The Month of Muharram and the Day of Ashura in Islam

The Day of Ashura, also known as the Day of Atonement, is a day of great historical and spiritual significance for the Muslim community, and it has been recommended by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saws) that this holy day be observed with supererogatory spiritual worship and practice, as well as an optional fast.

When is the Day of Ashura?

The Day of Ashura takes place on the 10th day of the lunar month of Muharram in the Islamic Hijri Calendar.

The month of Muharram is the first month of the Hijri Calendar, and is one of the Four Sacred Months in Islam.

As always, please check with your local community for the most up to date and accurate local information.

Abu Bakarah (ra) reported that the Prophet (saws) said, “The year is twelve months of which four are sacred: The three consecutive months of Dhul-Qa’dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram, and Rajab Mudar which comes between Jumadah and Sha’ban.” [Bukhari]

Month of Muharram and Day of Ashura in Islam

The Sacred Month of Muharram

Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve. So it was ordained by Him on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth. Of them, four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong yourselves not therein…
— Surah at-Tawbah [Holy Quran, 9:36]


In Tafsir Ibn Kathir, it is stated that Allah gives more weight to whichever of His commands He will, and has elevated in rank certain things above others. He has chosen most elevated from among the angels messengers, and from among mankind prophets. He has chosen as best from among speech dhikr, the remembrance of He. He has chosen best from among places upon the earth the mosques. He has preferred from among the months Ramadan and the Four Sacred Months, from among the days, Friday, and from among the nights Laylatul Qadr. So honor that which Allah has told us to honor, for people of understanding and wisdom honor that which Allah has honored.
[Summarized from the Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

Significance of the Day of Ashura

The word ashura literally means the “tenth day,” and some scholars of Islam have suggested that in addition to falling upon the tenth of Muharram, the Day of Ashura is also the tenth most honored and noble day that Allah Almighty has graced and blessed humanity with.

The following historical and spiritual events are reported as having taken place on the Day of Ashura.

  • Allah Almighty accepted the repentance of Adam (as).
  • Allah Almighty saved Noah (as) and his Companions upon the ark.
  • Allah Almighty extinguished the fire of Nimrod into which Abraham (as) had been thrown.
  • Allah Almighty spoke directly to Moses (as) and gave him the Ten Commandments.
  • The Prophet Job, Ayub (as), was healed and restored to health.
  • The Prophet Joseph, Yusuf (as), was reunited with his father Jacob, Yaqub (as).
  • The Prophet Jonah, Yunus (as), was emancipated from the belly of the fish.
  • Allah Almighty divided the sea, rescuing Moses (as) and his people from the tyranny and oppression of Pharaoh.
  • Prophet David (as) was forgiven.
  • Jesus (as) was raised up to heaven and spared death on the cross.
  • Husayn (as), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), achieved the honor of martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala in 61 AH.

Fasting on the Day of Ashura

Regarding the importance of the fast on the Day of Ashura, the following tradition is narrated by Ibn Abbas (ra).

The Prophet (saws) came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He inquired, “For what reason?”
They said, ‘This is a righteous day. It is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, and so Moses (as) fasted on this day.”
The Prophet (saws)  then said, “We are closer to Moses (as) than they.” And so he fasted on that day, and commanded the Believers to fast on that day as well.
— Ibn Abbas (ra) [Sahih Bukhari]

It was the practice and recommendation of the Prophet (saws) to fast one day in addition to the Day of Ashura, i.e. either the 9th and 10th, or the 10th and 11th of the sacred month of Muharram.

Hakam ibn al-Arat (ra) relates, “I went to Ibn Abbas (ra) and said to him, “Tell me of fasting on the Day of Ashura.”
He said, “When you see the moon of Muharram, count the days and begin to observe fasting on the ninth.”
I asked him, “Is this how the Holy Messenger of God (saws) observed the fast?” He replied, “Yes.”
[Sahih Muslim]

Prior to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), the Quraysh used to fast the Day of Ashura as well. They had apparently inherited this custom from the time of Abraham and Ishmael (as), as they did other practices, most of which were corrupted over time (such as the Hajj and the tawwaf, the circumambulation around the Kaaba).

The Quraysh used to fast on the day of Ashura in the pre-lslamic period, and Allah’s Apostle too used to fast on that day. When he came to Medina, he fasted on that day and ordered others to fast as well.
Later when the fasting of the month of Ramadan was prescribed, he abrogated obligatory fasting on the day of Ashura and it became optional for one to fast on it or not.”
[Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, al-Muwatta]

The Ottomans, who carried the flag of Islam for centuries and who were particularly pious and respectful of the Way of the Prophet (saws), in addition to fasting the Day of Ashura, generally fasted the first ten days of Muharram.

Abu Hurayrah (ra) reports that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) stressed the importance of fasting in the Sacred Month of Muharram as being next in virtue to fasting in the month of Ramadan.

“After Ramadan, the fasts of Muharram have the greatest excellence.”
— Prophet Muhammad (saws) [Sahih Muslim]

Additional Suggested Voluntary Practices

In addition to fasting on the Day of Ashura, the following supererogatory optional acts of worship, ibadah, are highly meritorious.

Please note that these are entirely optional, and are simply a practice prescribed by pious scholars to take advantage of the unique blessings of the Day of Ashura.

Nawafil Prayer

Between the Dhuhr and Asr prayers, pray an additional 4 raka’, cycles of prayer. In each raka’, recite Surah al-Fatiha once and Surah al-Ikhlas eleven times.


After the prayer, recite the following dhikr.

  • La ilaha ill Allah (1000 times).
  • Salawat, Allahum sali ‘ala Muhammadin wa ‘ala ali Muhammadin wa sallim (1000 times).
  • Surah al-Ikhlas, Holy Quran Chapter 112, (1000 times).


Then make the following dua, supplication.

  • Allahumma thabbitna ‘alal Haqq.
  • Ya Ghaliban ghaira maghloob,
    Ya Nasiral Mu’mineen,
    Ya Ghiyathal Mustaghitheen,
    Ya Qariban ghaira ba’id,
    Ya Shahidan ghaira ba’id!
  • Hasbi Allahu wa ni’mal wakeel, ni’mal mawla wa ni’man naseer (70 times).
  • La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah il ‘aliyyul ‘azheem,
    Ghufranaka rabbana wa ilaykal naseer.
  • Surah al-Fatiha, Holy Quran, Chapter 1.

Shaykh Abdul-Qadir al-Gilani on the Day of Ashura

From his work, Sufficient Provision for Seekers of the Path of Truth (Al-Ghunya li-Talib al-Tariq ul-Haqq), Volume 3, Shaykh Abdul-Qadir al-Gilani (qs) narrates the following on the great value and blessings of piety and love on the Day of Ashura.

  • If someone strokes the head of an orphan with his hand on the Day of Ashura, for every hair on the orphan’s head, Allah Almighty will elevate him by one degree in the Garden of Paradise.
  • If someone provides a believer with a meal to break his fast on the night of Ashura, it will be just as if the entire Nation of Muhammad (saw) had broken fast as his guests, and had filled their stomachs to capacity.
  • If someone performs the ghusl, major ritual ablution (bath), on the Day of Ashura, he will be spared all illness, save the sickness of death.
  • If someone anoints his eyelids with antimony (ithmid, collyrium, chelak, kohl) on the Day of Ashura, he will not suffer inflammation of the eyes throughout the entire course of that year.
  • If someone pays a visit to a sick person on the Day of Ashura, it is just as if he had visited all the children of Adam (as).
  • If someone provides a thirsty person with a drink of water on the Day of Ashura, it is as if he had never disobeyed Allah Almighty.
  • If someone performs an additional four cycles of ritual prayer on the Day of Ashura, reciting in each cycle Surah al-Fatiha one time and Surah al-Ikhlas fifty times, Allah Almighty will forgive him the sins of fifty years past, as well as for the fifty years to come, and Allah will also build for him, in the midst of the heavenly host, a thousand Palaces of Light.
  • If anyone uses his wealth to treat his dependents and family with special generosity on the Day of Ashura, Allah Almighty will treat that person with special generosity throughout the rest of the year.
  • If someone spends the night of Ashura (the night prior) in vigilant worship, and enters upon the morning in a state of fasting, he will die without knowing the agony of death.
  • If someone spends the night of Ashura in vigilant worship, Allah will let him live as long as he wishes.

The Deeper Meaning of the Day of Ashura

The Day of Ashura, literally meaning “the tenth”, is numerically equated to simply “10”, and in the science of numerology, the number “10” is “1+0”, further reducing to just “1”.

Spiritually, this is of particular significance within the Islamic science of self-purification, and represents the annihilation, or fana, of the seeker in the Divine Presence of God.

Allah Almighty, Al-Ahad, or “The Single”, here is represented by the “1”, whereas the self, the individual ego-mind identity, is reduced through spiritual practice, humility, piety and sincerity, to but “0”.

In other words, the Day of Ashura represents the perfect effacement of the Believer in the Divine Presence of God, and hence, the return to Source.

“We are asking to be nothing and no one, for as long as we are something, we are not complete.”
— Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani (qs)

Allah Almighty in a Holy Hadith Qudsi, describes the attainment of such a state as a deeper development and attainment through Islamic Spirituality and meditative spiritual practice:

God has said, “My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him.
“When I love him I, become the hearing with which he hears, the seeing with which he sees, the hand with which he strikes and the foot with which he walks.
“Were he to ask anything of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about taking the soul of My faithful servant. He hates death and I hate hurting him.”
— Prophet Muhammad (saws) [Bukhari]

Hence, it becomes clear why and how Allah Almighty on this particular day, the “tenth”, willed all of the above events from the salvation and safety of the prophets and the pious, to the martyrdom of the Holy Family of the Prophet (saws), for this day represents complete surrender of the self, annihilation in the One, and thus the return to the Divine Presence of God.

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“On this day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam — spiritual surrender — as your religion.”
— Surah Al-Ma’ida (Holy Qur’an, 5:3)

Through the practice of Islamic Meditation, an individual progressively develops the ability to stay calm, centered and rooted regardless of external events, and is thus able to catalyze a shift in consciousness in which struggle and resistance is relinquished, to be replaced with peace and serenity.

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11 Comments on “The Month of Muharram and the Day of Ashura in Islam”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post bro Ihsan. By God’s grace am fasting today (9th) and InshaAllah will fast tomorrow as well.


  3. Pingback: When is the Day of Arafah in Hajj for Muslims? - Eaalim Travel

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