Today is ‘Ashuraa’, a day we fast in commemoration of our beloved Prophet Musa’s safe escape from Fir’awn and his tyranny. I would like to share a few thoughts on this blessed occasion.
No story is repeated in the Qur’an as often as the story of Musa (as). His story has been referenced 136 times! Out of all nations, Allah chose to tell us the most about the Children of Israel, especially in the Makkan Suwar. Their tales fill Surat Al-Baqarah, Aali-‘Imraan, Al-An’aam, Al-A’raaf, Al-Israa’, Yunus, Hud, and many others. This is mainly because these stories are full of lessons for us to learn from, and the trials of Bani Isra’il and our own trials bear a very similar resemblance. For this reason, we must carefully study what Allah has told us about them, so that we may benefit from their experiences through Allah’s guidance. At this time, I would like to share some of the stories and lessons that we should reflect on as we fast this blessed day of ‘Ashuraa on which Allah saved Musa and his people from Fir’awn and his army.
1. We must first realize that this day marks a monumental event, one that changed the course of history. It is a day when good triumphed over evil, when the oppressed rose above their oppressors. Generations after generations knew of this day and celebrated it. Even the Pre-Islamic Arabs used to venerate this day and some would fast it.
2. Our commemoration of this event is significant in that it shows us that the bonds of faith, truth, and justice, are stronger than any other bonds, be they tribal, racial, national, or other. The Prophet (s) told us that we have more of a right to celebrate Musa than even the Jews did, even though our race, language, culture, and time are all different.
3. This event gives us hope and reminds us that all oppression, even extreme tyranny like Fir’awn’s will inevitably be destroyed. “Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.” (Al-Qasas 4)
4. It reminds us that victory will eventually be for the believers, the patient, and the oppressed regardless of how powerful the oppressor is or how long the oppression lasts. “And We wanted to confer favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors, and establish them in the land and show Pharaoh and [his minister] Haman and their soldiers through them that which they had feared.” (Al-Qasas 5-6) “Said Moses to his people, ‘Seek help through Allah and be patient. Indeed, the earth belongs to Allah. He causes to inherit it whom He wills of His servants. And the [best] outcome is for the righteous.’” (Al-A’raaf 128)
5. It illustrates how Allah is the best of planners, for “[the decree of] Allah came upon them from where they had not expected.” (Al-Hashr:2) Pharaoh commanded that all the Israelites newborns be killed in order to protect his kingdom. Yet, it was this very command that caused Musa to be cast into a river and end up in Pharaoh’s home where he could learn the ins and outs of Pharaoh’s life! “’Cast him into the chest and cast it into the river, and the river will throw it onto the bank; there will take him an enemy to Me and an enemy to him.’ And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye.” (TaHa: 39)
Allah caused the love of the infant Musa to enter the heart of Pharaoh’s own wife, who raised him and was the first to believe in his message. The beams of faith thus emanated first from within Pharaoh’s own home. “And the wife of Pharaoh said, “[He will be] a comfort of the eye for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not.” (Al-Qasas:9) “And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, ‘My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people.’” (Al-Tahrim: 11)
Pharaoh sought support from the magicians, yet they were the first to publicly believe in Musa in front of all of Egypt! “So the magicians fell down in prostration. They said, ‘We have believed in the Lord of Aaron and Moses.’ [Pharaoh] said, ‘You believed him before I gave you permission. Indeed, he is your leader who has taught you magic. So I will surely cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and you will surely know which of us is more severe in [giving] punishment and more enduring.’ They said, ‘Never will we prefer you over what has come to us of clear proofs and [over] He who created us. So decree whatever you are to decree. You can only decree for this worldly life. Indeed, we have believed in our Lord that He may forgive us our sins and what you compelled us [to do] of magic. And Allah is better and more enduring.’ Indeed, whoever comes to his Lord as a criminal – indeed, for him is Hell; he will neither die therein nor live. But whoever comes to Him as a believer having done righteous deeds – for those will be the highest degrees [in position].” (TaHa: 70-75)
6. The story teaches us to trust in Allah’s promise and in His infinite Wisdom even when we don’t understand why something is happening. “And We inspired to the mother of Moses, ‘Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers.’ And the family of Pharaoh picked him up [out of the river] so that he would become to them an enemy and a [cause of] grief. Indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners.” (Al-Qasas:7-8) “So We restored him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of the people do not know.” (Al-Qasas: 13)
This confidence in Allah was missing when Bani Isra’il said, “We have been harmed before you came to us and after you have come to us,” but Musa reminded them, “Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do.” (Al-A’raf:129) Musa exhibited this trust in Allah in the direst of circumstances, trust that we must all develop. “And when the two companies saw one another, the companions of Moses said, ‘Indeed, we are to be overtaken!’ [Moses] said, ‘No! Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me.’” (Al-Shu’araa: 61-62)
7. Victory sometimes comes at the hands of the believers in Allah, and at other times, Allah destroys the disbelievers directly, such as at the sea with Musa or on the Day of the Trench with the Prophet Muhammad (s). “And Allah will be sufficient for you against them.” (Al-Baqarah:137)” Is not Allah sufficient for His Servant [Prophet Muhammad]?” (Al-Zumar: 36)
8. ‘Ashuraa reminds us that disbelief and arrogance go hand in hand, as arrogance blinds a person from seeing the most obvious of signs. Faith is not a matter of reason; it is a spiritual and emotional state, a matter of the heart. “And they said, ‘No matter what sign you bring us with which to bewitch us, we will not be believers in you.’ So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people.” (Al-A’raf: 132-133) “And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, ‘I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.’” (Yunus: 90) And the result was that “We saved Moses and those with him, all together. Then We drowned the others.” (Al-Shu’araa: 65-66)
9. This day reminds us to turn to Allah in humble worship during times of trial and calamity, and to continuously pray for our safety and success. “So they said, “Upon Allah do we rely. Our Lord, make us not [objects of] trial for the wrongdoing people. And save us by Your mercy from the disbelieving people.’” (Yunus: 85-86) “Said Moses to his people, ‘Seek help through Allah and be patient. Indeed, the earth belongs to Allah . He causes to inherit it whom He wills of His servants. And the [best] outcome is for the righteous.’” (Al-A’raf: 128) When praying at their temples became difficult, Allah commanded them to establish their prayers in their homes. “And We inspired to Moses and his brother, ‘Settle your people in Egypt in houses and make your houses [facing the] qiblah and establish prayer and give good tidings to the believers.’” (Yunus: 87)
10. This day teaches us that all times are a test. Victory is honor, but it is also a test. “He said, ‘Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy and grant you succession in the land and see how you will do.’” (Al-A’raf: 129)
11. ‘Ashuraa teaches us that humans will be tested even after gaining the upper hand, but that one cannot succeed and triumph without first being tested.
12. We also learn that loyalty to the Truth and what is right is prioritized above any other loyalties. We cannot let our personal bonds get in the way of removing oppression and establishing what is just and right. “[Pharaoh] said, ‘Did we not raise you among us as a child, and you remained among us for years of your life?’” (Al-Shu’araa: 18)
13. Admitting our mistakes and learning from them is crucial, but this should never leave us hostage to our past follies. We must have faith in our ability to grow and change, so we may move forward in life, better for what we have learned through our mistakes. “’And [then] you did your deed which you did, and you were of the ungrateful.’ [Moses] said, ‘I did it, then, while I was of those astray. So I fled from you when I feared you. Then my Lord granted me wisdom and prophethood and appointed me [as one] of the messengers.’” (Al-Shu’araa: 19-21)
14. We should not fall prey to propaganda and false labels and notions promoted by the media. This is a prime tactic for swaying people away from the Truth and perpetrating injustice. “[Pharaoh] said to the eminent ones around him, ‘Indeed, this is a learned magician. He wants to drive you out of your land by his magic, so what do you advise?’” (Al-Shu’araa: 34-35) “[Pharaoh] said, ‘Indeed, your “messenger” who has been sent to you is mad.’” (Al-Shu’araa:27) “And Pharaoh said, ‘Let me kill Moses and let him call upon his Lord. Indeed, I fear that he will change your religion or that he will cause corruption in the land.’” (Ghafir:26)
15. The story behind ‘Ashuraa teaches activists and educators and all those working for positive change to work together and complement one another’s efforts with their personal strengths. “’And appoint for me a minister from my family – Aaron, my brother. Increase through him my strength, and let him share my task.’” (TaHa: 29-32)
16. The Day of ‘Ashuraa also reminds us that regardless of how tyrannical or oppressive a criminal is, calling them to Allah requires wisdom and gentleness. “And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear [Allah ].” [TaHa: 44) It has been narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas that he said: Were Fir’awn himself to say, “God bless you,” to me, I would have replied, “And to you as well.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)
17. ‘Ashuraa reminds us of how some nations have changed the rites of their religions and turned it into nothing but celebrations and ceremonies. Instead of following religious guidance in their daily lives through servitude to Allah (swt), many of Bani Isra’il and sadly, many Muslims as well, view their religiosity as participating in celebrations and ceremonies marking religious events. Instead of playing and amusing ourselves in celebration, the way we are to commemorate this historic event is by performing an act of worship in gratitude, i.e. fasting.
18. The Day of ‘Ashuraa reminds us to be open to people of other cultures and religions, to benefit from them in areas that do not contradict our own religion, and to dialogue and cooperate with them in our shared interests in the betterment of humanity.
19. The Day of ‘Ashuraa teaches us to establish our uniqueness as a religious identity. The Prophet (s) said, “If I live until the next year, I will surely fast the ninth day (too).”
20. Gratitude and thankfulness are not only expressed through words and emotions, but through faith and action as well. For this reason, we fast as manifestation of our thankfulness for this blessing.
21. We learn the status of fasting as an act of worship from ‘Ashuraa. Noble acts are prescribed in noble times, such as this day.
22. This day reminds us of how believers feel genuine joy for others when oppression is lifted from them. It teaches us to have empathy and care for the oppressed around the world, cheering them on and helping them to become free from the oppressions they face.
These are some reflections that came to mind regarding this great day. I pray that Allah gives victory to all those who are oppressed worldwide, and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His final messenger, Muhammad, and his family.