الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
عن عبد الله بن سلام (رضي الله عنه) قال: سمعت رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم) يقول: يا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ، أَفْشُوا السَّلَامَ، وَصِلُوا الْأَرْحَامَ، وَأَطْعِمُوا الطَّعَامَ، وَصَلُّوا بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّاسُ نِيَامٌ، تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ بِسَلَامٍ٠
[ رواه الترمذي وابن ماجه وأحمد ]
Abdullah ibn Sallaam (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) say: "O people, spread (the greeting of) peace profusely, maintain kinship ties, feed others, and pray at night when people are asleep, you will enter Paradise in peace." [al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ahmad]
The above words by the Prophet (SAW) are reported to be among the first statements he made upon his arrival in the city of al-Madinah al-Munawwarah after migrating from Makkah al-Mukarramah, an event that subsequently became known as the Hijrah. This journey in the year 622 CE, is so significant in Islam that it was chosen, many years later, as the beginning of the Islamic Calendar, as it indeed signals the start of the “golden, definitive phase” in the life and mission of our noble Prophet (SAW) and in Islam. The Hijrah is, undoubtedly, the turning point in the nascent, formative period of Islam, when it was transformed from being a new, radical way of life followed by a small persecuted few, challenging the norms, beliefs and practices of the wayward, Jahili (pre-Enlightenment) society into evolving and blossoming within ten years (around the demise of the Prophet (SAW) in 632) to become the dominant religious expression and most formidable force in all of Arabia.
As we reflect on the rebirth of Islam and its glorious history, and look introspectively at our present predicament and our destiny, we may invariably make (sometimes subconsciously) some evaluations and resolutions. In fact, from the above Hadith, it seems that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) himself was doing the same, having arrived in a new environment, hopeful and optimistic, and starting a new chapter in his life and in the life of his followers - the ummah. (The Prophet (SAW), incidentally, did not arrive in Madinah at the beginning of the lunar year, but in what is now the third month, Rabi al-Awwal.) He also used the opportunity to focus on the main aspects of Islam that foster personal and communal growth, instilling in his companions and his ummah noble characteristics and imbibing praisworthy qualities, while at the same time keeping their eyes on the prize. This is to help motivate us and keep us on track - on the straight path that leads to Allah’s pleasure and, ultimately, to Paradise.
The month also chosen to be the first of the Islamic and lunar year is Muharram, referred to in the Sunnah as “the month of Allah”. It is an auspicious month and one of the four sacred ones, chosen by the Almighty as a special time for His faithful servants - a time for atonement and salvation. We are encouraged to fast and give charity, and seek Allah’s forgiveness, and to do other good deeds. The Messenger (SAW) said, “The best fasting after Ramadan is the month of Allah - Muharram, and the best prayer after the obligatory prayer is prayer at night.” [Muslim]
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : أَفْضَلُ الصِّيَامِ بَعْدَ رَمَضَانَ شَهْرُ اللَّهِ الْمُحَرَّمُ وَأَفْضَلُ الصَّلَاةِ بَعْدَ الْفَرِيضَةِ صَلَاةُ اللَّيْلِ . [ أخرجه مسلم ]
The first 10 days of Muharram are singled out by some scholars (as reported by ibn Abi al-Dunya (RA)) for their virtue and merit. However the tenth day, known as ‘Ashura, is especially significant throughout the history of many prophets of Allah, and in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammd (SAW). The latter emphatically fasted ‘Ashura throughout his life, even after the obligatory fast of Ramadan was introduced, reverencing it and seeking its virtue, and following the tradition of previous prophets like Nuh and Musa (AS) in observing this day’s fast and respecting its sanctity [Hadith in Musnad Ahmad]. This tradition was kept alive by some Jews and Christains, and the tribe of Quraysh in Makkah before Islam. He (SAW) said, “(Regarding) fasting the day of ‘Ashura, I hope Allah will expiate thereby for the [minor] sins of the year that came before it”. [Muslim]
وَصِيَامُ يَوْمِ عَاشُورَاءَ أَحْتَسِبُ عَلَى اللَّهِ أَنْ يُكَفِّرَ السَّنَةَ الَّتِي قَبْلَهُ
The day of ‘Ashura is said to be that “momentous day” in history that Almighty Allah saved Musa (AS) from Pharaoh and the day on which Nuh’s ark rested on Mount Judi as the floods receded [Hadith in Musnad Ahmad]. According to some of the Sahabah/Companions (like ibn ‘Abbas) and others, this was the day that Allah (SWT) forgave Adam and Hawwa/Eve (AS), and a day that “Allah forgave many a people, and will forgive many more” [Hadith in al-Tirmidhi].
Prophet Muhammd (SAW), in recognizing the status of this day in the history of mankind, used to consider the fast of ‘Ashura as obligatory (or highly recommended) and ordered his companions to do likewise, even after migrating to al-Madinah. After the fast of Ramadan was made compulsory, he made the fast of ‘Ashura voluntary, although he himself continued to consistently observe it, together with fasting three days in each month and the first 10 days of Dhul Hijjah [Musnad Ahmad and Sunan Abu Dawud]. Towards the end of his life (SAW), he decided he will also fast the day before and/or after as well [Muslim and Ahmad].
It is interesting to note the reserved or limited ‘endorsements’ given by the Prophet of Allah (SAW) in fasting ‘Ashura: Firstly, he acknowledged the practice of the Quraysh and the People of the Book that this day has its roots in the Abrahamic tradition and he wished to align with those who were on the right track. At the same time however, he asserted his, and the ummah’s, right in associating with the true believers of the past, the brothers and sisters of past millennia. He (SAW) famously said: ”We are closer to Musa and the truth than you (Jews) are” [al-Bukhari and Muslim], and we have more in common with them than anyone else. In the year before his death (SAW), when much had changed and Islam had gained the ascendency, he wanted to demonstrate the Muslims’ new authority and their dominant position in their relationship with others. According to some scholars, he came to find out that some of the Jewish tribes in al-Madinah and Khaybar, and other Arabs who imitated their practices, celebrated ‘Ashura as a day of “Eid” with elaborate foods and personal adornments. That's when he said that “we will differ from them and fast ‘Ashura and the day before and the day after” [Ahmad; in some narrations: “or the day after”].
Now back to the Hadith above in which Allah’s Messenger (SAW) associated with the month of Muharram, the habit of establishing on a regular basis the Tahajjud Salah, or the Night/Vigil Prayers. This may, in fact, be a time when some folks make resolutions, and very few things could be better than to initiate optional night prayers or to continue the practice, or, better still, to improve on the quality and one’s devotion in this regard, and in general. Tahajjud, or Qiyam al-Layl, is one of the best voluntary practices we can engage in; it comes at the best time of the 24 hour daily cycle and and with tremendous reward, the least of which is forgiveness of one’s sins. But it is also one of the most challenging to execute, especially on a consistent basis. It takes place when one has to fight the urge to sleep or to strive (or do jihad) against the soul and other conditions or against Shaytan. The Prophet of Allah (SAW) would encourage his companions to spend part of the night in qiyam, particularly those in whom he saw great potential to lead the ummah, like Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas (RAA). [But the fact remains for many of us: that we may be struggling to do the obligatory Salat al-Fajr on time, (or the other daily prayers on a timely basis) let alone trying to establish more voluntary prayers.]
Many people say that they are not able to do tahajjud or that they have no need for it. As-Sayyidah Aisha (RAA), the wife of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “I hear people saying that, ‘we need only do the obligatory acts and not add anything to them’. By Allah, yes, He will only ask them about the obligatory deeds, but they are a people that sin by day and night (and they will be taken to task for that), and they are from (the followers of) the Prophet (SAW) and he was from them, and, by Allah, he (SAW) never abandoned the night prayer.” Then she quoted every one of the numerous ayaat of the Quran that talk about qiyam al-layl. When the companion Ibn Masud (RAA) was told: “We cannot do tahajjud”, he retorted: “Your sins are the reason holding you back”. Al-Hasan al-Basri and al-Fudayl ibn Iyyad (RA) gave similar responses.
In conclusion, we see that many of the above ahaadeeth stress that ‘Ashura is a day of atonement, past and present (and in the future, God willing). We are encouraged to sincerely seek Allah’s forgiveness on this day, like our father and mother, Adam and Hawwa, using the words inspired to them by Almighty Allah Himself that guaranteed their pardon and perfected their innate human nature. We first admit to our sins whereby “we wronged our souls” and regret our misdeeds, and then beseech Allah (SWT): “our Lord, if You do not forgive us and have mercy on us, we most certainly will be among the losers” (Quran 7:23).
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمۡنَآ أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمۡ تَغۡفِرۡ لَنَا وَتَرۡحَمۡنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلۡخَـٰسِرِينَ
O Allah, Most High, Most Merciful, we beg You for Your compassion, Your guidance and Your bounties. Continue to bless us, our families and friends, our neighbors and community, and the muslim ummah around this city, this state, this country and in the rest of the world. Let this be a year of faith in, and obedience to, You, a year of love and fellowship, and of resilience and growth. Allow us, as Muslims, to be strong in our conviction and bold in our expression. Bestow on us security and safety, and be ever pleased with us. Protect us from Shaytan and the evil inclinations of our desires. Indeed You alone can do that, You alone are our Lord and the Lord of all creation. You are Sufficient for us and the best Protector and Helper. And You are the Most Compassionate. Ameen.