A response by his eminence Ayatullah Sayyid Mohammed Saeed al-Hakeem

Fasting on Ashura

The question of whether fasting on the Day of Ashura is recommended (mustahabb), has long been an area of discussion and debate. According to Islamic history, there are several events that occurred on this day. The most prominent event is undoubtedly the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (p), along with members of his family and companions on the planes of Karbala in 61 A.H. If this is the case, then why do some revere this as a day of fasting? We find enlightenment on this subject from the great sages in Najaf, particularly His Eminence, Ayatullah Sayyid Mohammed Saeed al-Hakeem.

Ayatullah Sayyid al-Hakeem’s Response

Upon being asked about the issue of fasting on the 10th of Muharram, Ayatullah al-Hakeem replied as follows:

There is no legitimate Islamic proof for fasting on the day of Ashura. Instead, claims to its practice come from narrations (hadith) propagated by the majority sect of Muslims, which states that the Prophet fasted when he reached the holy city of Medina, since he found that [people of the Jewish faith] were fasting that day. Such a claim contradicts the Prophet’s constant prohibition to his companions against adopting teachings and practices from the other religions, which had significant ramifications [on the legitimate religious practices of Muslims].

It was narrated that Umar son of al-Khattab approached the Prophet with a book he had received from some of the People of the Book and read to him. The Prophet was very angry with what Umar had done. He said to him “Are you confused (about your religion), O son of al-Khattab? By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if Moses were alive, he would have no option but to follow me.” (Sunan al-dadrmi 1: 115, Kanz al-ummal 2: 353, Aldur al-manthoor 5: 148, Usd al-ghaba 3: 126). In another narration the Prophet said “I have brought it (the message of Islam) to you clear and pure, do not ask them about anything, lest they tell you something true and you disbelieve it, or they tell you something false and you believe it.”

How can we accept that the Prophet adopted the fast of Ashura from people of another religion, while Almighty God clearly describes His Prophet in His Holy Book saying, “He does not speak out of his own desires. It (whatever he says) is a revelation which has been revealed to him.” (53:3-4) The noble verse states that the Prophet is connected to God, and does not speak [or act] unless instructed by divine revelation [and not as dictated by any person or group of people].

According to the profound wisdom of Ayatullah al-Hakeem, there is no acceptable Islamic precedent for considering fasting on the day of Ashura as a recommended (mustahabb) act, based on this account of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) of Islam.

Further Proof

In fact, a direct admonition against fasting on this day can be found in Islamic literature. According to one such narration in Al-Kafi, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (p) says, “The day of Ashura is the day when al-Hussain ibn Ali (p) fell to the ground (was martyred) along with all his companions. Should fasting be observed on such a day? Never at all! I swear upon the Lord of the Sacred House (the Kabah), such a day is not a day for fasting! That day [Ashura] is only reserved for mourning and sorrow that has been inflicted on the inhabitants of the skies and the earth altogether. It is a day of happiness and pleasure for the son of Marjanah and Ibn Ziyad’s partisans and the people of Sham.” (Al-Kafi, vol. 4, p. 147, hadith 7)

The 6th Imam (p) directly admonishes against the very notion of fasting on the Day of Ashura. Therefore, how can such an act be considered a recommended (mustahabb) one? If anything, this narration may be used as a basis to argue the converse argument, that fasting on this day is in fact not recommended (makruh). According to the rulings in the Islamic Practical laws of His Eminence, Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, this is exactly the case: “It is Makrooh to fast on Ashura (10th of Muharram).” (Rule 1756, Islamic Practical Laws).