By all standards, the day Imam Hussain, the grandson of the beloved Prophet Muhammad, was killed was a great tragedy. Indeed, it was the greatest tragedy. He was martyred, along with his family members, simply because he stood against injustice. The family of Yazeed (the Banu Umayyah) and the family of Ziyad rejoiced the day he was killed. Not only did they celebrate the day of Ashura, but they turned it into a tradition for subsequent years. They would gather their family and friends and rejoice at the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
While fasting is a great form of worship, we the Shia have valid reservations regarding the fast of Ashura. It is always recommended to fast, anytime throughout the year (except Eid), but the problem is that there is a history of politics behind the fast of Ashura.
Killing the very grandson of the Prophet was a major crime, so Banu Umayya attempted to shift the focus of the people for the day of Ashura. Possessing power and money, they spread to the Muslims that Ashura is a blessed day. They did so by indoctrinating their people that on Ashura God saved Prophet Musa and his people from the pharaoh. He saved Prophet Ibrahim from the fire of Namrud, and so on. To thank God for that blessed day, they encouraged the people to fast on Ashura.
Here are several points that demonstrate how the hadeeths which speak of the fast of Ashura are fabricated. The Prophet probably never said them, but they were forged after him.
First: There are several hadeeths in Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, and Tirmidhi which tell us when the Prophet arrived Medina, he saw the Jews fasting, Upon knowing the reason why they were fasting, he said we the Muslims are closer to Musa, so we should also fast. If you analyze these hadeeths, you will realize that they all go back to these four narrators who supposedly narrated them directly from the Prophet:
1- Ibn Abbas
2- Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari
3- Abu Huraira
The Prophet came to Medina the first year of the Hijra. As for Ibn Abbas, he was born three years before Hijra, which makes him four years old when the Prophet supposedly said this Hadith. In the Science of Hadith, the narration of a four-year-old boy is generally not accepted.
As for Abu Musa, he came from the tribe of Banu Ash’ar in Yemen. He became Muslim before the Hijra, but he was not seen in Medina till the battle of Khaybar in the seventh year after Hijra. The Prophet had sent him to Yemen to preach to his tribe. Hence, Abu Musa was not in Medina in the first year of Hijra, so how could he possibly narrate this hadith?
As for Abu Huraira, he also was not seen in Medina until after the battle of Khaybar in the seventh year of Hijra. He also came from Yemen.
As for Muawiya, the son of Abu Sufyan, he became Muslim in the eighth year of Hijra, so how could he narrate a hadith from the Prophet seven or eight years before he became Muslim?
Some of the hadeeth go back to Ibn Zubayr, who was also a young boy when the Prophet entered Medina.
Therefore, it is quite clear that all the narrators of this hadith were either not in Medina at the time, or they were young boys, so how can we possibly accept such a hadith? It is pretty convincing that the hadith was forged later on by Bani Umayya.
Second: Let’s look at the word “Ashura” which is mentioned in the hadith. According to Ibn Al-Atheer, there are two meanings to Ashura: an old meaning and a new meaning. The old meaning, which was during the Arab’s time and the Prophet’s time, meant the tenth day of any month. The new meaning surfaced after Imam Hussain was killed on the tenth of Muharram. After that, Ashura came to be known as the tenth of Muharram, but before that it was simply the tenth day of any month. So when the Prophet supposedly said this hadith, he just said Ashura, and he didn’t say the tenth day of which month. This demonstrates that the hadith was forged after the day of Ashura, and it slipped from the mind of the ones who forged it that before Ashura, the word had a different, more general meaning.
Third: Today, go to any Jew, even their scholars, and ask them: Do you have a fast on the day which God saved Moses, or a day which corresponds to the tenth of Muharram? They don’t, and they will tell you that even in the past they didn’t have such a fast. They fast on Yum Kippur, the day when Moses returned from Mt. Sinai and realized that his people were worshipping the calf. To expiate for their sin, they fasted, but they have no fast they day God saved them from the pharaoh. But the hadith in the books of Saheeh tells us that it was a tradition of the Jews, and they would all fast that day.
If you even look at the day the Jews fast, it never corresponded with the tenth of Muharram when the Prophet came to Medina. It corresponded with Muharram on the 28th year after Hijra.
Fourth: It seems the one who forged the hadith was not aware of how the Islamic Calendar originated. During the time of Umar, since Muslims wanted a set date to refer to, he created the Hijri calendar by seeking the advice of Imam Ali. So they decided to make the starting point the migration of the Prophet, and they made the first month Muharram. However, the Prophet entered Medina in Rabi-ul-Awwal, not in Muharram, and so the one who probably forged the hadith assumed that the Prophet entered Medina in Muharram because that is when the calendar starts. So the hadith tells us the Prophet when he first entered Medina he saw the Jews fasting on Ashura, but the Prophet didn’t enter Medina in Muharram, he did so in Rabu-ul-Awwal, ten months before Muharram! There’s a clear discrepancy here.
Fifth: The prophet knows more about the Shariah of previous Prophets such as Prophet Musa, and he doesn’t need the Jews to teach him that. The Prophet is also higher than copying what the Jews would do.
Sixth: How come there is so much emphasis on the fast of Ashura around the world? Thousands of speeches are dedicated to it, millions of pamphlets are distributed encouraging people to fast on Ashura, and so on. There are many other days throughout the year which are highly recommended to fast, such as the 27th of Rajab, but how come you don’t see a single pamphlet or speech encouraging it? This shows that this is a political thing, originally designed to focus the attention away from the Martyrdom of Imam Hussain, and to consider it a blessed day. I don’t know how anyone can stand on the Day of Judgment before Prophet Muhammad and consider the very day his grandson was slaughtered a blessed day.
Thus, based on these reasons we Shia have our reservations on the fast of Ashura. Banu Umayya were behind it, and considering it a blessed day is not an offence to us the Shia, but an offence to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him and his family.
-Syed Baqir Al Qazwini
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