Is Ashura a modern day Muslim Christmas?
How important is Ashura to Muslims in 2019? How important will it be in 2020?
The day of Ashura (10th Muharram) is of great significance to Muslims because it corresponds to events that took place in the time of Moosa AS. Nabi SAW made a distinction from the Jews of Medina by observing fast on 2 days over the period of Ashura (as opposed to one day of fast for the Jews). Fasting on the day of Ashura was initially obligatory upon the Muslims, later becoming voluntary after the obligatory fast of Ramadaan was prescribed.
There are also other events attributed to Nuh AS which took place on this day.
Alas, the masses have no idea about this, nor do they care about any of it either!!! Ashura has been relegated to a modern Muslim Christmas. In a world which is almost entirely marketnig driven, people’s minds are shaped to shop (online, mobile apps, push content from every channel).
Regarding spending on one’s family on the day of Ashura – there are some weaker hadith which scholars have accepted, and also considered in the general context of spending on one’s family and in the month of Muharram, to justify spending on one’s family on these days. Many ulema point out that this is not the main focus and it should not be excessive. Unfortunately, this latter point is completely lost in the age of excessive spending. A revised mode of transmission is required!
What was the reality on the ground in 2019? Buying gifts for family members has now become compulsory. Huge family functions are arranged more than a week in advance, hired tables, cloths and decorations. Braais and biscuits, coffee and cake, and of course the ever important gift exchanging ceremonies. Of course, all of this must be posted for inspection on Instagram and to garner a few more followers, a little more likes. The gifts are on display to boast to the spectators (wasn’t it supposed to be for the recipient to relish?)
Of course the non-Muslims observe all of this too and have the impression that it is the same as their Christmas. Don’t take my word for it, just read some of their comments on their Muslim friends’ Instagram posts. How much longer before we see an Ashura Christmas tree? Or exchanging gifts with non-Muslim friends too!
At each of these gatherings, you may find one or two family members who bothered to fast. The rest were too busy with preparations, so it was too taxing on their bodies to fast over these days. But it’s ok, because they are doing it for the “sunnah” (!!!) of the family gathering on Ashura. I am no scholar, but I’m certain that this day is in no way supposed to resemble an Eid and that these practices are not all sunnah.
You can be assured that none of the braai or coffee discussions are about Moosa AS, or Nuh AS or the month of Muharram in general!! Nay, the discussions are about shows on Netflix, the latest mobile phones, gaming consoles, Instagram posts, the shopping experiences building up to the day… and of course, critical reviews of the gifts received and given!
We live in a world where even the poor in our communities have televisions, satellite dishes and mobile phones.
I submit that the message from the pulpit needs to be fine tuned. Why only talk about gifts during the build up to Ashura, and then put a disclaimer that it should not be excessive? Talk about it 2 or 3 months in advance, perhaps? Talk about it over Eid?
On the other hand, the practice of exchanging gifts has been considered virtuous based on general consideration and on a weak hadith. Can we still say that this is a virtuous practice on this specific day? Let’s not ignore the statistics. The evidence is all available online. How can the effort and resources spent on the day of Ashura be split at 5% to discussion of historical significance, and 95% on gifts and entertainment? Something is seriously wrong here.
This message is no way a criticism of the ulema. It is a constructive suggestion to drastically alter the messaging around this important day.
Is Ashura a modern day Muslim Christmas?