The Month of Muharram

The Hijri Calendar

The Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar. It contains 12 months that are based on the motion of the moon. Each month of the Hijri Calendar is either 29 days or 30 days. The Hijri Calendar was introduced by the second rightly guided Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab.

Years of the Hijri Calendar are counted since the Hijra, the migration of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD.  

 The names of the 12 months that comprise the Hijri year are:

1.      Muharram

7.  Rajab

2.      Safar

8. Sha’ban

3.      Rabi’ al-Awwal

9.  Ramadan

4.      Rabi’ al-Thani

10.  Shawwal

5.      Jumada al-Awwal

11.  Thu al-Ki’da

6.      Jumada al-Thani

12.  Thul al-Hijja

The starting of each month is based on the sighting of the moon. Although the dates and times of the new moons are calculated precisely, the actual visibility of the crescent is much more difficult to predict. It depends on factors such as weather and the location of the observer. It is therefore very difficult to give accurate information in advance about when a new month will start based on crescent sighting.

Furthermore, some Muslims depend on a local sighting of the moon, whereas others depend on a sighting by authorities in other places in the globe. Moreover, other Muslims do not rely on the sighting of the new moon to start the new month. Instead they depend on astronomical calculation. All are valid Islamic practices, but they may lead to different starting days for the months.

The significance of Muharram

There are four sacred months in the Islamic Hijri Calendar; Muharram, Rajab, Thu al-Ki’da and Thu al-Hijja. The Prophet Mohammed said: “The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: three are in succession Thu al-Ki’da and Thu al-Hijja and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab. During a sacred month the reward of the righteous deeds are multiplied.

The month of Muharram is the first month of the Hijri Calendar. It is the month with which the Islamic year starts. We are recommended to fast during the month of Muharram because the fasting during this month is more rewarding than the fasting during any other month of the year after Ramadan.

The best month for observing Saum (fasting) next to Ramadan is the month of Allah, the Muharram.” [Hadith reported by Muslim]

Al-Qurtubi pointed out that fasting is light, and the one who starts his new year with fasting will be blessed with light for the rest of the year.

There is no specific number of days required to be fasted during the month of Muharram, we should fast as much as we can. The days of fasting could be in a row or not. However, one should not fast Friday by itself unless accompanied with one day before or after.

“None of you should fast on Friday unless he fasts (it together with) a day before it or a day after it.” [Agreed upon]     

The Day of Ashoura

The 10th of Muharram is called Ashoura. We are highly recommended to fast on the day of Ashoura. The reward of fasting Ashoura is stated in the following Hadith:

It [the fasting of the day of Ashoura] is an expiation for the sins of the preceding year.” [Hadith Reported by Muslim]     

Moreover it is recommended to fast the 9th of Muharram beside the 10th. The Prophet said:

If I remain alive till next year, I shall fast on the ninth (of Muharram in addition to the day of Ashoura) [Hadith Reported by Muslim]

The fasting of the Prophet on the day of Ashoura went into four different states. Firstly, the Prophet (s) used to fast this day while he was in Mecca. Secondly, when He migrated to Medina, he found the Jews observing fasting on that day. The Prophet (S) stressed the fasting on that day by commanding the Muslim community to fast. This action was taken by The Prophet (S) as an attempt to build a good relationship with the people of the book so they may accept Islam. Thirdly, when Ramadan was prescribed, Muslims had the choice to fast or not to fast the day of Ashoura. Finally, the Prophet (s) aimed at fasting the ninth and the 10th of Muharram in order to oppose the Jews and be different from them as a result of their denial of his Prophethood.  

The day of Ashoura is a blessed day because of the blessed events that occurred on that day. It is reported on the authentic hadith that Allah saved prophet Musa (Moses) and his people and drowned Pharaoh and his people on the day of Ashoura. It is also reported (but not in an authentic source) that Allah accepted the repentance of Adam and Eve.

Allah knows best.