The Month of Muharram and The Virtue of Fasting in It

The Month of Muharram and The Virtue of Fasting in It 

Author: Said Yai Ardiansyah, Lc., M.A.


عَنْ أَبِى هُرَيْرَةَ – رضى الله عنه – قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم-: ((أَفْضَلُ الصِّيَامِ بَعْدَ رَمَضَانَ شَهْرُ اللَّهِ الْمُحَرَّمُ, وَأَفْضَلُ الصَّلاَةِ بَعْدَ الْفَرِيضَةِ صَلاَةُ اللَّيْلِ)).

It is narrated from Abu Huraira -may Allaah be pleased with him- that he said that the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- said, “The best of fasting after Ramadhan fast is the fasting in Allaah’s month, Al-Muharram. And the best prayer after the compulsory prayers is the night prayer.” 

Narrators of Hadith 

It is narrated by Imam Muslim in hadith no. 1163/2755, Imam Abu Daud no. 2431, Imam An-Nasai no. 1613, Imam At-Tirmidhi, no. 438, and others. It is a valid hadith. 

Lessons from the Hadith 

Among the lessons that is contained in this hadith are: 

  1. The Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- named the month of Muharram as Syahrullaah (the month of Allaah) 
  2. The best of fasting is the Ramadan fast, because it is compulsory fast. Likewise, the compulsory prayers are better in virtues than the voluntary prayers. 
  3. Fasting during the month of Muharram is the best among voluntary fast in other months. However, it doesn’t mean that certain days like the day of ‘Arafa (the 9th of Dzul-hijja), six days of Syawwal, Monday and Thursday, and others do not have its distinctive virtue if someone fast on those days. 
  4. The best among voluntary prayers is the night prayer. Therefore, some scholars stated that performing voluntary prayer during night time is better than performing it during the day. 

The Month of Muharram  (الْمُحَرَّم)

Month Muharram is the first month in the Hijra calendar. Prophet Muhammad -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- named this month as Syahrullah (the month of Allaah). Therefore, this month indeed possesses a great virtue.

In the past, before Prophet Muhammad -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- was sent, this month wasn’t named Muharram, rather, it was called month Shafar Al-Awwal, whereas month Shafar was called Shafar Ats-Tsani. After the dawn of Islam, this month was subsequently named Al-Muharram [1]. 

In Arabic language, Al-Muharram means, “the forbidden time”. It means that it is forbidden for us to violate ourselves and commit sin. Allaah the Glorified and Exalted decreed, 

{ إِنَّ عِدَّةَ الشُّهُورِ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْراً فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ذَلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ فَلا تَظْلِمُوا فِيهِنَّ أَنْفُسَكُمْ }

“Surely the reckoning of months, in the sight of Allah, is twelve months, laid down in Allah’s decree on the day when He created the heavens and the earth; and out of these months four are sacred.  That is the true ordainment. Do not, therefore, wrong yourselves, with respect to these months. And fight all together against those who associate others with Allah in His Divinity in the manner that they fight against you all together, and know well that Allah is with the God-fearing.” (Chapter At Tawba/The Repentance:36) 

It is narrated from Abu Bakra -may Allaah be pleased with him- that the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- said, 

((… السَّنَةُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ثَلاَثَةٌ مُتَوَالِيَاتٌ ذُو الْقَعْدَةِ وَذُو الْحِجَّةِ وَالْمُحَرَّمُ وَرَجَبُ مُضَرَ الَّذِي بَيْنَ جُمَادَى وَشَعْبَان.))

“A year consists of twelve months, among them are four sacred months, three of which are in order; Dzul-Qa’da, Dzul-Hijja and Al-Muharram, as well as Rajab Mudhar, which is between the month of Jumada and Sha’ban.” [2] 

In chapter At Tawba above, Allaah the Glorified and Exalted decreed, 

{ فَلا تَظْلِمُوا فِيهِنَّ أَنْفُسَكُمْ }

“Do not, therefore, wrong yourselves,” since the impact of committing sin during these sacred months is more harmful compared to other months. Qatada -may Allaah have mercy on him- once said, 

“Indeed, commiting wrongdoing during the sacred months are worse in terms of misdeed and sin compared to committing it during other than those months. Even though it is grave to commit wrongdoing in any situation, however, Allaah has created certain things to be greater according to His wish.” [3] 

Ibn ‘Abbas -may Allaah be pleased with them both- said, 

(…فَجَعَلَهُنَّ حُرُماً وَعَظَّمَ حُرُمَاتِهِنَّ وَجَعَلَ الذَّنْبَ فِيْهِنَّ أَعْظَمُ، وَالْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ وَاْلأَجْرُ أَعْظَمُ.)

“…. Then Allaah made those as sacred months, increased things that are forbidden in it and weighed the sins heavier in it, as well as making the pious deeds and its rewards greater in it as well.”[4] 

Is Battle Unlawful during the Sacred Months? 

The scholars have different opinions regarding this matter. Majority of them considered that the prohibition of going into battle during these months has been omitted (naskh), because Allaah the Glorified and Exalted declared, 

{ فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الأشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ }

“But when the sacred months expire  slay those who associate others with Allah in His Divinity wherever you find them; “ (Chapter At Tawb/The Repentance: 5) 

Some scholars said that the prohibition to go to battlefield during those months are still valid until now and not omitted. Some others said that it is unlawful to incite war during those months, but it is allowed if it is started before the sacred months and continue until those months. 

It seems that the strongest opinion is the opinion of majority of the scholars, because the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- fought against the residents of Thaif during month Dzul-Qa’dah, on the battle of Hunain. [5] 

The Virtue of Fasting On Month Muharram 

The hadith above indicates that it is suggested for one to fast a whole month during Muharram, or in majority of its days. If that is the case, then why didn’t the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- fast in it as many as his fast on the month of Sha’ban? The scholars explained that it is highly likely that the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- didn’t know of that virtue of month Muharram except near the end of his life, or because during that time, the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- had many excuses, such as traveling, sick, and so on. 

The Virtue of Fasting on the Day of ‘Ashura (the 10th of Muharram) 

In Muharram, fasting on the day of ‘Ashura, i.e., the 10th of Muharram is strongly recommended, because the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- said, 

((…وَصِيَامُ يَوْمِ عَاشُورَاءَ أَحْتَسِبُ عَلَى اللَّهِ أَنْ يُكَفِّرَ السَّنَةَ الَّتِي قَبْلَهُ.))

“… And the fast on the day of ‘Ashura, I wish that Allaah will erase (the sins committed in) the past year.” [6] 

In fact, the fast of ‘Ashura is a kind of fast that had been recognized by the Quraish before the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- was sent to them. They also performed fast during that day. ‘Aisha -may Allaah be pleased with her- said, 

كَانَ يَوْمُ عَاشُورَاءَ تَصُومُهُ قُرَيْشٌ فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ ، وَكَانَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَصُومُهُ فَلَمَّا قَدِمَ الْمَدِينَةَ صَامَهُ وَأَمَرَ بِصِيَامِهِ فَلَمَّا فُرِضَ رَمَضَانُ تَرَكَ يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ فَمَنْ شَاءَ صَامَهُ ، وَمَنْ شَاءَ تَرَكَه.)

“In the past, during the time of ignorance, the Quraish performed fast on the day of ‘Ashura. The Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- fast as well. When he emigrated to Medina, he performed fast on it and ordered people to fast. When the Ramadan fast was made compulsory, he abandoned the ‘Ashura fast. Whoever wished may fast, and whoever did not, may abandon it. “[7] 

The Virtue of Fasting One Day Before ‘Ashura 

Aside from fasting on the day of ‘Ashura, it is suggested to fast on the 9th of Muharram. It is because the Prophet -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- once wished that supposed he still live the next year, he will fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram. However, the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- passed away on that year. 

عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بْنَ عَبَّاسٍ – رضى الله عنهما – يَقُولُ: حِينَ صَامَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم- يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ وَأَمَرَ بِصِيَامِهِ, قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ يَوْمٌ تُعَظِّمُهُ الْيَهُودُ وَالنَّصَارَى. فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم-: (( فَإِذَا كَانَ الْعَامُ الْمُقْبِلُ – إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ – صُمْنَا الْيَوْمَ التَّاسِعَ.)) قَالَ: فَلَمْ يَأْتِ الْعَامُ الْمُقْبِلُ حَتَّى تُوُفِّىَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم-.

It is narrated from Abdullaah Ibn ‘Abbas -may Allaah be pleased with them both- that he said, “When the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- fast on the day of ‘Ashura and ordered people to fast, his companions said, “O messenger of Allaah! Indeed, today is the day that is honored by the jews and the christians.’ The Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- then said, “next year, by Allaah’s permission, we will fast on the 9th (of Muharram).’ Before the next year arrived, the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him – had passed away.” [8] 

Some scholars said that it is also suggested to fast on the day after, i.e., the 11th of Muharram. Some of them argued that the basis of their statement is a hadith from Ibnu ‘Abbas below, 

(( صُومُوا يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ وَخَالِفُوا فِيهِ الْيَهُودَ ، صُومُوا قَبْلَهُ يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْدَهُ يَوْمًا.))

“Fast on the day of ‘Ashura, and be different from the Jews. Fast on the day before and the day after.” [9] 

However, this hadith is weak in regards of its chain of narration. 

But even if the hadith above is weak, it doesn’t mean that it is not allowed for one who wishes to fast on the 11th of Muharram. It is certainly allowed to fast on that day, since fasting on 11th of Muharram is included in fasting during the month of Muharram, and it is suggested to do so. 

Some scholars also reasoned that if a person fasts on the 9th and 11th of Muharram, it can vanish any doubt regarding whether or not his fast is on the day of ‘Ashura (10th of Muharram) , because it is possible that there is an error in determination of the beginning of the month. It is all the more important today, when many people depends on astronomy in determining the beginning of the month, except on Ramadan, Shawwal, and Dzul-Hijja. 

Degrees of ‘Ashura Fast According to the Experts in Fiqh 

The scholars have decided on several degrees in fasting on the day of ‘Ashura: 

First degree, Fast on the 9th, 10th, and 11th of Muharram. 

Second degree, fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram. 

Third degree, fast on the 10th and 11th of Muharram. 

Fourth degree, fast only on the 10th of Muharram. 

Some scholars stated that it is detested to fast only on the 10th of Muharram, because this act resembles the jews. Among the scholars who issued this statement were Ibn ‘Abbas, Imam Ahmad and some scholars from the school of Abu Hanifa. 

However, and Allaah knows best, the more correct opinion is that it is alright if a person only fast on the 10th of Muharram, because that was what the Messenger of Allaah did during his life. 

Shall We Rejoice or Grieve on the Day of ‘Ashura? 

On this day, the muslims perform voluntary fast. But there are some people who  commemorate this day with grieving and mourning, whereas others commemorate it by rejoicing and feasting. 

Both grieving and rejoicing are incorrect. People who commemorate ‘Ashura by grieving are those who resemble the Shia, who observe the day of death of Husain Ibn ‘Ali Ibn Abi Thalib, the grandson of Allaah’s messenger -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him-. Husain -may Allaah be pleased with him- was killed at Karbala’, by people who claimed as his supporters. Then the Shia observe the day as the day of regret and mourning over the death of Husain. 

In Iran, the center of Shia propagation, it is a normal view to see men afflict wound on their heads using knives until they bleed, and women hurt their backs with sharp objects. 

Likewise, it is a normal scene for them to cry and hit their faces, as a symbol of their grieves over the murder of Husain -may Allaah be pleased with him-. 

Whereas the Messenger of Allaah -peace and prayer of Allaah be upon him- once said, 

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ -صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ-: (( لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ لَطَمَ الْخُدُودَ وَشَقَّ الْجُيُوبَ وَدَعَا بِدَعْوَى الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ.))

“It is not from my followers, those who slap their cheeks, rip their clothes, and scream like the people of ignorance.” [10] 

To think it carefully, why wouldn’t they do the same on the day of ‘Ali Ibn Abi Thalib’s death, while he was also murdered? 

On the other side, there are people who observe the day by rejoicing. They cook and prepare foods in excess, spending more money and celebrate it as if it is ‘eid-al-Fithr. 

They reason with a weak hadith, 

(( مَنْ وَسَّعَ عَلَى عِيَالِهِ يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ لَمْ يَزَلْ فِي سَعَةٍ سَائِرَ سَنَتِهِ.))

“Whoever spends leisurely on his family on the of ‘Ashura, Allaah will spend leisurely on him on the rest of that year.” [11] 

It is important to know that celebrating the day of ‘Ashura with feast and the like resembles the Jews. They rejoice on that day and appoint it as their ‘eid. 

These are some discussions regarding the month of Muharram and the virtue of fasting in it. May we be able to commence this new year of Islam with obedience and piety. And may this article benefit us all. Amin. 


Ad-Dibaj ‘Ala Muslim. Jalaluddin As-Suyuthi.

Al-Minhaj Syarh Shahih Muslim bin Al-Hajjaj. Imam An-Nawawi.

Fiqhussunnah. Sayyid Sabiq.

Risalah fi Ahadits Syahrillah Al-Muharram. ‘Abdullah Ibn Shalih Al-Fauzan.

Tuhfatul-Ahwadzi. Muhammad ‘Abdurrahman Al-Mubarakfuri.

Books of hadith and tafseer cited on the footnotes, and other references which mostly has been cited on the footnotes. 

[1] Refer to an explanation by As-Suyuthi in “Ad-Dibaj ‘ala Muslim” about the hadith above. 

[2] Narrated by Al-Bukhari no. 3197 and Muslim no. 1679/4383.

[3] Tafseer ibn Abi hatim VI/1793.

[4] Tafseer Ibn Abi Hatim VI/1791.

[5] Refer to Tafsir Al-Karim Ar-Rahman, page. 218, on tafseer chapter Al-Maidah: 2.

[6] Narrated by Muslim no. 1162/2746.

[7] Narrated by Al-Bukhari no. 2002.

[8] Narrated by Muslim no. 1134/2666.

[9] Narrated by Ahmad no. 2153, Al-Baihaqi in As-Sunan Al-Kubra no. 8189 and others. Sheikh Shuhaib and Sheikh Al-Albani ruled this hadith as weak hadith. 

[10] Narrated by Al-Bukhari 1294.

[11] Narrated by Ath-Thabrani in Al-Mu’jam Al-Kabir no. 9864 from Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud and Al-Baihaqi in Asy-Syu’ab no. 3513, 3514, and 3515 from ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud, Abu Huraira and Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri. All of those lines of narration are weak and unable to strengthen one another, as explained in detail by  Sheikh Al-Albani in Adh-Dha’ifah no. 6824.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *