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Ashura: The Victory of Musa And Victory of Husain

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The month of Muharram has already begun, and ‘Ashura is upon us. Unfortunately, it feels as though each year, we grow more and more distant from the true importance of the month of Muharram and of its tenth day. With each passing year, we see more “Happy Islamic New Year!” announcements and “Every day is ‘Ashura, every day is Karbala!” slogans – pointing to a deeply problematic understanding of what exactly Muharram and ‘Ashura signify. 

It is Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Who created the months of the year, and it is He alone Who chooses which of those months are sacred and which of those days are meant to be days of celebration and commemoration. In the Sunnah of RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we have ample evidence of specific examples: the month of Ramadan, the last ten nights of Ramadan, the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah (including the day of ‘Arafah and the day of Nahr), and so on.

Muharram is one of those months, and is indeed the first of the Sacred Months of the Islamic calendar. Yet never did RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) or his Companions take the first day of the ‘Islamic new year’ as something to commemorate or make special note of. Rather, it is the day of ‘Ashura – the 10th of Muharram – that is marked as being of significant importance in Islam. (In short: “Happy Islamic New Year” is not a Sunnah. Everyone needs to chill with inventing new bid’ah every year.)

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As for ‘Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram, it is a day that was specifically mentioned by RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as being a day to be remembered.

When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) arrived in Medina, the Jews were observing the fast on ‘Ashura (10th of Muharram) and they said,

“This is the day when Musa became victorious over Pharaoh,” On that, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to his Companions, “You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses’ victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day.” [Bukhari]

He also informed the Sahabah: “Fast the Day of ‘Ashura, for indeed I anticipate that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will forgive (the sins of) the year before it.” [Tirmidhi]

Umm al-Mu’mineen Hafsah bint ‘Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said: “There are four things which the Prophet never gave up: Fasting ‘Ashura’, (fasting during) the ten days, (fasting) three days of each month, and praying two Rak’ahs before Al-Ghadah (Fajr).” [Nasa’i]

For this day to be singled out by the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) shows that there was something truly unique about it. At the time of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Bani Isra’eel – the believers of that time – had suffered generations of oppression and injustice at the hands of one of the most genocidal tyrants of all time, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Bani Isra’eel had been enslaved and used for the most painful and backbreaking of labour; Fir’awn had their menfolk killed, leaving the women alive to be raped and tormented. Worse still, while Bani Isra’eel struggled in the depths of their torturous enslavement to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone, Fir’awn declared himself to be God, commanding all those around him to worship him. It was a devastating time of darkness, of oppression that had perhaps never been matched at such a scale before. The coming of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a Prophet to Bani Isra’eel heralded a new era: an era where tawheed would once again fill the hearts of people, an era where the vicious regime of Fir’awn would be eradicated, an era where the believers would be powerful once again. The day of Fir’awn’s destruction, as the Red Sea split for Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Bani Israel and opened their way to freedom, was a day where Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) Promise was most visibly evident: 

{…Truth has come, and falsehood has been extinguished. Indeed, falsehood is ever bound to vanish!} [Qur’an 17:81]

It is for this reason alone that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded us to fast the day of ‘Ashura: as a celebration of the believers’ victory over Fir’awn, and as an opportunity for the expiation of sins. It is not, and never was, commemorated as a day of mourning for the martyrdom of Husain ibn ‘Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). Indeed, to claim ‘Ashurah, or the month of Muharram, as a time of grief and of performing rituals to commemorate that undoubtedly tragic event, is a blatant rejection of the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). ‘Ashura remains for us a powerful day of reminder: that victory will only come to those who believe in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), to those who struggle for His Cause, to those who obey Him fully, and to those who seek repentance for their own shortcomings. Then, and only then, will we experience the blessings of a victory like that of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) against Fir’awn. 

Even as it is absolutely necessary for us to understand that the act of ‘ibadah specified for ‘Ashura was with regards to Musa’s triumph over Fir’awn, it is also important for us to be aware of the later events of our Islamic history that took place on this day. 

 The story of Hussain ibn Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) is not one that belongs to only a certain group of people; it belongs to the Ummah as a whole, and in particular, those who profess to be of Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamaa’ah – those who must, by necessity, love RasulAllah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his Ahlul Bayt. It is extremely unfortunate that many of us have not been taught to understand the story of Husain raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and his death in a contextualized manner; for either there is a tendency to shy away from speaking about the story of Hussain raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) out of fear of being associated with the Shi’a and the many bid’ah that have arisen related to the incident, or there is an exaggeration over what happened, those involved, and how we as Muslims speak of the tragic story. 

As Muslims, we have an obligation to be honest to our history, to be true to it, and to learn from it – for verily, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is al-Qaadir, the One Who decrees events to take place, and it is we who must understand the ayaat (signs) that He has placed in those moments.

The story of Hussain is not one that is in opposition to the story of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), but in fact confirms it, and confirms the spirit of ‘Ashura. That spirit is one of struggle against falsehood, oppression, and injustice; and of victory.

Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) stood against Fir’awn; as a humble Prophet with a community of former slaves facing the most powerful ruler of the time and his vast army of brutal soldiers.

Husain ibn Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) stood against Yazeed ibn Mu’awiyah; the grandson of the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and his family members, facing the ruler of the Islamic empire at the time, and his vast army of soldiers loyal to his cause.

Neither Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) nor Husain raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) were military leaders, nor did they set out with military intentions. Their only intention was to speak truth to power; to stand against the oppression of the innocent, and to remind those in authority of the One with true power overall.

Whereas Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was given a clear victory against his enemy, little do we realize that Husain raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was also given a victory of his own. Though he may have perished, though his family was captured, and though it was perceived that the political influence of Ahlul Bayt was destroyed, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) brought about an even greater victory through all of that: recognition for the rest of the Ummah, and for hundreds of years to come, that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) returns to Himself those whom He loves. Husain raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) died as a shaheed for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), and he remains a symbol of courage, determination, and justice to us all.

In a time when we are seeing Muslims across the world being destroyed almost effortlessly, the tragedy of Hussain ibn ‘Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and his family members being massacred and captured is a story which we must remind ourselves of… not that we lose hope, but that we hold strong to it.

{And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.} [Qur’an 2:154]

Injustice and oppression may seem to be powerful today, just as they seemed to be powerful when Husain raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was killed, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone is the Most Powerful. Victory in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not always mean that the enemies of Islam are immediately destroyed with a miracle, but that their destruction in the Hereafter will be eternal and all the more painful.

Ultimately, the day of ‘Ashura is a lesson to us all – not to mourn, but to rejoice over the ultimate victory of truth over falsehood, just as Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was given victory over the tyranny and falsehood of Fir’awn.

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Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Sadeq

    September 18, 2021 at 8:45 PM

    I read the article about Ashura: the victory of Musa and the victory of Hussein. The article is not logical and morally not appropriate for the following reasons:
    1) Musa was Allah’s prophet and Messanger, who acted under direct supervision of God , while Hussein wasn’t . How someone can compare a prophet/ rasul with a non prophet person
    2) comparing Yezeed With Fer’wan is beyond of my imagination that any Muslim, who truly believes in God, should compare Fer’wan with any Muslim/ Yazeed, no matter how much cruel he was.
    3) Any Muslim believes that nothing can ever happen without God’s permission.
    As sad as it was, at end God knows the best .
    4) the best convincing reason is the following Aya;
    Now those people have passed away: unto them shall be accounted what they have earned, and unto you, what you have earned: and you will not be judged on the strength of what they did.(2;134)

  2. Abdul Basit

    September 27, 2021 at 6:17 AM

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