‘Ashura’) or not.”—Bukhari 65:4501

Return to contents list

Other Optional Fasts in Islam

A point that’s sometimes made is to question why Ashura is the only optional fast in Islam that receives a certain degree of high notoriety and a great deal of encouragement from Muslims towards their fellow brothers and sisters to observe the fast with them, not to mention the high number of articles about Ashura written by sheikhs on popular Islamic web sites. Indeed Ashura receives even more attention than the other important day of 9th Dhū al-Ḥijjah. I hope that my article won’t add unnecessarily to this biased number of articles, and please accept my apologies if my writing doesn’t offer anything by way of useful information to you. I am trying to offer a perspective different to the ones I’ve read but it remains to be seen whether or not I can succeed at that. This may be an opportune moment to pause and reflect on the existence of other recommended fasts, including: 9th Dhū al-Ḥijjah, the white days (middle of each month), some days in Sha‘bān, the six days after Eid al-Fitr, and each Monday or Thursday. There are many ways by which we are able to praise God, and inshallah He will recognize whatever little by way of good deeds that we are able to motivate ourselves to perform.

Return to contents list

Forgiveness of Sins

Ashura is associated with forgiveness of sins, a theme shared with Yom Kippur, which literally translates as “Day of Atonement”.

He (Muhammad ﷺ) was asked about fasting on the day of Arafa (9th of Dhu Al-Hijjah), whereupon he said, “It expiates the sins of the preceding year and the coming year.” He was asked about fasting on the day of Ashura, whereupon be said, “It expiates the sins of the preceding year.”—Muslim 13:253

Naturally, Muslims’ own religious festival of Hajj is accorded a higher status than Ashura, but nonetheless the idea that Ashura is an annually recurring event where one seeks forgiveness for the sins they’ve committed during the previous year remains apparent in this narration. The message is vague but yet not incompatible with the Jewish idea that God opens the Book of Life and the Book of the Dead on Rosh Hashanah (1st Tishri/Muharram) and that a person’s fate as to which book their name will be inscribed in and whether or not they will live for another year becomes sealed at the close of Yom Kippur. Fasting for one day is required of Jewish people but it is not sufficient alone, but rather one must engage in an active process of reflecting on one’s errors, putting right what one has done wrong, seeking forgiveness (both from God and from the persons whom one has treated unfairly) and mending one’s ways so as not to make the same errors again. This period of deep introspection occurs annually but is spread over a period of 10 or even 40 days, of which Yom Kippur is the final culmination. Indeed one can see significant similarities with the purposes of Ramadan or Hajj, and so it is rather fitting that the same hadiths that mention Ashura often also mention Ramadan and Hajj.

In Islam, the date when one’s fate for the coming year is decided falls on a separate date from the opportunity offered to receive forgiveness from sins on 10th Muharram. The accounting of records and issuing of divine decrees is generally taken as occurring on Laylat al-Qadr (a night within the last third of Ramadan, according to the most common belief) or the more obscure Laylat al Bara’at (in Mid-Sha’ban) (Al-Islam.org, Leicester Islamic Centre, Muslim Matters, As-Sunnah Foundation of America)

Return to contents list

Is Ashura Antisemitic?

I’m unsure what a Muslim can usefully learn from the sentence, “The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘I am closer to Moses than they.'” For a group of refugees who travelled across the desert and brought only the resources that they could carry with them, provided for with shelter and other things by their Jewish hosts (referred to in the Qur’an as, “The helpers”), you’d think the natural response would be to express gratitude, not to start dissing the hosts’ religious piety and/or lineage. Whether this part of the saying is historically accurate or not, engaging in such one-upmanship in a modern multicultural society would clearly be inappropriate and counterproductive, and this aspect of Ashura is not part of the living ongoing tradition for most Muslims. On the contrary, it’s the one day of the year when many Muslims are proud of sharing and inheriting tradition and religious values from Jewish people, but likewise I don’t want to ignore the difficulty caused to my eye and to my soul by the presence of these words.

Return to contents list

New Year

Incidentally, Rosh Hashanah translates as, “Head of The Year”, and 1st Tishri is the Jewish New Year’s Day, and 1st Muharram is the beginning of the Islamic year. This is either coincidence or divine intervention because the Muslims didn’t attribute each year a number until the time period when Umar was Caliph, which was after Muhammad’s death, peace be upon him. Instead they described dates by way of descriptions like, “ in the year of “, and there was no need to decide when a year begun or ended, since there was never a point when the year number rolled over from one number to the next, and hence no beginning or end of a year. So long as a major noteworthy event happened at least once every 12 months then everything was fine until such a time as remembering all the significant events and their relative ordering became difficult. Because it’s the first month of a new year and represents a new beginning, 1st Muharram is an opportune moment to remember Muhammad’s migration to Medina (peace be upon him), since the Islamic year number nowadays is counted from the year of that migration. Muharram is also one of the four sacred months of the year when fighting is forbidden (a part of the pre-Islamic tribal law code that was given Allah’s permanent approval through its inclusion in the Qur’an).

Return to contents list

Jewish Origins

When the Prophet (ﷺ) arrived at Medina, he noticed that some people among the Jews used to respect Ashura and fast on it. The Prophet (ﷺ) then said, “We have more right to observe fast on this day”, and ordered that fasting should be observed on it.—Bukhari 63:167

The Prophet (ﷺ) came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He asked them about that. They replied, “This is a good day, the day on which Allah rescued Bani Israel from their enemy. So, Moses fasted this day.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “We have more claim over Moses than you.” So, the Prophet fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast.—Bukhari 30:109

Notice that this hadith, unlike the one which I opened our discussion with, doesn’t specifically mention the drowning of Pharaoh’s people. What enemy is even greater than Pharaoh? Our own propensity to commit sins, as something that’s both a universal fact of human nature but in doing so we’re accepting Satan’s temptation asking us to act in ways that bear some similarity (even if only small) to the evil ways of Pharaoh. Both are two sides of the same coin: the evil within and the evil outside. We don’t always have the ability to prevent evil committed by others but the evil within is worse because it is of our own choosing. Ashura is sad because Muslims chose to kill the grandson of their prophet (ﷺ), despite being told, “I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. The second are the members of my household. I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family” (Muslim 44:55).

Some hadith relate specifically to the nature of Ashura/Yom Kippur as a Jewish holiday.

The day of ‘Ashura’ was considered as Eid day by the Jews. So the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered, “I recommend you (Muslims) to fast on this day.”—Bukhari 30:110

Abu Musa reported that the people of Khaibar (most of them were Jews) observed fast on the day of Ashura and they treated it as Eid and gave their women ornaments and beautiful dresses to wear. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, You (only) observe fast on this day.”—Muslim 13:167

The accuracy of these observations concerning the joyousness of Yom Kippur is supported by a Jewish text (part of the Talmud).

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, “There were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur, as on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes, which each woman borrowed from another.” Why were they borrowed? They did this so as not to embarrass one who did not have her own white garments. All the garments that the women borrowed require immersion, as those who previously wore them might have been ritually impure. And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards.—Ta’anit 26b:4

Naturally one would also not wish to embarrass their sister by purposefully offering a less dazzling garment than one received in return, and thus we can conclude that the women wore their (collectively) best garments, which had been freshly washed, and the mood among the whole community was joyous, precisely as the hadiths relate. The only question is what Abu Musa means by “ornaments”, since wearing jewellery is discouraged on Yom Kippur. It could conceivably refer to the garments that cover one’s head.

For in a way that non-Jews often have difficulty appreciating, the Jewish mood on Yom Kippur has always been one of joy and good spirits, precisely because of the confidence that God has indeed forgiven our sins and we may joyfully begin life anew with a clean slate.—Eliezer Segal, Professor of Religious Studies at University of Calgary

Return to contents list

Possible Non-Jewish Origins?

“Ashura” was a day on which the tribe of Quraish used to fast in the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. The Prophet (ﷺ) also used to fast on this day. So when he migrated to Medina, he fasted on it and ordered (the Muslims) to fast on it. When the fasting of Ramadan was enjoined, it became optional for the people to fast or not to fast on the day of Ashura.—Bukhari 63:57

According to this hadith (and others like it), the origins of Ashura lie in the practices of the Meccans rather than the Jewish people of Medina (or by a generous reading, “in addition to”). I don’t know of any evidence or counter-evidence outside of these hadith that would either support or refute the claim that the Quraish fasted on Ashura, and I offer no explanation for this possible counter-evidence concerning my alignment of Ashura with Judaism. A possible aspect for further investigation perhaps?

Return to contents list

Fasting on The 9th Day Also

It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “If I live until next year, I will fast the ninth day too.”—Ibn Majah 7:1808

The story portrayed from the hadith implies that Muhammad had a second twist in his ideas, from at first stressing the importance of Ashura, to then becoming ambivalent about it, “Abdullah did not used to fast on that day unless it coincided with his routine fasting”, to finally a second reversal that involved stressing not only the importance of fasting on the 10th but of fasting on the 9th as well. Muhammad (ﷺ) a flip-flop? Surely not!?

Did he perhaps learn something new regarding it in his final year of life?

Ibn ‘Abbas reported that when the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) fasted on the day of Ashura and commanded that it should be observed as a fast, they (his companions) said to him, “Messenger of Allah, it is a day which the Jews and Christians hold in high esteem.” Thereupon the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “When the next year comes, God willing, we would observe fast on the 9th. But the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) died before the advent of the next year.”—Muslim 13:172

This text, “…and commanded…”, is somewhat in tension with the other hadith which I quoted at the beginning of this article, “When the Prophet (ﷺ) came to Medina…”, a difference between the year 1AH and and the year 9AH (or 10AH), less than a year before his death in 10AH (ﷺ). Herein lies a possible counterargument. But anyway, let us assume for present purposes that we can find a personally believable interpretation where there is no contradiction, for example such that the “commanded” here constitutes a reminder rather than the original institution to Muslims to fast on Ashura. By the way, Christian observance of Yom Kippur is uncommon but does sometimes happen, particularly within Sabbatarian churches (and, more recently, the Hebrew Roots movement).

The commonly purported reason why Muhammad (ﷺ) wanted to fast on the 9th day of Muharram in addition to the 10th is because he took a stance that Muslims should—as a matter of principle—differ their behaviour from the practice of the Jews, as a marker that the Muslims have the correct religion and the Jewish people have the wrong one. This reason seems plausible, since by the time of the last year of his life Muhammad (ﷺ) had fallen out with many of the Jews of Medina, in sharp contrast to the joyous day when he first arrived and embraced the Jewish fast. But perhaps I can offer a deeper explanation. There is certainly more to explain about my personal exploration and the joys when things suddenly “click” at strange times in the night.

Muhammad (ﷺ) may be differing from Jewish practice, not because he wishes to be against Jewishness per se, but because he has a difference of opinion on the way in which the Torah is to be interpreted, or even a non-difference of interpretation. When we look at the Bible we see that the fast of Yom Kippur actually does span both the 9th and the 10th of Tishri. There are several different chapters of the Torah where Yom Kippur is mentioned. Here’s one about the 10th.

And [all this] shall be as an eternal statute for you; in the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall not do any work neither the native nor the stranger who dwells among you. For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins. It is a Sabbath of rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves. It is an eternal statute. And the priest who is anointed or who is invested to serve in his father’s stead, shall effect atonement, and he shall don the linen garments, the holy garments; And he shall effect atonement upon the Holy of Holies, and he shall effect atonement upon the Tent of Meeting and upon the altar, and he shall effect atonement upon the priests and upon all the people of the congregation. [All] this shall be as an eternal statute for you, to effect atonement upon the children of Israel, for all their sins, once each year. And he did as the Lord had commanded Moses.—Leviticus 16:29–34

In the Jewish calendar the months are numbered counting from the month named Nisan as month number 1 but the years are counted as beginning on 1st Tishri, which is month number 7, even though Tishri occurs as the first month to proceed from New Year. There are four different new years in Jewish tradition. 1st Tishri marks civil new year, while 1st Nisan marks ecclesiastical new year.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: But on the tenth of this seventh month, it is a day of atonement, it shall be a holy occasion for you; you shall afflict yourselves, and you shall offer up a fire offering to the Lord. You shall not perform any work on that very day, for it is a day of atonement, for you to gain atonement before the Lord, your God. For any person who will not be afflicted on that very day, shall be cut off from its people. And any person who performs any work on that very day I will destroy that person from amidst its people. You shall not perform any work. [This is] an eternal statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is a complete day of rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe your rest day.Leviticus 23:26–32

And on the tenth day of this seventh month, there shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall afflict your souls. You shall not perform any work.—Numbers 29:7

So which day is the special day? The 9th or the 10th? Or both?

Is there a contradiction in the Torah here?

It is difficult to articulate sufficiently in words the sudden clarity of this “Eureka!” moment. “The ninth day too”, “On the ninth of the month in the evening”, to be different from the Jews? Codswallop! Adding the 9th makes Ashura more similar to the Torah and to Judaism!

Jewish tradition resolves the 9th vs. 10th dilemma by inaugurating a 25 hour fast, 1 hour on the 9th, and 24 hours on the 10th. In both Judaism and Islam each day begins around sunset rather than midnight. The exact definitions of when the transition from the daylight of one day into the evening of the next day occurs (night then morning) are different for Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims and Jews, but those details are irrelevant for present purposes, suffice to say that it is in each case very close to sunset. For Jews the fasting for Yom Kippur occurs from the evening of the 9th (just before the sun sets and we then go into beginning of the 10th day), through to the end of the 10th (again in the evening time, the sunset transition between the 10th and the 11th). Muhammad (ﷺ) resolved the conflict in a different way. Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av are the only “full fasts” in Judaism (25 hours). The other fasts are observed between dawn (approximately) and the onset of the evening around sunset, the same as the mechanics of fasting in Islam. Thus, the Islamic practice is to fast from dawn on the 9th through to sunset on 9th (beginning of the 10th), and then again separately for a second day between dawn on the 10th and sunset on the 10th. After all, few people would bode well trying to abstain from all food and drink for a full 48 hours, so a compromise has to be made somewhere (although the Sadducees did indeed fast for 48 hours continuously).

And Rabbi Akiva, who learns that one adds from the profane to the sacred from the verse dealing with the Sabbatical Year, what does he do with this verse: “And you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month in the evening”? The Gemara answers: He requires it for that which was taught by Ḥiyya bar Rav of Difti, as Ḥiyya bar Rav of Difti taught the following baraita: The verse states: “And you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month.” Is the fasting on the ninth? But isn’t the fasting on Yom Kippur on the tenth of Tishri? Rather, this verse comes to teach you: Whoever eats and drinks on the ninth, thereby preparing himself for the fast on the next day, the verse ascribes him credit as though he fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.—Rosh Hashanah 9a:8

So eating is the same as not eating!? This is very curious logic indeed!

Yom Kippur is a day of both celebration and trepidation. It is most difficult, and even inappropriate, to have these two moods co-exist on the same day. The Torah thus subtly declared that, in reality, Yom Kippur is a two-day festival. We celebrate on the ninth, and pray on the tenth. We celebrate precisely because G-d cares enough about us to judge us. And when Yom Kippur “ends”, we must eat–not only because we are hungry, but because it is a seudat mitzvah [commandment] to celebrate. Having experienced Yom Kippur itself, we are changed for the better. We dare not be the same on the 11th of Tishri as we were on the 10th (or 9th) of Tishri. And that is most worthy of celebration.—Rabbi Jay Kelman, Torah in Motion

What if—contrary to what is now Islamic practice—when Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “If I live until next year, I will fast the ninth day too”, he meant that he would fast from the last hour of the 9th day, as he had perhaps learned this idea from Jews, just as he had learned that the Jews were fasting when he first met them on the 10th when he entered Medina and commanded the Muslims to do likewise? We will never know, since Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not live for another year, and so the practice of Muslims fasting on the 9th was never implemented within his lifetime, but it is a tantalizing prospect, that perhaps, had events been different, things might have converged like that.

Return to contents list

Egyptians Drowned?

A reminder:

When the Prophet (ﷺ) came to Medina, he found (the Jews) fasting on the day of “Ashura” (i.e. 10th of Muharram). They used to say, “This is a great day on which Allah saved Moses and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I am closer to Moses than they.” So, he observed the fast and ordered the Muslims to fast on it.—Bukhari 60:70

What does the Bible say about the Egyptians drowning? Was 10th Tishri the anniversary of the day when the Egyptians drowned? Well, no. But also yes.

These are the journeys of the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD: and these are their journeys according to their goings out. And they departed from Ramses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; (Nisan) on the morrow after the Passover (still the 15th) the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. (Remember, Israel’s days start at sunset) For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn, which the LORD had smitten among them: upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments. And the children of Israel removed from Ramees, and pitched in Succoth. (Evening of the 15th) And they departed from Succoth, and pitched in Etham, which is in the edge of the wilderness. (Evening of 16th) And they removed from Etham, and turned again unto Pi-hahiroth, which is before Baal-zephon: and they pitched before Migdol. (Evening of the 17th)

And they departed (morning of the 17th) from before Pi-hahiroth, and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and went three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham, and pitched in Marah.—Heart of Wisdom (CN: A Christian Hebrew Roots website) citing Numbers 33:1–8

So the Israelites crossed the sea on 17th Nisan, not 10th Tishri, and the Egyptians drowned behind them, on 17th Nisan.

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split. Then the children of Israel came into the midst of the sea on dry land, and the waters were to them as a wall from their right and from their left. The Egyptians pursued and came after them all Pharaoh s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen, into the midst of the sea. It came about in the morning watch that the Lord looked down over the Egyptian camp through a pillar of fire and cloud, and He threw the Egyptian camp into confusion. And He removed the wheels of their chariots, and He led them with heaviness, and the Egyptians said, Let me run away from the Israelites because the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians Thereupon, the Lord said to Moses, Stretch out your hand over the sea, and let the water return upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and toward morning the sea returned to its strength, as the Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord stirred the Egyptians into the sea. And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, the entire force of Pharaoh coming after them into the sea; not even one of them survived.—Exodus 14:21–28

But the Fast of Ashura cannot be on 17th Nisan, since that date falls within the Feast of The Unleavened Bread, a seven day long festival when Jews are commanded to eat bread (but only flat bread!), and don’t fast.

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.—Leviticus 23:5–6

So what is meant by, “They used to say, ‘This is a great day on which Allah saved Moses and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah'”? Simple. It is a basic fact that in Judaism every holiday and every Sabbath are observed in part as, “A memorial of the Exodus from Egypt” (ReformJudaism.org). Thus, Moses did fast on Yom Kippur partly to express gratitude to God for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. But how did God, “Save Moses and drown the folk of Pharaoh” on that day of Yom Kippur on 10th Tishri when the historical event didn’t take place on 10th Tishri but on 17th Nisan?* Simple. The Book of Life and the Book of The Dead are opened at Rosh Hashannah and closed at Yom Kippur. God decided during the Tishri preceding the following Nisan that he was going to let Pharaoh’s men die on 17 Nisan and let the Israelites survive. From God’s perspective He did save Moses and drown Pharaoh’s people on Yom Kippur. But God can see and act everywhere in every place in every time in a way that humans with our limited perception of time as a linear phenomenon cannot. From the human perspective those Egyptians chasing the Israelites did not die until the following Nisan.

* If one believes that historically things literally took place in exactly the way the Bible describes, which is another debate.

Return to contents list

Other Miracles Occurring on Ashura?

A popular post which frequently circulates social media states that various other miraculous historical events also occurred on the day of Ashura. The basis of this seems to stem from Al-Biruni’s book Al-Athar al-Baqqiya ‘an al-Qorun al-Khaliyya (The Chronology of Ancient Nations) written around 1000CE.

People say that on this day God took compassion on Adam, that the ark of Noah stood still on the mountain Judi*, that Jesus was born, that Moses was saved (from Pharaoh), and Abraham (from the fire of Nebukadnezer), that the fire around him (which was to burn him) became cold. Further, on this day Jacob regained his eye-sight, Joseph was drawn out of the ditch, Solomon was invested with royal power, that punishment was taken away from the people of Jonah, Job was freed from his plague, the prayer of Zachariah was granted and John was given to him.—Al-Biruni. Al-Athar al-Baqqiya ‘an al-Qorun al-Khaliyya. English translation by C Edward Sachau. p.326

* Judi is the name of the mountain given in Qur’an 11:44. The Bible is less specific and says, “In the mountains of Ararat”, plural, i.e. the name of the mountain range was Ararat (Genesis 8:4) (More background on Mount Judi and the mountains of Ararat on Wikipedia).

At the time of writing I’ve been unable to find any hadiths concerning the dates of these events from any collections that have been analyzed for accuracy by hadith scholars. Perhaps they don’t exist, or perhaps I just didn’t look hard enough. From what we do have available it appears that historian Al-Biruni is simply narrating what people say, that is to say, hearsay that was floating around in 1000CE and 368 years after Muhammad’s death, peace be upon him, just as the same hearsay continues to be passed around on Facebook without citation of proper evidence some 1000+ years after Al-Biruni was writing. Of course, some people may say (Quranists and non-Muslims) that all of the recorded hadith are also hearsay passed around for 250+ years before being written down, but that is another matter.

As I’ve already argued above, any instance where a person dies or one where a person is miraculously saved from death can conceivably be attributed to Yom Kippur, irrespective of the date when the event historically occurred, depending on whether the person repented for their sins well, or did not repent enough. In general we can attribute most of these narrations as expressions of the power that God has over the world (whether the day is Yom Kippur/Ashura or not), ones designed to enhance to the mood regarding the importance of piety on Yom Kippur/Ashura. We can continue adding to this list of miracles ad-infinitum, right down to, “My great grandma was saved from cancer on Ashura”, which means a great deal to me personally but probably isn’t worth writing a hadith about. Most of these events however, though worthy for our mortal concern for remembrance of God’s power over us, are nonetheless not worthy of further academic study concerning the historical dates of events. It will suffice then to select a few choice examples that perhaps are worthy of further comment.

Return to contents list

Noah (ﷺ)

And the ark came to rest in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat.—Genesis 8:4

Many Christian internet sources state that the seventh month was the month of Tishri (counting in the usual way from the Nisan, taking the exodus as the starting point, even though Noah comes before the events of the exodus) or Nisan (counting seven months from Rosh Hashanah, New Year). The extraordinarily highly respected medieval rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (abbreviation Rashi) thought differently however. He uses a timeline taken from a 2nd Century CE Hebrew book, Seder Olam Rabbah. Here the meaning of, “The seventh month”, is that seven months of time had passed, not that the calendar month’s number was 7.

Event Months
Started raining Marcheshvan or Iyyar
Rained for 40 days Marcheshvan
Kislev
Ark rested in the 7th month
  1. Kislev (3 days)
  2. Tevet
  3. Shvat
  4. Adar
  5. Nisan
  6. Iyyar
  7. Sivan

Thus the ark came to rest on 17th Sivan/Ramadan (or 17th Kislev/Rabī‘ al-awwal if starting from Iyyar, following the other narration), not 10th Tishri/Muharram, so far, according to Rashi.

Al-Tabari (died 923CE) presents a slightly different chronology in his work History of the Prophets and Kings (Volume 1). These hadith are not part of the Kutub al-Sittah (the six main books) that have tested reliability. The translation is by Franz Rosenthal. I leave the appraisal or critique of the reliability of these hadith from an Islamic point of view as an exercise for the reader.

According to ‘Abbad ibn Ya’qub al-Asadi1 → Al-Muharibi → ‘Uthman ibn Matar2 → ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Ghafur3 → ‘Abd al-Ghafur → The Messenger of God: Noah boarded the ark on the first day of Rajab. He and all those with him fasted. The ark floated with them for six months—thus, until Muharram. The ark anchored upon Judi on the Ashura Day, and Noah fasted and ordered all the wild and (domestic) animals with him to fast in gratitude to God.

[1] Abbad b. Ya’qub died in 250AH/end of 864CE. See Tahdhib Vol.5 p.109.
[2] See TB Vol.11 pp.277–79; Tahdhib Vol.7 p.154.
[3] Abi Hitim, 3, 1, 55, lists an Abu al-Sabah ‘Abd al-Ghafur ibn ‘Abd al’Aziz al-Wisiti, who may have been a son of the individual mentioned here.
—p.367 (English) / p.197 (Arabic)

“Six months” here means six full months and ten days.

According to Bishr ibn Muadh → Yazid ibn Zuray’ → Sa’id ibn Abi ‘Arubah → Qatadah: It has been mentioned to us that it—meaning the boat—departed with them on the tenth of Rajab. It was in the water for 150 days and came to rest upon Judi for a month. They were brought down on the tenth of Muharram, the Ashura Day.—p.367 (English) / p.198 (Arabic)

Similarly, the “Rest upon Judi for a month”, must be meant approximately, since the five months that make up the bulk of the 150 days cannot all have had 30 days each.

What these two hadith share in common is that, unlike Rashi, they count the 40 days of rain as a part within the 150 days conveyed in the verse, “And the waters receded off the earth more and more, and the water diminished at the end of a hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 8:3), whereas Rashi adds them up separately. According to my calendar reconstruction Rajab is parallel to Nisan, which is adjacent to the month of Iyyar that Rashi suggested as a possibility for boarding the ark, but it doesn’t quite match. And there’s an obvious difference between the 17th day of the month in question as clearly stated in the oldest source (Genesis), and the 10th day of the month narrated in the Muslim sources.

Something that’s unique and special to the Islamic account of the story of Noah is the ark’s presence at the Haram mosque in Mecca, circling the Kaa’ba.

According to Al-Qasim → Al-Husayn → Hajjaj → Ibn Jurayj: The upper story of the ark was occupied by the birds, the one in the middle by the human beings, and the lowest by the wild beasts. Its height in the sky was thirty cubits. The ark took off from ‘Ayn Wardah on Friday, Rajab 10th. It anchored upon Judi on the Ashura Day. It passed by the House, which had been lifted up by God so it would not be submerged, and circumnavigated it seven times. It then went to the Yemen, and then returned.

According to Al-Qasim → Al-Husayn → Hajjaj → Abu Ja’far (`Isa ibn Mahan) al-Razi → Qatadah: When Noah went down from the ark on the tenth day of Muharram, he said to those with him: Those of you who have been fasting should complete their fast, and those of you who had been breaking the fast should fast.—p.367 (English) / p.197 (Arabic)

Return to contents list

Jonah (ﷺ)

He (Jonah) cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.—Jonah 3:4–10

It’s plausible that the 40 days mentioned here correspond with the 40 days of repentance in Jewish tradition between 1st Elul and 10th Tishri, particularly as the Book of Jonah is seen by many as at least semi-legendary rather than literal historical fact (based on clues such as the verse, “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across”, which would be a huge city even by modern standards and unlikely to exist in ancient times when the world’s total population was much lower). A variant Jonah claim also passed around on social media states that 10th Muharram is the day when Jonah was ejected from the big fish but is unsupported by the Book of Jonah, and the two events of God saving Jonah and God saving the people of Nineveh cannot have played out on the same day because Nineveh is in Northern Iraq (where Mosul is today) and some considerable distance from the sea.

There is however another reason why Jonah has a strong connection with Yom Kippur. The Book of Jonah is read aloud in the afternoon service in synagogues everywhere on Yom Kippur. The subject matter of Jonah is all about sinning against God, offering repentance for our sins and being saved by the grace of God, the very same subject matter as the day on which Jonah is read, and about which we are discussing.

Return to contents list

Moses (ﷺ) (again)

It wasn’t mentioned by Al-Biruni, but some Muslims mention that 10th Muharram is the day when Moses received the 10 Commandments. This matches Jewish tradition if we qualify the statement by saying that this day is when Moses received the second set of stone tablets with the commandments inscribed (because the first set had been smashed), and it’s only the correct day if 10th Muharram is indeed the same day as 10th Tishri and hence Yom Kippur.

And the people of Moses made in his absence, out of their ornaments, the image of a calf. It had a sound (as if it was mooing). Did they not see that it could neither speak to them nor guide them to the way? They took it for worship and they were wrongdoers.—Qur’an 7:148

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”—Exodus 32:1–2

And when Moses returned to his people, angry and grieved, he said, “What an evil thing is that which you have done during my absence. Did you hasten and go ahead as regards the matter of your Lord (you left His worship)?” And he threw down the tablets and seized his brother by his head and dragged him towards him. Aaron said, “O’ son of my mother! Indeed the people judged me weak and were about to kill me, so make not the enemies rejoice over me, nor put me amongst the people who are wrongdoers.”—Qur’an 7:150

As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.—Exodus 32:19–20

The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke.”—Exodus 34:1

The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.—Exodus 34:27–28

And when the anger of Moses was appeased he took up the tablets, and in their inscription was guidance and mercy for those who fear their Lord.—Qur’an 7:154

Moses’ fast for 40 days as an act of repentance is the origin of the 40 day period from 1st Elul to 10th Tishri as a time for reflection and repentance. The dates are obtained by counting 120 days in total as the bulk of the time (with a few intermediary days): 40 days for Moses to write on the tablets the second time, 40 for him to write them the first time, and 40 more days in between of praying to the Lord pleading not to be destroyed (Deuteronomy 9–10, Rashi). The first giving of the Torah occurs on Shavuot, 6th Sivan, so 120 days is approximately 4 months: Sivan, Tammuz, Av and Elul, bringing us to approximately 6th Tishri, or more accurately 10th Tishri.

Return to contents list

Rabī‘ al-awwal or Muharram?

Many people will say, “But the Hijrah [migration to Medina] occurred in the month of Rabī‘ al-awwal, not Muharram.” Some commonly quoted dates are copied below.

Day Julian and Islamic dates
by F. A. Shamsi[1]
Julian and Islamic dates
by Fazlur Rehman Shaikh[2]
Events
Day 1
Thursday
9 September 622
26 Safar AH 1
17 June 622
1 Rabi’ al-Awwal AH 1
Conference of the Quraysh leaders and Muhammad’s departure from Mecca
Day 5
Monday
13 September
1 Rabi’ al-Awwal
21 June
5 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Departure from the Cave of Thawr
Day 12
Monday
20 September
8 Rabi’ al-Awwal
28 June
12 Rabi’ al-Awwal
arrival in Quba’
Day 16
Friday
24 September
12 Rabi’ al-Awwal
2 July
16 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Entry into Yathrib (Medina)
Day 26
Monday
4 October
22 Rabi’ al-Awwal
Finally settles in Medina

[1] F. A. Shamsi. The Date of Hijrah. Islamic Studies 23(3). Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University. 1984. pp.189-224.
[2] Fazlur Rehman Shaikh. Chronology of Prophetic Events. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd. 2001. pp.51–52.
Source (of this table): wikipedia

The date of 20th September 622CE, when Shamsi places Muhammad (ﷺ) at Quba’, only 3.5km from the Masjid an Nabawi in Medina corresponds to 10th Tishri in the Hebrew calendar (Date Calculator Tool). Quba’ is so close to Medina that we can hypothesize that perhaps there were Jews living in Quba’ too. And after such a long journey across the desert, “Medina” might suffice to serve as a description of the general area for someone narrating the story years later, even if what is specifically meant in the hadith is that Muhammad (ﷺ) had arrived in Quba’ on this date, in the general vicinity of Medina and the community all around that area, rather than that he arrived at a precise location inside the main city itself. Similarly, today (as a Northerner) when I’m travelling I can say that I’ve arrived in London, even if I’m actually in Watford. However, in passing I also note that Al-Biruni’s chronology fits even better with regards to the date and the location.

Al-Biruni makes the date of the arrival at Medina to be Monday the eighth day of Rabī‘ al-awwal—Sherrard Beaumont Burnaby, Elements of the Jewish and Muhammadan calendars

But why fast on 10th Muharram instead of fasting in Rabī‘ al-awwal?

In the Roman calendar, every 4 years there is a leap year and an extra day, 29th February, is added to the calendar which is not present in ordinary years. In the Jewish calendar, every 2–3 years there is a leap year and an extra month named Adar II is added.

Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so was it ordained by Allah on the day when He created the heavens and the earth. Of them four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein, and fight against the Mushrikun collectively, as they fight against you collectively. But know that Allah is with those who are pious. The postponing (of a sacred month) is indeed an addition to disbelief, thereby the disbelievers are led astray, for they make it lawful one year and forbid it another year in order to adjust the number of months forbidden by Allah, and make such forbidden ones lawful. The evil of their deeds seems pleasing to them. And Allah guides not the people, who disbelieve.—Qur’an 9:36–37

The first discourse (verses 1–37), was revealed in Dhū al-Qa‘dah 9AH or thereabouts. As the importance of the subject of the discourse required its declaration on the occasion of Hajj the Holy Prophet dispatched Hadrat Ali to follow Hadrat Abu Bakr, who had already left for Mecca as leader of the Pilgrims to the Ka’abah. He instructed Hadrat Ali to deliver the discourse before the representatives of the different clans of Arabia so as to inform them of the new policy towards the mushriks.—Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, introduction to At-Tawbah (Sura 9)

Muhammad is also said to have recited verse 9:36 during his own Hajj in 10AH.—Abu Dawud 11:227

This has been mentioned to refute the practice of nasi (Ayat 37) whereby the pagan Arabs increased the number of the months of a year to 13 or 14 to enable them to interpose in the calendar the forbidden month which had been made lawful by them.—Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, commentary on 9:36

The pagan Arabs practiced nasi in two ways. Whenever it suited them, they would declare a prohibited month to be an ordinary month in which fighting, robbery and murder in retaliation were lawful for them. Then they would declare an ordinary month to be a prohibited month instead of this month in order to make up for the deficiency caused in the number of the prohibited months.

The other way of nasi was the addition of a month in order to harmonize the lunar with the solar year so that the Hajj should always fall in the same season and they should be saved from the bother and inconvenience that are experienced by its observance according to the lunar year.—Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, commentary on 9:37

Thus, those Arabs who were not Jews were nonetheless quite familiar with the practice of leap years and they used a calendar (at least for some purposes) that contained leap years up until 9 or 10AH when the Qur’an banned leap months (partly) because of the need to discourage treachery and deceit, since unlike under the Jewish system, which years were to be leap years was not a fact that was predetermined in advance. Since the underlying objective of the pagan leap years was nonetheless like that of the Adar II of the Jews, that is, to periodically bring the lunar calendar back into alignment with the solar one, then we can deduce that between 2 and 4 leap years were implemented between 1AH and 9AH, enough so that the months didn’t drift “too much” out of their appointed seasons, from autumn into summer, etc. Thus, according to the modern Islamic calendar, which does not contain any leap years, counting backwards so many years and so many months from the time when Umar established the calendar and decided what “today’s date” was, the date of the Hijrah is indeed Rabī‘ al-awwal 1AH. To be precise, there must have been exactly two leap years in order to account for the two month difference between Muharram and Rabī‘ al-awwal. But on the day in which fasts actually occurred between 1AH and 9AH, at they time they would have labelled these days as 10th Muharram.

Interestingly, verses 9:36–37 immediately follow after several verses that criticize Jews and Christians for other things, and of course Jews also practiced the leap month concept (albeit in a more disciplined way), so it is not only the practices of the pagans that are at stake here.

If you remain unconvinced by the leap years argument then an alternative explanation that one might also care to suggest instead is that perhaps the wording, “When the Prophet (ﷺ) came to Medina”, or, “Arrived at Medina”, does not literally mean the very same day that he arrived at Medina. Rather, perhaps it is intended refer more generally to the era or general time frame just after Muhammad (ﷺ) made the move to Medina, for example anytime within the first year of his residence. Since I am not an Arabic speaker I cannot comment on the plausibility (or implausibility) of this idea, whether this reading which would be valid in English also holds true as a possibility (or not) in Arabic.

Return to contents list

Are the Hadith Narrators Reliable?

I’ve not yet had opportunity to analyze this aspect in any detail, but I will leave here a quote as a possible starting point for further explorations.

Ibn Abas was four years old when the prophet arrived in Medina and the hadith was mentioned. Ibn Abas was born three years before Hijra. If we assume that he was with the prophet at Hijra and Ibn Abas heard every single bit of the narration, he would have been four years at that time. According to many scholars of hadith, a four year old child is not exactly the most reliable resource.

Abu Musa al Ashari came from the tribe of Ashar in Yemen. He converted to Islam before Hijra and since that day till Khabar, he was no where to be seen. This is because the prophet sent him back to Yemen to spread the religion of Islam and consequently he could not have been with the prophet in the 1st year of Hijra since he was in Yemen. The first glimpse anyone had of Abu Musa was after Khaibar.

Abu Hurraira converted to Islam in his early years and was only seen in Medina after Khaibar which occurred in the 7th year of Hijra. Now, if you weren’t even at the event, then how can you narrate what happened?

Muawiya converted to Islam in the 8th year of Hijra which is seven years after the mentioning of the hadith relating to the fast of Ashura. Thus, can you label Muawiya as being a reliable source?

Further examination of the narrators broadens our understanding of the validity of the above hadith: Abu Hurraira was made the governor of Bahrian by Omar al khatab in the 21st year of Hijra. In the 23rd year of Hijra, Omar discovers that Abu Hurraira was gaining an income through the narration of ahadith. Omar said to him: “When I let you go to Bahrain, you didn’t even have shoes on your feet and now in Bahrian, you are buying horses for 1600 dinars each and I hear that you are narrating ahadith and making an income from it”.

This incident emphasizes that the narration of Ahadith became a profession after the death of the holy prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Can we possibly accept a narration from a person like Abu Hurraira? How can we accept the hadith as being valid if the narrators weren’t even present at the incidence?—Ahlulbayt Community of Western Australia

Return to contents list

Why?

Why did Muhammad (ﷺ) command the Muslims to fast when he saw the Jews fasting in Medina? Aren’t we used to the religion of Islam being determined by Allah’s direct communication with Muhammad (ﷺ), with the Angel Gabriel as the only intermediary? The idea of Muhammad (ﷺ) as a traveller who went around observing the habits of various Jewish and Christian people whom he regarded as pious and copying those practices into his new religion of Islam based on a process of learning from the world down here on earth just as much as he did from the world up there in heaven, seems a rather complementary notion. Yet it is one that has been discussed by Jewish and Christian orientalists for the past two centuries. Regardless of one’s religion or whether one believes that the Qur’an is the direct word of God or merely some elaborate poetry riffing off of ideas in the Bible, the intellectual and spiritual journey around my learning about the connections between Ashura and Yom Kippur, and between the two calendars, these things bring me to an interesting place where each holy book sometimes occasionally affirms the truth of the other one. If one is open to the idea that Jews and Muslims share many common beliefs then one suddenly starts seeing similarities everywhere, in verses spread all over the Qur’an. One can develop a love for reading the Book of Exodus with equal sincerity and with as much heart as one loves to imagine Muhammad’s (ﷺ) Qur’anic recitations referring to the Torah as a high moral example from which Allah loves to draw out examples with which to teach gentiles through his poetry. And having been raised in a predominantly Christian country with a Christian education system one becomes spontaneously joyfully lost among the pages of hitherto unknown books of Talmud and Midrash, researching Jewish teachings that also appear in the Qur’an, and I even became willfully engaged in the words of the machzor (Jewish prayer book) repenting on Yom Kippur, a previously unheard of religious holiday to me 2 years ago.

Return to contents list

So… Is the Fast of Ashura Legit?

I’m not a qualified Islamic scholar. Nor do I possess the influence to overturn such an established tradition. I’ve not even completely exhausted all of the possible avenues of my own investigation. I have however drawn attention to a combination of some strengths and some weaknesses concerning the argument over whether there was such a fast originally in Islam or not. I am left with one final thought. Perhaps it is better to split the question into two separate questions, or rather two groups of questions.

  1. Did Muhammad (ﷺ) arrive in Medina on a Jewish fast day? I’d group this question along with other questions about historical matters and Muslims’ accounts recording Jews practicing their religion or speaking about it and the qualities of inter-community relations at different points in early Muslim history, etc.
  2. Did Muhammad (ﷺ) instruct the Muslims to fast as well? I’d group this with other sharia questions such as whether this day should remain an important fast day today.

Return to contents list

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s