Some traditions are found in Sunni books to the effect that the Prophet
(s.a.w.) on migrating to Medina found the Jews fasting on the 10th of
Muharram. He asked them why, and was told: “It is an auspicious day; it
is the day when God delivered the children of Israel from their enemy
(i.e. Pharaoh); and, therefore, Moses fasted on that day.” The Prophet
(s.a.w.) said, “I am worthier of Moses than you are.” Thereupon, he fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast.
1. al-Sahih of al-Bukhari, Vol.3; Egypt ed.; p.54
2. Mishkatul-Masabih; Delhi ed.; 1307 A.H.; p.l72
Now let us look closely at these traditions:
First: The Jews had their own calendar and months. There is no logic
in saying that they fasted on the 10th of Muharram – unless it could be
proved that this date always coincided with a Jewish day of fast.
It was mentioned in my article, “Martyrdom of Imam Husayn and the
Muslim and the Jewish Calendars” (Alserat, Vol.VI, No’s 3 & 4; Muharram
1401 Nov.1980) that the first month of the Jews (Abib, later named Nisan) coincided with Rajab of the Arabs. W.O.E.Oesterley and Theodore
H.Robinson have written that in Arabia “the most important of all the
new-moon festivals was that which fell in the month of Ragab (sic), equivalent to the Hebrew month ‘Abib, for this was the time when the ancient Arabs celebrated the Spring festival.” (Hebrew Religion; S.P.C.K.,
London; 1955; p.128)
Probably, in ancient times the two branches of Abraham’s house followed the same system of intercalating an additional month 7 times in a
cycle of 19 years. And in this way the 7th Jewish month, Tishri I, coincided with Muharram. And the ‘Ashura of Muharram synchronized with
10th of Tishri I, the Jewish Day of Atonement – a day of fast. In that article, it was observed that the two calendars lost their synchronization
when Islam, in the 9th year of hijra, disallowed intercalation. But on
deeper consideration it transpired that that parity was lost long before
the advent of Islam, because the Arabs did not follow any mathematical
calculation in their intercalation. That was why the Muharram of the 2nd
year of Hijra began on 5th July, 623 C.E. (Al-Munjid, 21st ed.), months
before Tishri I (which always coincides with September-October).
Clearly, ‘Ashura of Muharram in that year (or, for that matter, during
the Prophet’s whole life at Medina) had no significance whatsoever for
The question is: Why did they fast on that day?
Second: The Jewish Midrashic literature relates the 10th day of the 7th
month (Yom Hakippurim – Day of Atonement) to the event of bringing
the tablets of the Covenant from Mount Sinai, as Dr. Mishael MaswariCaspi has written in his letter, quoted in my previous article, mentioned
The question is: If the Jews had wanted to keep the long-lost synchronization of Tishri I and Muharram in view, how was it that they forgot to
narrate this tradition to the Prophet?
Third: The month in which God delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh
was Abib (i.e. Rajab), as the Bible clearly says: “Observe the month of Abib,
and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord
thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.” (Deut., 16:1)
The question is: How could the Jews transfer an event of Abib
(originally coinciding with Rajab) to Muharram, in open defiance of their
And lastly here is a point to ponder for the Muslims: The Prophet
(s.a.w.) was sent with a religion to abrogate all previous religions and
shari’ah. How was it that he deigned to imitate the custom of the Jews?
It is clear from above-mentioned facts that the Jews had no reason at
all to fast on ‘Ashura of Muharram at that period; and this story, built on
that premise, is just that – a fiction. Obviously, it was invented by a narrator who only knew that once upon a time Muharram coincided with
the Jews’ Tishri I; but was totally unaware of contemporary Jewish religion and culture.
One feels constrained to mention here that this and other such traditions were forged by camp-followers of the Umayyads, after the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, as a part of their campaign to turn the 10th of
Muharram into a day of rejoicing.