The Truth about Fasting Ashura
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious Most Merciful…
Fasting Ashura is an act of worship that predates Islam. In order to silence those that attempt to spread doubts upon the validity of this act, we have collected a number of narrations from the companions of the Prophet peace be upon that establish that fasting Ashura was his Sunnah. We have also included under these narrations the answers to some frequently added questions.
Narrations About Fasting of Ashura
1- Abdullah bin Omar:
“The Prophet peace be upon him used to fast Ashura and order the fasting of it until Ramadhan became obligatory, then he left it.”
“Quraish were used to fasting Ashura in pre-Islamic times. The Messenger peace be upon him ordered to fast it until Ramadhan became mandatory (to fast). The Messenger peace be upon him then said: Whoever wishes may fast, and whoever wishes may eat.”
3- Salama bin Al-Akwa’:
“The Prophet peace be upon him sent someone to the people on Ashura to tell them that those that ate should continue eating and those that didn’t should not eat.”
4- Al-Rabee’ bin Mu’awath:
“The Prophet peace be upon him sent a message to the towns of the Ansar on Ashura that whosoever woke up and ate should continue eating, and whosoever woke up fasting should continue to fast.”
5- Mu’awiyah bin Abi Sufyan:
“The Messenger peace be upon him said: This is the day of Ashura, and it is not mandatory to fast it, but I will fast it, and whoever wants to fast it may fast it, and whoever wants to eat may eat.”
6- Ibn Abbas:
“The Prophet peace be upon him came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting Ashura. He said: What is this? They said: This is a good day, one in which Allah saved the people of Isra’eel from their enemy, so Musa fasted it. He (the Prophet) said: Musa is more to me than to you. He then fasted it and ordered the fasting of it.”
7- Abu Musa:
“Ashura was a holiday amongst the Jews. The Prophet peace be upon him said (to us): Fast it.”
8- Ibn Mas’ud:
“It was a day that used to be fasted before Ramadhan.”
9- Jabir bin Samura:
“The Messenger used to order and promote fasting Ashura, but when Ramadhan become obligatory, he did not order us or prevent us (from fasting it).”
10- Mohammad bin Sayfi:
“The Messenger peace be upon him said on Ashura: Did anyone eat today? They said: Some did and some didn’t. He said: Then continue doing what you did.”
11- Qais bin Sa’ad bin U’bada:
“We were fasting Ashura and paying an alms of fitr, but when Ramadhan was revealed and the alms was revealed, we were no longer ordered to nor prevented from it, and we used to do it (fast).”
Readers need to be aware, that we have only chosen to quote the authentic traditions from the six books. There are other narrations from other books, like Musnad Ahmad and Al-Tabarani, in which Ashura has been fasted through the narrations of companions like: Ali, Abu Huraira, Hind bin Usama, Abdullah bin Al-Zubair, Abu Qatada Al-Ansari, Abdullah Abu Ba’ja, Asma’ bin Haritha, Khabbab bin Al-Arat, Zahir Abu Majza’a, Ma’bad Al-Qurashi, and Hafsa.
This being said, it is authentically established from multiple companions, through all major books of hadith, that fasting Ashura was practiced by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Eleven of those companions narrated it in the six books, while from Musnad Ahmad and Mu’jam Al-Tabarani, one finds an additional eleven companions.
Fasting Ashura in Shia Hadiths
A surprising fact is that Al-Tusi in Tahtheeb Al-Ahkam has included eight narrations in his book about the fasting Ashura in the chapter of types of fasts. Four of the narrations are for the fasting of Ashura, while the other four are against it.
Ironically, the fourth narration about Ashura specifically states, from the narration of Al-Baqir:
“This is the day in which Allah drowned the Pharaoh and those with him, saved the people of Isra’eel, and gave victory to Musa over the Pharoah.” Al-Tahtheeb 4/960.
This fits the narrative of Ibn Abbas above from the Sunni traditions.
Another interesting narration from Tahtheeb Al-Ahkam 4/980 is one in which Al-Sadiq narrated that even “beasts were fasting Ashura during the time of Dawud.”
Objectively speaking, Al-Majlisi actually weakened all the hadiths in this chapter in his book Malath Al-Akhyar 7/116-118 due to the weakness of the chains, with the exception of one hadith, which is the twelfth in the chapter, which he authenticated. The narration simply states:
“The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him and his progeny fasted the day of Ashura.”
Al-Majlisi I also authenticates another narration his exegesis of Man La Yahtharhu Al-Faqeeh, Rawdhat Al-Mutaqeen 4/313. The narration from Mohammad bin Muslim and Zurarah states that Al-Baqir told them about fasting Ashura that, “it was fasted before Ramadhan, but after Ramadhan was made obligatory it was left.”
This too confirms with the Sunni teaching that fasting Ashura was obligatory for a period of time.
Were Jews Fasting Ashura?
From the authentic narrations provided above, there are two narrations that suggest that fasting Ashura was once practiced by the Jews. Ibn Abbas’ narration suggests that this was a day in which Allah has rescued the people of Isra’eel, while Abu Musa simply mentions that this was a holiday according for the Jews. In light of this, it is unreasonable to reject the other twenty narrations simply due to the fact that two of them appear problematic… are they really all that problematic though?
According to some contemporary Shia apologists like Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi, skepticism was shown towards these two narrations, since according to some calculations of the Hebrew and Islamic calendars, the Day of Atonement, which is fasted by Jews, does not coincide with Ashura.
However, Shibli Zaman argued using Jewish sources that Muharram in 622CE was the month of Av in the Jewish calendar. The 10th of Muharram was the 9th of Av, a holiday known to Jews as Tish`a b’Av (תִּשֽׁעָ בְּאָב), which was a day in which fasting was also observed. He then quotes the historical background behind the fast, which speaks of a day in which Allah saved the people of Isra’eel from the decree that 15,000 of them would die each year.
Even though this is not in line with the interpretation provided by Ibn Abbas, who was not in Madinah during the fast, may have erred. Another possibility is that this error is from a student of his. However, this narration is corroborated by Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari that the Jews did in fact fast that day, as well as the fact that the day coincides with an actual day of fasting that is observed by the Jews.
To arrive at this conclusion though, Zaman suggests converting the Hijri calendar to a Gregorian one, while doing the same with a Hebrew calendar.
A much more direct approach was to simply count the months back in reverse while keeping in mind the leap years for according to the Jewish concept of intercalation, an extra month is added in every nineteen year cycle. The 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, and 19th years are considered leap years.
We have attached a copy of that little piece of research to the bottom* of the article for those that want to double-check our claims.
As for the claims that Arabs used to copy the Jews in their intercalations, we find Ibn Katheer himself, denying that they ever occurred. He refers to early authorities from the tabi’een to prove his position as to what is meant by the term nasee’ (intercalation). See Tafseer Ibn Katheer 4/161-164.
…and praise be to Allah the Most Gracious Most Merciful.
*View/Download (Excel file .xlsx)
See this article for more on Ashura and Karbala.