Common Word, Common Lord

In the Name of God: The Extremely and Eternally Loving and Caring

Today is the tenth day of the first Islamic New Year, more commonly known as “Ashura.” This day has great significance for Muslims all over the world. For Shi’ite Muslims, this is a sad time. It is the anniversary of the brutal betrayal and murder of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). All over the world, Shi’ite Muslims commemorate this day in a number of ways, including self-flagellation as a means of penance and emulation of his suffering. More recently, some Shi’ite Muslim leaders have discouraged self-flagellation and instead encouraged blood donation.

For Sunni Muslims like me, this is a day of fasting. And it may come as a surprise to many why Muslims are encouraged to fast today:

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 God rescued the Children of 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). (Bukhari)

Narrated Ibn Abbas: I never saw the Prophet seeking to fast on a day more (preferable to him) than this day, the day of ‘Ashura’, or this month, i.e. the month of Ramadan. (Bukhari)

The day of Ashura was considered as a feast day by the Jews. So the Prophet ordered, “I recommend you (Muslims) to fast on this day.” (Bukhari)

Ever since, Sunni Muslims have fasted on the tenth day in celebration of the Exodus out of Egypt. This really should come as no surprise. Moses is very prominent in Islamic belief, with dozens upon dozens of passages in the Qur’an that speak specifically of Moses. The Prophet Moses (pbuh) is mentioned more by name than any other Prophet, much more than the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself.

The Qur’an tells of two miracles – Moses’ staff turning into a serpent and his hand glowing when he places it under his arm – that God permitted as proof of Moses’ prophethood. It also describes the plagues unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and refusal to set the Hebrews free (7:133). It also relates the story of the golden calf and Moses’ anger with his people at their worshiping it as a god besides the Lord (20:85-97).

My favorite part of the story, the splitting of the Red Sea, is mentioned at least twice (2:50, 26:52-68). Furthermore, the Qur’an tells a story about Moses that I do not think is in the Bible: his encounter with the “Servant of God” in the desert of Sinai, who taught Moses an important lesson about the knowledge of God (18:60-82).

Now, just because I do not participate in some of the rituals of my Shi’ite brothers and sisters, it does not mean that I am unaware of or oblivious to the painful history of this day. The murder of Imam Hussein is terribly painful for me, and I pray for comfort for all my Shi’ite Muslim family on this day. How anyone could have the utter audacity to attack and kill the family of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) still boggles my mind to this day.

Nevertheless, it is quite notable that the followers of one major religion, Islam, fast to commemorate the central figure of another major religion, Judaism. The fact that the followers of Islam and Judaism in the Holy Land continue to fight – while worshiping the same God and honoring the same Prophet (i.e., Moses) – ceaselessly baffles me. I pray that peace will finally reach the holy earth of the Holy Land, so that all the children of Abraham – who all love the Prophet Moses (pbuh) dearly – can all live together in peace and security.

Furthermore, as Muslims all over the world commemorate this amazing day, I pray that peace reign within the Muslim world at large. In too many places, Muslims are fighting and killing each other for no good reason. In too many places, Muslim savages kill and maim in the name of the faith, defiling the beautiful faith that is Islam. In too many places, innocent people are forced to flee their homes and livelihoods to escape bombs, and terror, and war.

On this most special day, O Lord, I pray You bring peace to our most troubled world. Amen.

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