When is Muharram?
Muharram, also known as Muharram-ul-Haram, is the first month of the Hijri calendar and thus marks the beginning of the Islamic year. It is the only month which Allah's name has been attached to - the Prophet Muhammad (saw) referred to it as 'the Sacred Month of Allah' - and is thus a highly blessed month.
It is one of the four sacred months, and its special importance is indicated by its name. The word 'Muharram' literally means 'forbidden' - i.e. it is so sacred that certain actions become forbidden during it, as they would violate its sanctity. Both the month of the Muharram and Allah's House (Al-Masjid Al-Haram) derive their names from the same Arabic root word; both are sacred spaces in which every deed, good or bad, weighs heavier on the scales.
Why is Muharram so special?
'Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve[lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them…’ (Qur’an, 9:36)
Regarding this verse, Ibn Katheer (rh) explains, 'Allah has chosen elites from His creation: from among the angels He chose Messengers, from among mankind He chose Messengers, from among speech He chose remembrance of Him (dhikr), from among spaces on earth He chose the mosques, from among the months He chose Ramadan and the sacred months…So, venerate that which has been chosen by Allah, for people of understanding and wisdom respect that which has been chosen by Him’. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer)
Therefore, Muharram is special simply because Allah has chosen it to be so. He commands us not to 'wrong ourselves' during this sacred month, which essentially means to ensure we have pure intentions and righteous behaviour and don't fall into sin.
What are the four sacred months?
Allah has also chosen Rajab, Dhul-Qa'dah and Dhul-Hijjah as sacred months.
Historically, one of the practical consequences of Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram being sacred was that pilgrims would be allowed to perform Hajj safely without worrying about banditry or war. Fighting was forbidden during Dhul-Qa'dah, when they would be travelling to make the Hajj; Dhul-Hijjah, when they would be performing Hajj in Makkah and its surroundings; and Muharram, when they would be returning home from Hajj. This standard was upheld by the Arabs in pre-Islamic times, and Allah confirms it in the Qur'an.
Rajab, meanwhile, is the seventh month of the Hijri calendar and stands alone as a sacred month. Historically, this was to allow people to perform 'Umrah in Rajab if they wanted to.
What are the benefits of Muharram?
Although many of us understand the importance of the month of Ramadan, we can often neglect the sacred months. However, they offer us a wealth of opportunities to seek the mercy and favour of Allah, the likes of which cannot be found at any other time of the year. They have been specifically selected by Allah Himself as the best times to draw closer to Him.
As mentioned before, our deeds carry more weight during Muharram, just as they carry more weight in the Ka'bah and its surroundings. Thus, there is an opportunity to gain more reward every day; but also the danger of gaining more sins with our bad deeds. This means we should be extra-vigilant when it comes to how we act, whether in our relationships, at work, in our worship, in our time management, or even how we take care of our health. With the right intention, every single action can become an opportunity for reward!
We've put together a quick list of easy ways to take advantage of the benefits of Muharram:
- Say salaam more! This is the greeting of the Prophet (saw) and the people of Paradise, and such a simple action can reap countless rewards and forgiveness.
- Smile at everyone (even on Monday mornings). This simple action will weigh heavy on the scales during Muharram.
- Give regular Sadaqah. Muharram is the beginning of the Islamic New Year, so it's the perfect time to make resolutions and establish good habits that you can reap the rewards of all-year round.
- Improve your health by eating better, exercising more and having a good sleeping routine. Yes, taking care of your health is a rewardable action too - your body is an amanah (trust) from Allah! Making a few lifestyle changes can earn you countless rewards.
- Seek forgiveness. Since sins are heavier in Muharram, you should ask for forgiveness as often as possible during this month, or even erase your sins by giving water to the people of Yemen, which is a great Sadaqah Jariyah.
- Read more Qur'an. It's an obvious one that always gets put on these lists - but it's the perfect way to draw closer to Allah during this incredible month! The best way to do it is to commit to just 10-15 minutes per day; set yourself a time and stay disciplined! Hopefully, you will stick to this New Year's resolution if you establish the good habit during Ramadan.
These actions aren't specific to Muharram, but they are highly recommended, and it makes sense to increase them during this blessed month!
What are some recommended actions or Sunnah during Muharram?
It is highly recommended to fast as much as possible during Muharram (though fasting the whole month is reserved for Ramadan only). The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, 'The best fasting after Ramadan is the Sacred Month of Allah (Muharram)...' (Muslim)
In fact, the sanctity of Muharram was so established that even the Quraysh in the days of Jahiliyah (ignorance) used to fast on certain days. One such day is the Day of ‘Ashura (the 10th of Muharram), which celebrates Allah (swt) freeing Prophet Musa (as) and his people from the bonds of Pharaoh:
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said thatfasting on the day of ‘Ashura , ‘expiates the minor sins of the past year’ (Muslim). It is, therefore, highly recommended to fast on this day.
The Prophet (saw) also advised us to also fast on the 9th and/or 11th of Muharram in order to differentiate between his Ummah and the People of the Book and as we know, following his Sunnah contains immense blessing. We have another blog post about the Day of 'Ashura if you want to learn more about this amazing day, from its history to its numerous blessings.
Should I give my Zakat during Muharram?
Although there is no specific recommendation to pay your Zakat in Muharram, during the times of the Prophet (saw), Zakat was collected from the Ummah on the 1st of Muharram. The increased reward available for honouring the times of the year favoured by Allah is one of the reasons why many Muslims around the world still choose to give their Zakat in Muharram or Ramadan.
If you prefer to spread out your Zakat payments over the whole year, you can estimate what your Zakat should be using our Zakat calculator and divide it by twelve. This year, you can help rehabilitate the water network of the city of Ma’rib in Yemen with your Zakat by setting up a regular donation to our Yemen Water Fund, where every £10 will give 10 people water for life.
Sponsoring an orphan is another great way to spread out these monthly payments; it costs just 98p a day and completely transforms a child's life!
Most of our projects at Muslim Hands are Zakat-eligible, from our emergency appeals and campaigns to our long-term work in eradicating poverty. You can also give to our Zakat Fund if you can't decide which project to contribute towards, and our experts will allocate it to the communities who need it most.