The conclusion of the Islamic year takes place in the month of Dhul-Hijjah. Dhul-Hijjah is the last month of the Islamic year, and Muharram is the first month.
Beginning of the Hijri year
The foundation of the Islamic calendar is based on the event of the migration of the Leader of Creation, peace and blessings be upon him. That is why we call this calendar the Hijri calendar. Meanwhile, the English calendar that we use is called the Gregorian calendar. For example, the year 2000 is referred to as the Gregorian year, marking the birth of Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, as recognized by his followers. However, the Islamic calendar does not start from the birth of the Prophet, (ﷺ). Despite the significance of his birth in this world, it wasn’t used as the starting point of our calendar.
Then, when the noble Prophet’s age reached 40 years and he received the revelation, the decisive moment of prophethood was established. This event was indeed significant, yet it wasn’t designated as the foundation of our calendar. Even after receiving revelation, many remarkable events occurred. For instance, the Isra and Mi’raj (Night Journey and Ascension) were profound occurrences, with the latter representing the greatest miracle following the revelation of the Quran. However, these events were not used to establish the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
The instructions for the month of Muharram were given by the Leader of Creation, peace and blessings be upon him, when he left Makkah for Madinah during the migration. This migration marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. During the Prophet’s time, the calendar was counted from Rabi’ al-Awwal, although it was known that this month fell in the middle of the year and that the first month was Muharram. This sequence of months had been in practice since the time of Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him. Moreover, the Quran indicates that when Allah created the Earth and the heavens and set the course of the sun and the moon, He established a twelve-month calendar. The Leader of Creation, peace and blessings be upon him, also affirmed that this calendar has been in place since then, with four of those months being sacred.
Despite this, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not name the months until after the revelation. It is known that right from the start, Allah’s wisdom was in the sanctity of Muharram and the year started from Muharram and concluded on Dhul-Hijjah.
The decision to start the Islamic calendar from Muharram, as done by Caliph Umar, was to simplify and improve the system of dates, in consultation with the companions. This decision was made to overcome administrative difficulties arising from the fact that Isra and Mi’raj happened between the months of Rabial-Awwal. In reality, it was Caliph Umar’s wisdom to optimize the calendar system.
The wisdom behind the Hijri calendar
The wisdom of the Hijri calendar is rooted in the event of migration. Just a few days after migration, Muslims were granted permission for Jihad. While in Mecca, living under the oppression of the disbelievers and facing the decrees of the Month of Muharram, Muslims were not allowed to raise their hands in defense. They endured hardships and were denied the permission to respond to the injustices. For thirteen years in Mecca, they endured oppression without the option for proactive measures. After migrating to Medina, the permission for Jihad was granted. As Jihad commenced, Islam began to spread rapidly. This marked a significant transition, liberating the believers from the oppression of the disbelievers and allowing them the freedom to practice their faith. The spread of Islam and its growth were facilitated by this permission. Consequently, the establishment of the Hijri calendar was based on this pivotal event of migration, recognizing its importance. Therefore, every Muslim should remember that our calendar serves as a reminder of the significance of migration and Jihad in our history.
The reality of migration and Jihad
Reflect on the reality of migration and Jihad. Sacrificing one’s homeland, family, possessions, and even life itself for the sake of Allah’s religion, to attain His pleasure—that is the essence of migration. Leaving behind one’s homeland, severing family ties, forsaking livelihood and property—this is what migration entails.
And then, setting out wholeheartedly in Allah’s path, confronting disbelief in practical terms, is what is known as Jihad. It’s as if the essence of migration and Jihad is offering up one’s life, wealth, homeland, family, and everything for the sake of Allah. These two—migration and Jihad—are the means through which Islam’s message spread, and through which Muslims became dominant across the face of the Earth.
The commands of the Month of Muharram is why the Leader of Creation, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The best of fasts after the fasts of Ramadan is the fast of Allah’s month of Muharram, and the best of prayer after the obligatory prayer is the night prayer.” Jihad is how the glory and grandeur of Islam are demonstrated. Thus, both migration and Jihad hold immense significance in Islam, and this calendar serves as a reminder of the essence of these acts. The history of Muslims begins with migration and Jihad, which teach the lesson of sacrificing everything for the sake of Allah.
How did the spread of Islam occur?
What is the religious status of this month? What should one do and not do during this month? The initial discussion about migration and Jihad was only a mention of the beginning of the Hijri year, highlighting that the growth of Islam was through migration and Jihad. And in the future as well, sacrifices of life and wealth, and Jihad will continue to be the means. As long as Muslims, as a community, remember that everything can be sacrificed in the name of Allah, Islam will remain dominant.
However, when Muslims become engrossed in the love of homeland and possessions, consumed by affection for their families, and prioritize their own lives over the commandments of Allah, they will descend into humiliation and degradation. Misfortune will become their destiny. Now, I present these points.
The incident of Karbala and Muharram
In the series of the virtues of Muharram, two points are mentioned in the Hadith. Keep the significance of Muharram in your mind. The distinctiveness of Muharram or the virtue of Muharram is indeed real.
The directives of the month of Muharram are not due to the incident of Karbala. That event occurred in the year 60 Hijri, when the Prophet Muhammad, (ﷺ), had passed away 50 years earlier. However, the virtue of this month was narrated by the Prophet during his lifetime, even before the incident of Karbala had taken place. Therefore, the excellence of this month is not tied to that event. In Islam, a day does not bestow any particular significance, regardless of how significant an event might be, and it does not grant any special status to that day.
Islamic history is filled with instances of martyrdoms. If you ponder upon it, you will realize that Islamic history is replete with martyrdoms. If we both were to begin to show respect to each significant day and month due to the sacrifices made, we might not find a single day or month in the entire year that we wouldn’t need to honor or commemorate. No month, week, or day is devoid of significance. Among them are significant martyrs, even among the Prophets and in the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, there are those who are greater.
Even the Prophets continued to be martyred.
إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ يَكْفُرُونَ بِـَٔايَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّۢ وَيَقْتُلُونَ ٱلَّذِينَ يَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْقِسْطِ مِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ فَبَشِّرْهُم بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ
Surely, those who reject the verses of Allah and slay the prophets unjustly, and slay those of the people who bid justice, give them ‘the good news’ of a painful punishment. (3:21)
In the Quran, it is mentioned that the Jews continued to unjustly kill their prophets. And when someone is unjustly killed, it is referred to as martyrdom. Thus, the days of the killing of the Prophets are also days of martyrdom, because Prophets are elevated and superior to all of creation. Therefore, those days of their martyrdom should be considered days of great significance.
Then, during the era of the Prophet Muhammad, (ﷺ), when Jihad was initiated, a series of martyrdoms began. The first major event was the Battle of Badr, where 14 illustrious Companions attained martyrdom. This event took place in the blessed month of Ramadan. Subsequently, the Battle of Uhud occurred, in which 70 Companions were martyred. This event took place in the month of Shawwal. Among those 70 martyrs was Hamza, who was a true supporter of the Prophet and was bestowed with the title of “Sayyid al-Shuhada” (Master of the Martyrs).
The martyrdom of Hamza is a significant event in Islam. His body was mutilated in a gruesome manner, and his body was disrespected and defiled. He was killed in a state of ultimate bravery, defending the honor of the Prophet and the religion of Islam.
The martyrdom of Sayyid al-Shuhada is a well-known event. It deeply affected the Prophet Muhammad, (ﷺ), and caused immense grief. To understand its impact, consider that during the time of the Conquest of Mecca, when the Prophet announced a general amnesty, there were only 8 men and 4 women who were exempted from this amnesty. This amnesty applied to all except those against whom the Prophet had a specific directive. One of these exceptions was Abdullah ibn Khatal, who had apostatized after accepting Islam and used to compose derogatory poetry against the Prophet. All of them were marked for capital punishment. In fact, the Prophet even ordered the execution of Abdullah ibn Khatal, despite his clinging to the covering of the Kaaba for sanctuary.
This incident showcases the gravity of the matter and how the Prophet, (ﷺ), upheld the sanctity of the Islamic principles over personal relationships and attachments.
Hadhrat Wahb and the Command of Prophethood
So the blood of those [killed] was deemed permissible, and they were not granted forgiveness. Among them was Hadhrat Hamza’s killer named Wahshi, who fled to Ta’if after the conquest of Makkah. He learned that if someone acted as an emissary or messenger from a tribe, the Prophet (ﷺ) would not kill him. Therefore, he assumed the role of an emissary and approached the Prophet (ﷺ). The Prophet asked, ‘Is this Wahshi?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ The Prophet then asked, ‘Is Hamza’s killer among you?’ Wahshi responded in the affirmative. The Prophet further inquired, ‘Did you kill him?’ He answered, ‘As you have heard, that is correct.’ The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘Your faith is accepted, but if you can, do not show yourself to me. Hide your face from me.’ The narration’s wording goes, ‘Do you have the strength to conceal your face from me?’ The purpose was that when he appeared before the Prophet (ﷺ), the sight would remind the Prophet of the event, causing pain and distress. It was intended to spare the Prophet(ﷺ) the discomfort of the memory and the subsequent pain associated with it.
This is a manifestation of the Prophet’s mercy (ﷺ), advising him not to come forward, so the memory of that event does not bring distress, discomfort, or sorrow to the Prophet’s heart. Hadhrat Wahshi’s life continued without encountering the Prophet (ﷺ) again. He remained a companion, attending the same gathering as the Prophet (ﷺ), achieving the rank of a Sahabi, though he did not directly encounter the Prophet (ﷺ) again. This gives an insight into how deeply Hadhrat Hamza’s martyrdom affected the Prophet (ﷺ).
However, historical records remain silent on this matter. There is no reference in the Quran or Hadith that the Islamic calendar or the month of Muharram holds a specific significance due to the martyrdom of Hadhrat Hamza or the other incidents. The Quran and Hadith do not indicate any special commemoration for the days of these martyrdoms or any particular attention given by the Prophet (ﷺ) to these days or months. The historical records do not indicate any such focus.
If we learn from this, can it not be a strong evidence that the martyrdom of a person does not confer any special significance to a day? The significance of a day does not arise from the martyrdoms that occurred on it. If martyrdoms indeed conferred significance to days, then the events of Badr and Uhud, which resulted in the martyrdom of many companions, should have been marked as important. However, there is no special focus, neither in the Quran nor the Hadith, regarding these events.
We can draw a conclusion that the significance of a day is not determined by the martyrdoms that took place on it. The martyrs of Badr, the martyrs of Uhud, and others should have been significant based on this premise, but no special attention was given to these days. The entire history is silent on this matter, and neither the Quran nor the Hadith gives any indication. If martyrdoms did give days special significance, then the martyrs of Badr, the martyrs of Uhud, and the martyrs of the other battles should have been commemorated in Islamic history.
However, we believe, and this is our faith, that Hadhrat Hussein is a martyr and holds significance according to our beliefs. He is known as the Leader of the Youth of Paradise. When the confrontation took place between Yazid and Hussein, we are with Hussein. We are Hamee (followers of Ali’s family), not Yazidi. Remember this, and teach it to young children as well. We are Hamee, and we consider them our beloved ones due to being from the family of the Prophet. In today’s world, various sects and diverse perspectives have emerged. Some even label Yazid as right and Hadhrat Hussein as rebellious. May that never happen. We have no connection with such people. We are with those who stand with Hadhrat Hussein and not with Yazid.
Having enmity and disbelief towards the Companions is a sign of disbelief. This is the opinion of Hazrat Mujaddid Alif Thani (رضي الله عنه) or Hazrat Shah Waliullah (رضي الله عنه). I remember the statement of one of them, but I am not sure whether it belongs to Hazrat Shah Waliullah or Hazrat Mujaddid Alif Thani. At this moment, I am not certain about whose statement it is. The speeches of the Reformer of the Second Millennium (Imam Rabbani) or Hazrat Shah Waliullah might contain one of these opinions.
The hatred towards the Companions is evidence of disbelief
I remember one of the sayings, either by Hazrat Mujaddid Alif Thani (رضي الله عنه) or Hazrat Shah Waliullah (رضي الله عنه). At this moment, I am not certain whose statement it is, but it is likely from Hazrat Mujaddid Alif Thani. The statement goes as follows:
“Hazrat (the Prophet’s) statement that love for the Ahlul Bayt safeguards faith and leads to a good ending. Holding affection for the Ahlul Bayt serves as a means to a good ending, while harboring any malice towards them poses a threat of losing one’s faith. Our love for the Ahlul Bayt is based on our belief in preserving our faith. We are among the lovers of the Ahlul Bayt.
While there is no doubt about this, consider also: Those who participated in the Pledge of Ridwan, those who were present in the Battle of the Trench, those who took part in the Fath (Conquest) of Makkah, are undoubtedly superior. Up to the point of the Conquest of Makkah, those who were companions alongside the Prophet (ﷺ) in various battles hold the highest ranks. The companions of the Prophet who became Muslims before the Conquest of Makkah are superior, and those who embraced Islam after the Conquest of Makkah hold an elevated status.
Between Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Muawiya, we side with Hazrat Ali. This belief is not just a perception. Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Umar have a higher status than Hazrat Hussain, and this is beyond doubt. Our understanding of the ranks among the noble companions is as follows: Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Umar surpassed Hazrat Uthman and Hazrat Ali and all the companions who participated in the Battle of Badr. Those who were part of the Battle of Uhud and the command of Hajj are undoubtedly superior to Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Hussain. Hazrat Uthman surpassed Hazrat Ali in rank, and this understanding is valid. Do you understand what I’m saying?
And the point I’m making is not baseless; it’s based on the established limit in the Quran, and it’s in the text. It’s in Surah Hadid, the first Ruku (section). Read and see.
وَمَا لَكُمْ أَلَّا تُنفِقُوا۟ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَلِلَّهِ مِيرَٰثُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ ۚ لَا يَسْتَوِى مِنكُم مَّنْ أَنفَقَ مِن قَبْلِ ٱلْفَتْحِ وَقَـٰتَلَ ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ أَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةًۭ مِّنَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَنفَقُوا۟ مِنۢ بَعْدُ وَقَـٰتَلُوا۟ ۚ وَكُلًّۭا وَعَدَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌۭ
And what is wrong with you that you should not spend in the way of Allah, while to Allah belongs the inheritance of the heavens and the earth? Those who spent before the Conquest (of Makkah) and fought are not at par (with others). Those are much greater in rank than those who spent later and fought, though Allah has promised the good (reward) for each. Allah is well aware of what you do. (57:10)
There are differences in ranks. The companions before the Conquest of Makkah hold a higher status than those after it. Hazrat Muawiya embraced Islam on the occasion of the Conquest of Makkah, while Hazrat and his sons, Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain, were born before the Conquest of Makkah. However, we cannot classify them as Muhajireen or Ansar. They are from the offspring of the Muhajireen, and they did not have the opportunity to participate in battles before the Conquest of Makkah. At the time of the passing of the Prophet (ﷺ), their age was 6, 7, or 7, 8 years old.
According to our belief, following the Caliphs of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, all companions are superior. Keep this point firm in your mind: Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq has the highest status among all of Prophet Muhammad’s ummah, including the members of the Ahlul Bayt. Hazrat Umar, then Hazrat Uthman, then Hazrat Ali follow in rank. Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq passed away in the home where the best and virtuous companions were present, though his martyrdom was also blessed. It contains the miracle of the snake’s bite in the cave of Thawr. Hazrat Umar was martyred in an organized manner. Hazrat Uthman was also martyred in an organized manner. These martyrdoms are far superior to the martyrdoms that came after the passing of the Prophet (ﷺ). These are all valid martyrdoms, but they cannot be compared with those martyrdoms. Fix this understanding in your mind. These martyrdoms are all superior martyrdoms.
Therefore, in comparison to the martyrs of Karbala, the martyrs of Badr are superior; in comparison to the martyrs of Karbala, the martyrs of Uhud are superior; in comparison to the martyrs of Karbala, the martyrs of Khaybar are superior. And the status of those who were martyred in battles surpasses the martyrs of Karbala. We, as Sunni Muslims, hold this belief.
Martyrdom is a blessing, not a tragedy. Therefore, although we consider these martyrs and their martyrdoms as superior, we don’t cry, grieve, lament, or show excessive emotion on their days. We don’t do exaggerated mourning. We don’t beat our chests or perform excessive rituals. Why should we do it for the martyrs of Karbala? It’s not our practice to adopt such an incorrect approach towards martyrdom. If we did that, we have a long list of martyrs from our own history. Who should we mourn? However, all these martyrs are superior to the martyrs of Karbala. We understand that martyrdom doesn’t grant any privileges on a certain day. If there were privileges granted, then all those who were martyred should have been privileged. And due to that, Muslims would spend the whole year crying, starving, and doing nothing. But this is not the case. These are later additions and do not have any effects on specific days or dates. The virtue of the month of Muharram is established by the Messenger of Allah. He stated the virtue of the tenth day of this month and initially made fasting on that day obligatory. Later, when the obligation of fasting during Ramadan was revealed, the obligation of fasting on the tenth of Muharram was abrogated, and it was said that if you fast on this day, there is reward; if you don’t fast, there is no sin. Fasting on that day is rewarded. You can fast on the 10th or 9th, or 10th and 11th. Because the Prophet (ﷺ) also fasted on the 10th. He also said that if I live until the next year, I will fast on the 9th as well, to differentiate from the Jews who used to fast on that day. This practice of lamenting over martyrdom is not ours. If we adopted it, we would have a long list of martyrs. Who should we mourn? Because all these martyrs are superior to the martyrs of Karbala. We believe that martyrdom doesn’t bring any privilege on a certain day. If it did, then these martyrs’ days should have privileges. But due to that, Muslims would cry, starve, and do nothing all year long. But this is never the case. These are later additions and have no impact on certain days or dates. May Allah have mercy on us. This practice of mourning martyrdom is not ours. If we did it this way, we would have a long list of martyrs. We would have to decide whose martyrdom to mourn, while all these martyrs are superior to the martyrs of Karbala. We understand that martyrdom doesn’t bring privileges on a certain day. If privileges were given, then the days of these martyrs should be privileged. But this didn’t happen, and it’s not a means to attain virtue. These are all later additions. The virtue of the month of Muharram, yes, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) described the virtue of this month. Initially, he made fasting on the 10th day of this month obligatory. And then when the obligation of fasting in Ramadan was revealed, the obligation of fasting on the 10th of Muharram was lifted, and it was said that if you fast, there is reward, and if you don’t fast, there is no sin. Fasting on that day is a virtue. Fast on the 10th or the 9th, or the 10th and 11th. Because Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) fasted on the 10th. And then he said that if he lives until the next year, he will fast on the 9th as well, so as to be different from the Jews who used to fast on that day. The virtue of the month of Muharram is established by the Messenger of Allah. He said that fasting on that day brings reward. If you fast on the 10th, or the 9th and 10th, or the 10th and 11th, you will be rewarded. Initially, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) mandated fasting on the 10th day, and later, when fasting in Ramadan was obligated, fasting on the 10th of Muharram was made optional. It was said that if you fast, you will be rewarded, and if you don’t, there’s no sin. Fasting on that day is virtuous. You can fast on the 10th, or the 9th and 10th, or the 10th and 11th. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) fasted on the 10th, and he also mentioned that if he lives to the next year, he will fast on the 9th as well to differentiate from the Jews who used to fast on that day. This practice of excessive mourning is not our way. If we followed it, we would have a long list of martyrs. Who should we mourn? All these martyrs are superior to the martyrs of Karbala. We understand that martyr.
Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) encouraged us to honor the significance of that date by fasting. He set an example by fasting on that day. He encouraged fasting on the 10th of Muharram. However, when the obligation of fasting during Ramadan was established, the fasting on the 10th was left optional. A distinction was made by fasting on the 9th and 10th or the 10th and 11th of Muharram. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) fasted on the 10th of Muharram, and he also mentioned that if he lived to the next year, he would fast on the 9th as well to distinguish from the practices of the Jews.
The Prophet’s teachings include fasting on the 10th of Muharram and also considering the fasting of the 9th and 10th, or the 10th and 11th, as an option. He emphasized that fasting on the 10th brings reward, and not fasting does not incur any sin. These instructions are established in hadiths. Regarding the day of Ashura, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) advised that whoever can afford to do so should spend generously on their family and provide good meals, as it brings blessings to their sustenance for the whole year.
These teachings from the hadiths include the encouragement to fast on the 10th of Muharram and the recommendation to offer good meals to one’s family on the day of Ashura. These practices are in accordance with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). However, practices beyond these teachings are not substantiated by hadiths. The observance of Muharram’s significance aligns with the practices of Sunni Muslims, who hold Ahlul Bayt in high regard and arrange for blessings to be bestowed upon their families. Our focus is on following these teachings as outlined in the hadiths.
In conclusion, we, as Sunni Muslims, honor the significance of Muharram and practice fasting on the 10th of Muharram, as encouraged by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). Additionally, the practice of providing good meals to one’s family on the day of Ashura is also in line with his teachings. However, any practices beyond these teachings are not substantiated by hadiths and should be approached with caution. Our primary concern is to adhere to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and honor the significance of Muharram within the framework of those teachings.