Ashura - The Common Fast between Muslims & Jews

M. Ahmad Zafar
30th Sep, 2017

Star of David and the Cresent of Islam
Star of David and the Cresent of Islam

When international politics, conflicts and UN is discussed, the Muslims & the Jews are always on the opposite extreme sides of the story. However when it comes to the actual religion, both Judaism and Islam have a lot in common. The common factor is also notable in their languages; Hebrew and Arabic. Both religions also follow the Lunar calendar. The Hadith mentioned in this post are well known among the Muslims, however the details of the Jewish practice is little known.

On such example is the obversation of Fast on the Day of Ashura as it is mentioned in Islamic books. Muslims also started fasting this same day which the Jews of Khaiybar and Madina such to fast.

It is mentioned in Sahih Al-Bukhari, the most authentic book of Hadith:

عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ قَالَ قَدِمَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْمَدِينَةَ، فَرَأَى الْيَهُودَ تَصُومُ يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ، فَقَالَ ‏"‏ مَا هَذَا ‏"‏‏.‏ قَالُوا هَذَا يَوْمٌ صَالِحٌ، هَذَا يَوْمٌ نَجَّى اللَّهُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ مِنْ عَدُوِّهِمْ، فَصَامَهُ مُوسَى‏.‏ قَالَ ‏"‏ فَأَنَا أَحَقُّ بِمُوسَى مِنْكُمْ ‏"‏‏.‏ فَصَامَهُ وَأَمَرَ بِصِيَامِهِ‏

Narrated By Ibn 'Abbas : The Prophet came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Ashura. He asked them about that. They replied, "This is a good day, the day on which Allah rescued Bani Israel from their enemy. So, Moses fasted this day." The Prophet said, "We have more claim over Moses than you." So, the Prophet fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast (on that day).

[Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book of Fasting (30), Hadith No. 2005]

Ashura is the 10th of Muharram, the 1st month of the Hijri calendar. This date has a great importance before and after the time of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). According to another Hadith regarding the Fast of Ashura:

عَنْ أَبِى قَتَادَةَ الأَنْصَارِىِّ رضى الله عنه أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ -صلى الله عليه وسلم- … قَالَ « يُكَفِّرُ السَّنَةَ الْمَاضِيَةَ »

It was narrated from Abu Qatadah Al-Ansari (r.a) that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) ... said, "It expiates for the past year."

[Sahih Muslim, Book of Fasting (13), Hadith No. 2747]

In Judaism, this same day is known as "Yom Kippur" meaning the Day of Atonement or Expiation. It is such an important day that the Jews also refer to it as "Sabbath of Sabbaths". The only difference is that Jews count it in their 7th month while the Muslims in their 1st. This divine order is mentioned in the Torah & the Bible:

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or an alien living among you. (29) Because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. (30) It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. (31) The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments. (32) And make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community. (33) This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses. (34)

[Book of Leviticus, Chapter 16, Verse 29-34]

Reported by The Times of Israel on 29th September 2017 that “All flights in and out of Ben Gurion airport ceased at 1:35 p.m., while public transport gradually halted with buses and trains stopping their routes until after the fast day ... As sundown approached all local radio and television broadcasts gradually fell silent ... It is marked with a 25-hour fast and intense prayer by religious Jews, while more secular Israelis often use the day to ride bicycles on the country’s deserted highways.”

Yom Kippur prayers at a synagogue in Beit Shemesh
Yom Kippur prayers at a synagogue in Beit Shemesh
An empty highway on Yom Kippur in Israel
An empty highway on Yom Kippur in Israel