Monday, 28 December 2009

Fasting on the day of ashura

I am really tired of receiving Emails and texts about fasting on the day of ashura! While I’ve always known that this belief exists among the suni, (and even participated in it before I knew different!), I seem to have received more Emails and other assorted propaganda about it this year than any other year!

Its true that this year has seen a palpable movement among the suni towards change, I like to think our efforts through Ahlulbayt TV have gone some way towards changing this: there are certainly large numbers of sunis watching the channel judging by the calls we get. We have seen more sunis attending our muherram majliss this year, and we’ve even seen the newly formed ‘umma TV channel producing a documentary series entitled ‘the truth behind Karbala. Regardless of its authenticity, the very fact that a suni Muslim is even referring to Karbala is a massive achievement! Those who read this blog regularly won’t have failed to notice the fact that I normally refer to ‘wahabis, when speaking about those who display sectarian sentiment, and this for the most part is true, but with regards to fasting on Ashura, we see remarkable unity between the various branches of suni Islam with regards to its authenticity!
I find this remarkable given the unreliable hadaith sources that they take their ‘prescribed fast from! Whether I claim to be suni or shia, hadaith (sayings of our Prophet PBUH) are a very precise science! If I am quoting hadaith, or basing my practises upon them, I want to be able to examine the chain of narration, I want to know exactly who said it to who, and who was the original source who heard the hadaith narrated straight from the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). During this critical analysis, it falls to me to not merely rely on secondary sources (some of the Emails I’ve received quote “local mosque” as their hadaith source!), I want to identify each and every one in that chain of narration, to insure myself that they had no agenda behind their narration (or innovation), before I can be sure that the hadaith I am following or implementing in my life is genuinely accurate and correct. In short I want yakeen (certainty), or as close to it as I can get, before I will trust, or act on any hadaith I am shown. I am shocked when I look at Islam today and see the overwhelming lethargy that exists within followers of all branches: no longer is there a desire to study, introspect and reflect, it is enough to quote from 3rd rate books and Emails, and accept blindly what self made leaders and teachers tell us. I am not a scholar by any means, but I came to the path of Ahlulbayt through hard fast facts, through truth and truth alone, no spin pamphlets, no fanatical speakers or indoctrinating TV shows, through basic logic and reasoning, I saw how I had been fooled and fooled some more by those claiming to be on the path of Allah (SWT) and his Prophet (PBUH), yet displaying something different through their actions.

Back to the topic though: even if we are to suppose that the hadaith used to justify fasting on Ashura is correct, surely this would not override the importance of debating and reflecting on the tragedy of Karbala? The sacrifice made on the 10th of Muherram by Imam Hussain (A.S) and his family is one of the most profound sacrifices this world has ever seen. The tragedy of karbala is neither shia nor Suni, neither is it Islamic or Unislamic (the sacrifice might have been performed to purify Islam, but it was not performed for the benefit of Muslims alone!). When we examine the tragedy of Karbala we are faced with a reality that hits the heart on a level which is so elemental: good verses evil, and regardless of the outcome, the truth shall always prevail in the long term: Hussain may have lost his life, but the reality of the good that he stood for lives on and always will by the grace of Allah (SWT) and those who uphold justice and fight against evil. Yet in today’s world, Karbala is almost a curse word within certain suni circles, it is never mentioned, never discussed, never remembered during muherram. The suni say, that they honour the day of ashura because it marks the liberation of the children of Israel, and celebrates a time when good overcame evil! While we wouldn’t “celebrate”, we would most certainly support those principals: after all, aren’t those the precise ideals held by Imam Hussain (A.S) and his family when they fought and died at Karbala? Isn’t Karbala, the very essence that should bind us together as an Umma? Regardless of our sectarian differences? Shouldn’t we be giving thanks for this sacrifice and sharing the message it holds with all we know: Muslim and non-Muslim?
Perhaps we should! But what we see manifested today is a very bitter, very different reality. Saudi funded masjids spend millions on promoting this fast: leaflets, lectures, reminders and the like. The spin doctors get to work generating the accompanying texts and Emails that clutter your inbox at this time of the year, and if you are to visit wahabi run regimes such as Saudi, the propaganda being spouted during muherram with regard to this fast is absolutely phenomenal (stop me if you are seeing a pattern forming here).

Below, I shall try to unpick some of the falsehoods that are attached to this hadaith, and try to encourage my dear readers to take a slightly different view (my purpose for doing so is not to destroy another person’s beliefs, as many do to us, but simply to encourage us to look closer, reflect and study the facts for yourselves, don’t take my word for it, but go back to the sources, read and analyse for yourselves, then draw your own conclusions! And Allah (SWT) knows best.

The hadaith in question says that when entering Medina, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), saw the people fasting, when he asked them why, they said they were fasting in honour of the children of Israel being liberated from Faro. He is alleged to have replied “I have more right over Musa than they do”, and then advised the people to keep this fast. Then, one of the companions is alleged to have asked why the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) who had come to perfect religion, would innovate, and adopt a fast from the Jews in this way (a question I often asked of myself when I read the hadaith), but the Prophet is then alleged to have advised the people to fast both the 9th and the 10th, to avoid “biddah” (innovation), its not like our Prophet to innovate/invent as he goes along now is it? moreover, if he was to adopt this hadaith, there are so many other events narrated in the qur’an which would justify the observance of a fast on this day: i.e., Prophet Yakoob’s eyesight was restored to him on the 10th of Muherram, Prophet Ioube’s illness was cured on the 10th of Muherram, Prophet Abraham was rescued from the fire on the 10th Muherram, and of course, Prophet Noah’s people were rescued from the ark on the 10th Muherram. yet somehow, many of us choose to accept this hadaith!
Fasts in Islam come under various categories: wajib (compulsory fasts), mustahab (preferred/recommended), macru (disliked), or mubbah (days/fasts which are neither one nor the other), and haram (forbidden). You might then expect that, if such a hadaith existed, that the fast might be forbidden/disliked, even indifferent! But this particular fast is said to be ‘mustahab (preferred/recommended).
Moreover, we see that the issue is not even with the source, as the hadaith in question can be found in at least 2 reliable hadaith collections: Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi. As discussed above, when examining the Science of hadaith, we should not only look at the secondary source (the book/collection, or the advice of later narrators), but should examine the chain of narrations for authenticity and accuracy. We all know that after the death of the Prophet of Islam, a great deal of money was generated by the selling/propagation of false hadaith, and so we need to insure the hadaith we are referring to do not fall under this category. If you study the hadaith regarding fasting on Ashura, you’ll notice 4 particular names who appear in one/all of the chains relating to the above hadaith.
1. Ibn Abbas. (who was 4 years old at that time when the hadaith was revealed). According to many scholars, (and understandably so), a 4-year-old is not a reliable source to quote hadaith from (unless he was a Prophet etc: e.g., nabi Eesa who had the gift of speech and intelligence as an infant).
2. 2. Muawiyah Ibn Sufyan. (who didn’t convert to Islam till the 8th year of Hijra, so wouldn’t have been in Medina at this time either). Moreover, we all know who/what Muawiyah went on to become and the vile actions he displayed during the tragedy of Karbala, so he is hardly a credible source for accurate hadaith regarding this particular period in Islamic history!
3. 3. Abu Musa al-ashari (who converted 3 years before hijra, and was then told to go to Yemen and spread Islam there), and therefore, wouldn’t have been in Medina at that time.
4. 4. Abu Hurera, (who was also not found in Medina at that time and was also in Yemen). Historical accounts of the companions, and their links (or lack of them) to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), are unanimous in finding him an unreliable source of hadaith. Some point to this being a consequence of how little time he actually spent with the Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime, but most point to the fact that following the Prophet’s death, Abu Hurera was a leading light within the practise of inventing/altering hadaith for money (usually bribes), to change the context/commentary or content of a hadaith to reflect the agenda of a particular leader/khalifa at that time.
5. In the book of al-tabari, Omer Ibn Al Khatab chastises Abu Hurera for selling fake hadaith and extorting the ignorance of others: thus making depending on such a chain less than useless. You must have by now noticed the obvious issues with the reliability of this chain of hadaith! But even so, could there still be some truth behind these claims? After all, surely the emphasis placed upon this fast today have to count for something: is there some fact in it somewhere?
6. To answer that question, we need to first look at the meaning of the word ‘ashura. According to most Arabic language scholars and linguists,
The word ashura has an old meaning and a new meaning. The old meaning is the 10th of any month, while the new meaning came after the death of Hussain (A.S) in Karbala. (ibn Akheer), and a statement also found in books of hadaith/Islamic history. Therefore any hadaith recorded before the 61st year of Hijra, must refer to the 10th of any month, not necessarily the 10th of Muherram.
On a practical level, if we want to know about Jewish fasts (past and present), can’t we ask the Jewish community if such a fast exists or not?
The hadaith said that the Jews had a fast on the 10th of the Jewish Month Tishiri, and that at this time it fell on the 10th of Muherram.
The only time 10th Tishiri fell on the 10th of Muherram was on the 28th year after Hijra, (not corresponding with the dates given in the hadaith either). Moreover, the 10th Tishiri fast does not relate to Jews being liberated, rather it is to mark yom Kipoor (Yom Kifara), the day of atonement, the day when Prophet Musa (A.S) found the Jews worshipping a calf and had to seek forgiveness from Allah (SWT).
The Jews were saved from drowning and oppression from Faro on the 15th of Neesan (which fell during the last 10 days of the Islamic month of Ramadhan (23rd ramadhan to be exact!).

When the Prophet of Islam entered Medina, he did not enter during muherram, he entered during rabi-al-awl. The hadaith was clearly written by some one who did not understand the compilation of the Islamic calendar: i.e., the Prophet of Islam said that the Islamic year will begin with the Month of Muherram, rather than from the date of Hijra.

If Abu Hurera is such an important figure, why isn’t money being ploughed in to other hadaith related by him? I.e., he relates hadaith about fasting on the 27th Rajab, (yet no one invests such time and money in promoting this fast). If this man claims to love the Prophet of Islam, why didn’t he speak out about other sunnah acts being changed (the wording of the adhan?). Why is it that he sat back and did nothing when the 2nd Khalifa invented ‘tarawi prayers, the “good biddah”, which were never performed as communal prayers during the time of the Prophet of Islam?

Laws within Islam are generally permanent, fixed and unchanged, though can/have been changed on occasions to perfect/protect the religion: e.g., drinking alcohol was permitted until the qur’an made it heram for the believers. Generally, every one and any one was permitted to meet with the Prophet (PBUH), to converse, study and learn from him, yet there was a time when payment was taken for such visitations, in order to meet with the Prophet, in order to prevent certain people surrounding him, pushing their own agendas. Therefore, if there had been a fast on the day of ashura, wouldn’t it have evolved to include the tragedy of Karbala?
When all is said and done, even if there really was a fast that used to be performed on the day of the 10th of Muherram, we learn from the hadaith of Mohammed Bakir (A.S) the 5th Imam of the shias, and great-grandson of the Prophet (PBUH) who clearly states, that any fast previously performed on the 10th of Muherram was superseded by the death of Hussain (A.S) and is therefore no longer valid. Given that Imam Bakir (A.S) belonged to the family of the Prophet, isn’t he more likely to be acquainted with the real facts of the matter?
This is further emphasised by the 6th Imam, Jaffer Saddiq (A.S), who says, that even if a person fasts on the day of Ashura, he should not fast the whole day, and when he breaks his fast, he should do so with something small (as the people of the Ahlulbayt had empty stomachs on that day). He also says that if you fast, you should break your fast 1 hour before sunset, as this was the time that our beloved Imam Hussain (A.S) was martyred.

Even after reading all the above evidence you still insist on the fast, perhaps you will take the propaganda surrounding it allot more seriously! Even as a shia Muslim, my argument here is not with the act of the fast its self, its with the concerted efforts made to use a weak hadaith and a powerful media machine to divert people away from the tragedy and the evil crime that was performed on that day, and that diversion too being nothing more than a political convenience rather than any thing spiritual!
Today, we see Muslims looking for celebrations, seeking blessings in a day of sorrow, how many of us celebrate funerals, or the deaths of our ancestors? Don’t we generally observe such days as days of mourning for us? As days that force us to reflect on our own mortality, and the need to perfect our lives, character and actions? Imam Jaffer Saddiq (A.S) has said, that any unnecessary actions performed on the day of ashura: i.e., idle chat, work, shopping etc, are all completely fruitless. This is not a day of blessing or forgiveness of sins, it is not a day for sound, for activity or any kind of merry-making. It is a day of great tragedy, a day when even the Western History books report on the sky raining pure blood, and rising and setting in red every day for 40 days. The earth trembled and shook, and people of truth were left to shiver in fear, and marvel at how the deaths of these pure souls signified a protest against all that is evil, and a stand till the very end to protect all that is pure and sacred. When you next listen to a so-called scholar, or are sent a forwarded hadaith Email, investigate the source, research the chains within it, and end all of that study with a dua to ask Allah (SWT) to grant you knowledge of good as it really is, and falsehood as falsehood really is, and may we all be blessed with soundness in judgement, and truthful guides to the path of huq in all matters we encounter through our journey through life, Aameen.
May Allah bless Mohammed (PBUH), and the family of Mohammed (A.S), and the companions of Mohammed and his family (may Allah be pleased with them all), and may Allah curse and dam the evil doers and the killers of Hussain (A.S) and his family, for now and always, and may he grant us the confidence, knowledge and akhlaaq to stand up against those who try to suppress his message, so that we become true representatives of the truth, and servants he can be proud of for all of eternity, in this life, and in the next, Insha Allah!

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