The Children of Israel (descendants of Prophet Yaqub (A)) entered Egypt at the time of the Prophet Yusuf (A), but became enslaved over the years. The Pharaoh, the ruler-king of Egypt, had a dream that an Israelite would devastate his kingdom, and so he ordered that Israelite male infants be killed upon birth. Prophet Musa was the Israelite chosen by Allah to preach tawhid to Pharaoh, who called himself a god, and to free his people from oppression.
Ashura, or the 10th of Muharram, is the day Prophet Musa split the Red Sea with his staff to create safe passage for his people, liberating them from the grasp of Pharaoh through Allah’s will. This opening served as a new beginning for him and his people to create a new homeland for themselves where they could live freely and practice their faith in peace.
The early Muslims took solace in this story revealed in the Quran as they made their own migration out of Makkah, where they were persecuted by the pagan leadership. After the hijrah to Medina, they attained the freedom to worship Allah freely and were able to effectively organize to defend themselves against their oppressors.
Abdullah Ibn Abbas (R) reported: The Messenger of Allah (S) came to Medina, and he found the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. The Prophet (S) said, “What is this day you are fasting?” They said, “This is a great day in which Allah saved Musa and his people, and he drowned Pharaoh and his people. Musa fasted on it due to gratitude, so we also fast on it. The Prophet (S) said, “We are more deserving and are closer to Musa than you.” The Prophet fasted the day of Ashura, and he commanded fasting on it. ” [Bukhari]
The Prophet Mohammad (S) had made it obligatory to fast the 10th of Muharram before the commandment to fast the month of Ramadan was revealed. Afterwards, even when it was no longer mandatory to fast on Ashura, the Prophet (S) was reported to be more eager to fast on this day than any other outside of Ramadan. It carries the reward of forgiveness of one’s past year of sins.
Prophet Musa’s story resonated with the early Muslims, and also resonates with us today countless years later. We learn that during our most difficult times, when we feel we are trapped or that there is no way out, we must have full trust and confidence in Allah’s power and might. When we fast Ashura and reflect on this new beginning Allah granted Moses and his people, let us it as an opportunity to:
- start a new chapter of spirituality in our own lives
- make a promise to ourselves that we will not go back to old habits that are not pleasing to Allah
- make a commitment to take up new habits that will bring us closer to Allah