Here I have summarized the key points of Mufti Taqi Usmani from his book “Islamic Months: Merits and Precepts.” In this post we will understand what is Muharram all about, what are the opportunities to perform virtuous acts and clarify the common legends that make rounds every year during the month of Muharram and the day of ‘Ashura. This is your simple guide to the month of Muharram.
Mufti Taqi Usmani writes:
Muharram is the first month of the Islamic lunar calender. This month has a special status given to it by Allah, in it their are opportunities for a person to come close to his Creator, and in this month a very tragic event took place as well.
A Special Status:
The month of Muharram is a blessed month because it is one of the four sanctified months about which the Allah said:
“Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve months (in a year), so it was ordained by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them, four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein … “[Al-Qur'an 9:36]
These four months according to the authentic narration are: Zulqa’dah, Zulhijjah, Muharram, and Rajab. The commentators of the Qur’an are unanimous on this point because the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, said in his last famous sermon:
“One year consists of twelve months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence: Zulqa’dah, Zulhijjah, Muharram and the fourth is Rajab.”
[Reported by al-Bukhari, 2958]
Fasting during the month:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said:
“The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.”
These are the Nafl fasts, i.e. fasts that one observes out of his own choice without being obligatory on him.
Day of ‘Ashurah:
In this sanctified month, the 10th day is the most sacred of all its days, which is called ‘Ashurah. According to a companion of the Prophet of Allah, Ibn ‘Abbas, the Prophet when migrated to the city of Madinah, he found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Prophet Musa (Moses), peace be upon him, and his followers crossed the Red Sea and the Pharoah was drowned. On hearing this, the Prophet Muhammad said: “We are more closely related to Musa (Moses) than you” and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of ‘Ashura. (Abu Dawood)
It is reported that fasting on the day of ‘Ashura was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory and the fast of ‘Ashura was made optional.
Fasting on 9th & 10th or 10th & 11th?
According to another hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of ‘Ashura (10th) should either be joined with the fast of another day.
The Common Legends:
The legends and misconceptions regarding the day of ‘Ashura are many and have managed to find their way into the minds of the ignorant, but have no support of authentic Islamic sources. Some very common of them are:
1] This is the day in which Adam was created;
2] This is the day in which Ibrahim (Abraham) was born;
3] This is the day in which Allah accepted the repentance of Ibrahim (Abraham);
4] This is the day on which the Qiyamah (dooms-day) will take place;
5] Whoever takes bath in the day of ‘Ashura will never get ill;
All these and other similar whims and fancies are totally baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not worthy of any credit.
6] Some consider it to be Sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal in the day of ‘Ashura. This practice, too has no basis in the authentic Islamic sources.
7] The sanctity of ‘Ashura is due to Sayyidina Husayn
Some people attribute the sanctity of the day of ‘Ashura to the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Sayyidina Husayn ibn ‘Ali, during the battle with the Syrian army.
The sanctity of ‘Ashura cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of ‘Ashura was established during the days of the Prophet, much earlier than the birth of Sayyidina Husayn, may Allah be pleased with him. On the contrary, it is one of the merits of Sayyidina Husayn, that his martyrdom took place on the day of ‘Ashura’.
On the contrary, it is one of the merits of Sayyidina Husayn that his martyrdom took place on the day of ‘Ashura’. – Mufti Taqi Usmani
8] Muharram is an unlucky month
Another misconception about the month of Muharram is that it is an evil or unlucky month, for Sayyidina Husayn, may Allah be please with him, was killed in it.
It is for this misconception that people avoid holding marriage ceremonies in the month of Muharram. This is again a baseless concept, which is contrary to the express teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah. If the death of an eminent person on a particular day renders that day unlucky for all times to come, one can hardly find a day of the year free from this bad luck because every day is associated with the demise of some eminent person. The Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, have liberated us from such superstitious beliefs.
The Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, have liberated us from such superstitious beliefs. – Mufti Taqi Usmani
9] Lamentation and Mourning is a virtuous deed
Another wrong practice related to this month is to hold the lamentation and mourning ceremonies in the memory of the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husayn, may Allah be pleased with him. As mentioned earlier, the event of Karbala is one of the most tragic events of our history, but the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has forbidden us from holding the mourning ceremonies on the death of any person.
The people of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance) used to mourn over their deceased through loud lamentations, by tearing their clothes and by beating their cheeks and chests. The Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stopped the Muslims from doing all this and directed them to observe patience by saying “Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon” (Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return). A number of authentic Ahaadith are available on the subject. To quote only one of them:
“He is not from our group who slaps his checks, tears his clothes and cries in the manner of the people of jahiliyyah.” (Recorded in Sahih Bukhari)
All the authentic jurists are unanimous on the point that the mourning of this type is impermissible…Every Muslim should avoid this practice and abide by the teachings of the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his beloved grand child Sayyidna Husain, may Allah be pleased with him. 
Shaykh Abul Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi said:
‘Ashura as mentioned in the tradition, is a day of merriment and decoration. We fast on this day as a token of respect to Prophet Musa, alayhis-sallam (Moses). 
 Muhammad Taqi Usmani. Islamic Months: Merits and Precepts. Idaratul Ma’ariful Quran, Karachi. 2002. Page 11-19. Read the full chapter online at the Albalagh Website.
 Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, The Fast of Ashura. Albalagh Website. <http://www.albalagh.net/general/fast_ashura.shtml>.
Maulana Nadwi in this article cleared the misconceptions caused by Beruni and the Orientalists.