Muharram has many virtues, the most poignant of which is the day of Ashura.
This is the day, as narrated, that Musa (AS) was saved from Pharoah i.e. when he was escaping with the Bani Israel through the Red Sea and Allah caused Pharoah and his army to be drowned therein.
What many people may not realise is that this day has always been a holy day and many narrations reach us about other Prophets who were blessed on this day i.e. the Ark of Nuh (AS) settling on the mountain on this day and Nuh giving thanks to Allah for that.
Sufficient for us to know is that the Prophet (SAW) would fast Ashura with the Quraysh pre-revelation. When he migrated to Madinah he continued to fast this day and also commanded the Ansar to do likewise. He said that those who are fasting should continue and those who have not eaten should fast. He also told the women to make toys for their children to encourage the children to keep the fast too.
This was pre-Ramadan and with the introduction of the obligation of Ramadan (2AH) the fast of Ashura became a voluntary fast, but one which the Prophet (SAW) was eager to keep. When the Jews were asked why they were fasting Ashura (they would also keep this fast as well as the Pagan Arabs), they would respond that Musa (AS) fasted out of thanks to Allah and they also fast out of thanks to Allah. The Prophet (SAW) said that “we are more deserving of Musa (AS) than you”.
At the end of his life the Prophet (SAW) told the Muslims to differentiate the fast of Ashura from the Jews (and pagans). They only fasted the 10th Muharram and he told the Muslims that when the next year comes, insahallah, we will fast the 9th (along with the 10th). In another narration he said the day before it [Ashura] or the day after it. Either way, he (SAW) did not live to see the next Muharram, but as his followers we fast either the 10th by itself, or the 9th and 10th or 10th and 11th.
We can see the emphasis placed on this fasting and whilst the other traditions have left this fast, the Muslims, Alhamdulillah, haven’t. This is a blessed day and one which we should remind our children about. Speak to them about the story of Musa and Nuh and how they gave thanks to Allah on this day by fasting. It will encourage you and your children to fast this day. This is without mentioning that it has been narrated how Allah forgives a person’s sins for the whole year preceding for the one who fasts this day.
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Martyrdom of Al-Hussain
To keep this brief, we should also use this day to remind ourselves about who Imam al-Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet (SAW) was and how he was martyred on this day. We should know that Al-Hussain was a great figure with many virtues. We shouldn’t be worried about learning about Imam al-Hussain for fear of being considered amongst the Shia’. As Sunnis, we have a duty to love the family of the Prophet (SAW) and that duty can only be fulfilled by learning about them. Our way is the way of the Prophet (SAW) and he was a paragon of balance, which is why we refrain from extreme actions of any sort. We totally distance ourselves from the way of some of the Shia’ who use this day to harm/mutilate themselves as some type of mourning in the name of Al-Hussain.
Who was he? He is one of the sons from Ali ibn Abu Talib (RA), cousin of the Prophet (SAW) and Fatimah az-Zahra (RA) daughter of the Prophet (SAW). He was born in the 4th year after hijrah. Many narrations have come to us from Prophet (SAW) about him (and his brother al-Hassan) such as, “Oh Allah I love them, so love them“. When he (SAW) was asked “which of the people of your house are most beloved to you? He (SAW) would say, “al-Hassan and al-Hussain” and he used to say to Fatimah “call my two sons for me” and he would smell them and hug them. He said that they would be the leaders of the youth in Jannah and that they are his two fragrant flowers in the world and he said, Hussain is from me and I am from him. May Allah love those who love Hussain.
These narrations are found in the main hadith collections and are agreed upon by sunni scholars, but yet we keep clear about learning and loving the family of the Prophet (SAW).
How did he die? To cut a very long story short, Muawiyyah the son of Abu Sufyan (both Sahabi) became the Caliph and ruled well for many years. As his death was approaching he made a huge error, as agreed by the scholars, by giving the caliphate to his son, Yazid. When Muawiyyah died (60AH), all of the sahabah of the Prophet (SAW) who were still alive, pledged their allegiance to him to save bloodshed of the Muslims except Abdullah ibn Zubair and al-Hussain. Al-Hussain moved with Abdullah ibn Zubair to Makkah and heard from the people of Kufa (in Iraq) that they wanted to pledged allegiance to him as they had previously pledged allegiance to his father, Ali (RA). Ali’s seat of governance was in Kufa. 500 letters later, al-Hussain decided to accept the people’s request. He sent his cousin, Muslim ibn Aqil to do some reconnaissance and see if it is true. It was and people would come to Muslim to give their pledge of allegiance to al-Hussain. Muslim sent a letter to al-Hussain to say that he had 4000 warriors with him ready to lay their lives for al-Hussain. However, there were spies and word got to Yazid of this potential coup and he sent his Emir of Basra to check on the situation. The Emir of Kufa (Nu’man ibn Bashir a child during the later years of the Prophet’s life and around the same age as al-Hussain) knew what was going on but did not act because of his love for al-Hussain. The Emir of Basra, Ubaidullah ibn Ziad, removed Nu’man and took control of both Basra and Kufa. He then started to hunt for Muslim. Muslim took the initiative and gathered the 4000 to lay siege on Ubaidullah’s palace but Ubaidullah bought the leaders of the tribes with bribes and threatened them with an army from Syria and soon Muslim was left with 30 men from the 4000 and soon he was by himself. He managed to send a message to al-Hussain to tell him to turn back, but he had already left Makkah to Kufa with 72 people, many of whom were family. Muslim was killed and when al-Hussain received the message he was ready to turn, back but Muslim’s brothers wanted revenge and so they carried on.
Ubaidullah initially sent a contingent of 1000 men to seek al-Hussain to go back. Al-Hussain gave three options to be taken to Ubaidullah, 1) Let me go back, 2) Let me go to Yazid and speak to him or 3) Let me go to the edge of the Muslim lands to live out my days. Initially Ubaidullah was happy with this but one of his evil generals put pride into his heart, telling him to seize this opportunity and make al-Hussain submit to him personally. Ubaidullah sent a further contingent of 4000 men under this general, who also took control of the previous 1000 sent. It was now 5000 v 73 and in the valley of Karbala. It was the time of dhur and the opposing army asked al-Hussain to lead them in prayer after which they drew up battle lines and advanced upon al-Hussain and his 70 odd followers. The followers surrounded al-Hussain to protect him but they fell one by one until only al-Hussain was left. The army did not want to kill him but the evil general, Shamra ibn Jawsham, threw a spear killing him and then cut of his head to take it to Ubaidullah.
Al-Hussain, his brother, his father, his uncle and many other family members were martyrs for the truth and on the path of Allah. We ask Allah to send His Mercy upon them and allow us to be raised with them in Jannah.
Here are some resources which may help http://seekershub.org/ans-blog/2014/11/18/the-martyrdom-of-imam-hussain-at-karbala-a-reader/