Allah (عَزَّوَجَلَّ) says in the Qur’an

إِنَّ عِدَّةَ الشُّهُورِ عِندَ اللَّـهِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا فِي كِتَابِ اللَّـهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ ۚ فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا فِيهِنَّ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ

Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them.

This verse informs us that the number of months as per Allah (عَزَّوَجَلَّ) since the creation of the heavens and earth have been twelve out which four are sacred ones. This has been explained by the Prophet ﷺ:

Narrated Abu Bakra: The Prophet said. “(The division of time has turned to its original form which was current when Allah created the Heavens and the Earths. The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: Three are in succession Dhul-Qa’ da, Dhul-Hijja and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab of (the tribe of) Mudar which comes between Jumadi-ath-Thaniyah and Sha ban.”
(Sahih Bukhari 3197, Sahih Muslim 4383)

The reason why these months are called sacred is because all action which lead to corruption and disruption of peace are especially to be avoided in these months. For example, fighting in these month and all actus of injustice or aggression are to be avoided as they lead to a person wronging himself. To continue to fight during these honored months is to disregard its sanctity and is an act of disobedience. If, however, the disbelievers continue to fight, it is not only correct but mandatory for Muslims to respond with equal force.

Virtues of Muharram

It is the first month of the Islamic calendar which was initiated with the Hijrah of the Prophet ﷺ. Its practice and advent were initiated by Umar Farooq (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) under his leadership as a caliph.

The question that arises is that does the martyrdom (shahadat) of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) mark a significance in this month? It is to be remembered that the sanctity of this month is completely unrelated to the martyrdom of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ). Many think and connect this month and its honor to the incident of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ)’s martyrdom. It is incorrect to link the two in such a manner.

This particular incident took place fifty years after the death of the Prophet ﷺ whereas it is understood that our religion (deen) was completed during the life of the Prophet ﷺ. Allah (عَزَّوَجَلَّ) says in the Qur’an:

الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion..

To continue to make additions which are unrelated to the folds of Islam and to the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ is unacceptable. Hence, the above act of making Muharram a sacred month due to the martyrdom of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) is incorrect and against the understanding of this verse.

Additionally, another important incident has taken place on the first of Muharram and this was the martyrdom of next Caliph Umar Farooq (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ). Hence, if we are to believe all incidents of martyrdom were of grave importance after the death of the Prophet ﷺ, then most definitely Umar Farooq (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ)’s death is worth respect and honor. No more important than Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ)’s  is martyrdom of Usman (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) which is worthy of reverence also. Yet, all these incidents took place after deen was completed and are not highlighted in any manner.

Neither is the death of the Prophet ﷺ remembered in any manner and neither are the deaths of any other Sahabas highlighted or “celebrated.” Hence, to hold gatherings merely for the remembrance of any personality is nothing but innovation in Islam which is absolutely forbidden.

What is the Sunnah for Muharram?

The sunnah for this month is to observe fasts. The Prophet ﷺ used to regularly fast in this month and encouraged the Companions to do the same. In a hadith, we learn.

The best fast after the month of Ramadan is fasting in the month of Allah, al-Muharram.”
(Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1163)

The Virtue of Fasting of Ashura (10th of Muharram)

Ibn ’Abbas (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) said:

 “The Prophet ﷺ came to Madinah and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He said ‘What is this?’ They said, ‘This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Musa [as] fasted on this day’. The Prophet ﷺ said, ‘We have more right to Musa [as] than you’, so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day”’.
(Hadith Bukhari)

Additionally, Ibn ‘Abbas (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, 

‘If I remain [alive] till the following year, I will most certainly fast the ninth alongside the tenth of al-Muharram.’
[Muslim 1134]

The Prophet ﷺ did not remain alive the following year. Yet, the fast of 10th of Muharram is undoubtedly a Sunnah.
A person who intends to fast on Ashura (10th of Muharram) should do it in the following way:
You can fast on the 9th of Muharram, one day before Ashura (the 10th of Muharram). This is recommended. Or you may fast the Ashura (10th of Muharram) followed by the fast of 11th Muharram. Another way is also to fast all three days, 9th, 10th and the 11th of Muharram.

The Customs and Innovations in Muharram

The tragic incident of Karbala took place around fifty (50) years after the death of the Prophet ﷺ and the completion of Deen. Yet, the martyrdom of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) created ways for shaytan to spread innovation and misguidance. Here are few of the innovations that are seen during this time:

  • Many people begin observing the wearing of black clothes upon sighting the moon of Muharram
  • Black flags are raised
  • Wailing and lamenting begins
  • Representations of shrines of Hassan (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) and Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) and coffins are made
  • People slap their cheeks to manifest their grief
  • People starve themselves and walk around bare feet, regardless of how severe the weather may be
  • Hyms of mourning are read out loud in public gatherings
  • Women remove their jewelr
  • There are processions where people self-flagellate with chains and knives
  • Drinks called “sabeel” in the name of Hassan (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) and Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) are distributed and water dispensers are laid out. Fasting is actually recommended and is the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ so there is no reason for the distribution of food and drinks.

Moreover, weddings and other celebrations are held back whereas in Islam, there is no such prohibition in the month of Muharram. Such mourning is not even to be carried out for other Sahabas who were also martyred. It is not from Islamic practice to continue to mourn for a deceased year after year. In Islam, the mourning for a deceased is only for three (3) days except for a widow who is to mourn four months and ten days for her deceased husband.

Additionally, a practice by such people continues on to degrade other companions also and in the process condescending statements which are unrelated to the incident of the Karbala. about several of the pious predecessors are said

Books which are quoted for the incident of Karbala are not from authentic sources and are in fact fabricated. The common practice is to reiterate the incident of the martyrdom of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) with false and made-up stories. Many are stories of occurrences at Karbala. Such stories are dramatized with wailing and crying. The sole purpose of such writing is to cause discord amongst the Muslims. This, in reality, is a part of a bigger scheme and plan where peace can never exist. Following suit, those who belong to the Ahl-e-Sunnah group have also begun such practice which are not supported or validated by Shariah. This also is an innovation as it has no place in the true religion of Islam. This is to also venerate this month in a manner that is not proven by any Sunnah.

The latter group earns themselves no reward for such practice of making out the month of Muharram than what Allah (عَزَّوَجَلَّ) has intended for it. In fact, they become sinful for their misguidance in Deen. Such people have also begun to copy such gatherings where all of the above mentioned activities are copied.

Superstitions and False Practices of Muharram

  • If a child is to be born out of marital relations that have taken place between a husband and wife during the first ten days of Muharram will be cursed or handicapped.
  • Marriage will not be successful if it takes place during the first ten days of Muharram. This was the practice of the pagan Arabs in Days of Ignorance who considered Shawwal as an unlucky month and would abstain from getting married during this month. The Prophet ﷺ married Ayesha (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) especially in Shawwal to break this tradition and to negate this false practice.
  • People fill clay pots with milk or lassi or kheer and begin distributing amongst children. A traditional dish of Haleem is distributed. The connection between these food items and the martyrdom of Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) remains a question.
  • People begin to fix the graves of their loved one. As 10th Muharram approaches, the graveyards are filled with visitors and family who visit their deceased family. This is especially observed on the 10th of Muharram where all family members including the women visit the graves to decorate them with flowers and incense sticks. Soil is added to the graves and then a dessert is distributed.

All of the above activities fall under acts of innovation and misguidance. Visiting the graves has been advised by the Prophet ﷺ to inculcate the remembrance of death not to create a party-like scene. Additionally, no specific day in Islam has been ordained to visit the deceased and nor was it observed by the Prophet ﷺ nor the Companions.

What is the Sunnah Upon a Death?

Death is inevitable and all souls must taste death. There is no doubt about this fact. Some deaths that are witnessed are so extremely painful that no words can describe the pain felt upon them. The overwhelming nature of these deaths cannot be penned. Hence, the only recommended words that are to be said are: Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun. We pass on this pain to the realization that this has to be faced with the beautiful reality of meeting the Lord. This is the ultimate truth about life.

Sadly, many have left this and have tried to find solace in ways other than this one of which is wailing and lamenting. They feel this manifests their grief in the best way. They pull their hair, rip their shirts and cry loudly. They feel that they will find comfort and healing in such actions.

The fact is that all of this is not a part of the teachings of Islam and in fact is much further away from it. Especially when the death of a deceased has been martyrdom, then the status of the deceased is praiseworthy. To carry out such innovations upon the death of that individual who has remained God-fearing and has abstained from the wrong is unfair and unjust. This cannot be a proof of loving him, rather it is the opposite. To love such people who have made an effort to follow the Straight Path is to continue to follow in their footsteps with our actions and beliefs.

As a poetic verse indicates:

لو کنت صادقا فی حبه لاطعته

If you truly love your beloved, then you would’ve followed his ways

ان المحب لمن یحب مطیع

As the one who loves is obedient to the one he loves

Dear Readers! If our claim of our love for Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) is true, then we need to follow what he has followed. Prayer was most beloved to Hussayn (رَضِيَ ٱللَّٰهُ عَنْهُ) and he prayed regularly throughout his life. He was always the one to offer his prayers on time. He never deceived anyone. He was on the highest level of fearing Allah (عَزَّوَجَلَّ) (taqwa). He followed the commands of Allah (عَزَّوَجَلَّ) and the way of the Prophet ﷺ. If we claim to love him, this is what we ought to do also. Why are our lives so different from his? Let us leave all innovative practices and customs. Let us not waste time and our money and follow the footsteps of those whose aim is to destroy Islam and the true religion. Let us unite with the true Islam, In Sha’Allah. Let us all make an effort!