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Khutba: The significance of Ashura – lessons from the life of MusaAS)

 Al-Nawawi recorded in his book Riyad al-Salihin: Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said

The best prayer after the prescribed prayers is a prayer offered in the middle of the night. The best fast after the month of Ramadan is a fast in the month of Allah, al-Muharram. [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1163]

Ibn ʿAbbās (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) , said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) so keen to fast any day and give it priority over any other than this day, the day of ʿĀshūra, and this month (meaning Ramaḍān).” [Bukhari]

“The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) came to Madīnah and observed that the Jews were fasting on the day of ʿĀshūra. He asked: ‘What is this?’ They replied: ‘This is a righteous day; it is the day when Allāh saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Mūsa fasted on this day.’ He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied: ‘We have more right to Mūsa than you’, so he fasted on that day and commanded the Muslims to do likewise.” [Bukhari]

Another narration states, “This is a great day, on which Allāh saved Mūsa and his people, and drowned Pharaoh and his people.”[Muslim] The true significance of ʿĀshūra is to benefit from the lessons of our great Prophet, Mūsa (ʿalayhi al-Salām).

Abū Hurayrah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) narrates that when one of the companions disputed with a Jew regarding the status of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) compared to Mūsa, the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Do not prefer me over Mūsa. On the Day of Rising, people will faint, and I will faint with them. I will be the first to regain consciousness, and there will be Mūsa grasping the Throne. I do not know whether he will be among those who fainted and regained consciousness before me, or if he was one of those that Allāh exempted.”[Bukhari]

Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “If I live until next year, I will certainly fast the ninth day of Al-Muharram before Ashura.[Muslim 1134]

The Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhi’-salām (peace be upon him) is the most commonly mentioned prophet in the Qur’an, mentioned in more than 136 times in surahs of the Qur’an.

Musa AS was a descendant from the lineage of Prophet Ibrahim (AS), Khaleelullah and from the lineage of Yaqub(AS), also knows as Isra’eel, meaning the slave of Allah(SWT). We are probably familiar with the story of how Yusuf (AS) was established in the earth in Egypt becoming the finance minister (Azeez) after having been sold into slavery, kidnapped from the blessed land of Palestine (Bayt ul Maqdis). His family and the Muslim nation which settled around Yusuf (AS) was the origins of Bani Isra’eel in Egypt.

Over time, the people forgot the message of Islam and were overtaken by the native Egyptians led by Pharoah (Fir’awn) – one of the mightiest rulers in history in the technological and rich superpower of the world, Egypt. However, he was also the most tyrannical and oppressive leader in history. Power made him exceedingly arrogant, and he expressed himself to be the lord of creation. He, together with his ministers, Qarun and Haman, ruled the land with an iron fist.

Fir’awn was informed of the legacy of Ibraheem (AS) which Bani Isra’eel would often talk off, that there would be a leader from Bani Isra’eel who would again lead them to a position of strength. Fir’awn was greatly disconcerted by these predictions, and as a precaution, ordered that all the pregnant women of Bani Israel be strictly observed and monitored. No woman delivered a baby boy without the wide network of the Pharaoh’s army knowing about it, and these newborns were immediately annihilated in a cold-blooded and systematic infanticide. As for the rest of Bani Israel, the women were spared, but the whole population was brutally exploited, forced to live the life of subservience, being permitted to take up only the lowest professions and most menial tasks.

Surely Fir’awn had exalted himself in the land and made its population into sects, deeming a section of them weak, constantly slaying their sons and (sparing) alive their women. Surely he was one of the corruptors. [Surah Al-Qasas 28:4]

Fir’awn began a policy of ethnic cleansing which has been repeated throughout generations by tyrants throughout the world. And his political insight was such that he sought to divide the community into shiy’an – sects differing and fighting amongst one another, so that they would not focus on the tyranny they were living through and unite to address it. Dividing, conquering, oppressing, exterminating their boys and leaving their girls in a genocide unseen before this. The adults were enslaved and exploited, forced to live the life of subservience, being permitted to take up only the lowest professions and most menial tasks. This same policy is used today and many of us accept this vilification and sectarian approach affiliating ourselves based on nationality, following or school of thought. Know that this is a disease and we are one Ummah, who like Isra’eel are slaves of Allah(SWT).

The routine killings of the male population proved to be unsustainable, and before long, it adversely impacted the economic and social structure of Egypt as there were no young male slaves for manual labour. Hence, at the advice of his ministers, Pharaoh ordered what he thought was a feasible solution – that the newborn males of Bani Israel were only to be slaughtered on alternate years, to facilitate a controlled increase in the population of the male workforce.

It was in one of these which boys were permitted to live, Harun (AS), the older brother of Musa (AS) was born. However, Musa (AS) was born on the year that the male infants were to be killed. Therefore, according to all the law of the land, Musa AS should have been killed. However, Musa’s (AS) life demonstrates the journey of faith in Allah, and the power of predestination above all human planning.

It is said that the signs of pregnancy did not even show on Musa’s AS mother when she carried him. Hence, with all the soldiers on the lookout for pregnant women, she went completely unnoticed. The birth was discreet, but when he was born, she knew that if he was discovered, death was unavoidable. The situation was precarious – the smallest sound of the crying infant would bring the soldiers upon them and they would kill Musa AS before her very eyes. How was a mother, still tender from the strain of childbirth, and already under months of severe emotional pressure of the concealed pregnancy, to endure the horror?

Allah (SWT) revealed in her heart, through a divine inspiration

And We inspired to the mother of Moses, “Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers.” [Surah Al-Qasas 28:7]

Now try to visualise yourself in the mother’s shoes. She feared for his life, and the improbable solution to hurl him into the river would have run against any maternal instincts. What were the odds of his survival in the swirling waters? Even today, some parts of the River Nile are prohibited to swim in due to people having died swept away in the current today. How could she not feel ripped apart by the hopelessness of the situation? But she was firm in her belief in Allah(SWT) and knew there was no better helper than Him(SWT). Still, she was torn behind losing her baby and asked her daughter to follow the basket to see where it ended up.

And the family of Pharaoh picked him up [out of the river] so that he would become to them an enemy and a [cause of] grief. Indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners. [Surah Al-Qasas 28:8]

And what happens? Of all the places, the current from the river sweeps the cot, wave upon wave, at pace directly to the palace of Fir’awn – the source of all their troubles! A baby, recognisable as an Egyptian, in the year of slaughtering boys, delivered to the headquarters of executions.

And the wife of Pharaoh said, “[He will be] a comfort of the eye for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he may benefit us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not. [Surah Al-Qasas 28:9]

By some reports, the basket was spotted by Asiah AS, the wife of Pharaoh, and by others, the basket was discovered by the slaves close to the river bank, who, having no authority to open the basket, presented it to their queen. The moment Asiah AS laid eyes on the baby, Allah placed in her heart a love of this little boy, a kind of love of goodness that can only originate from Allah. At the same time, Pharaoh was approaching and commanded that the baby be killed, but his queen persuaded him otherwise.

She was correct, the presence of the baby altered the course of her life. Years later, she would come to embrace Islam, and through this baby that she had rescued, she would be led to her palace in Paradise.

The mother of Musa(AS) whose heart is torn, worrying about her child who she had to hide in the river. But the promise of Allah(SWT) is true. Musa’s(AS) sister watched the palace servants pick the basket out of the river and then when he began to cry, how they could not console or feed him as he would not accept milk from any other. When the midwives and carers went to the market to find someone else to feed the baby, Musa’s sister said she would find them someone and led them to her mother who was the only one successful in feeding her own child. Offered the palace as a place to stay, she refused, stating she had her own family, so the palace staff would bring Musa(AS) to her in the comfort of her own home whenever he needed to be fed, bringing rest and coolness to her heart.

Hence the biggest irony: the tyrant king who had heartlessly commanded for all new-born boys to be murdered, was unwittingly the one who would raise the very person whose existence he tried to prevent. Thus adopted, Musa grew up under the wing of Pharaoh and lived in the comfort of his palace until he reached adulthood. As stated in the Qur’an, they were to be mutual enemies, but until then, it was written by Allah that Pharaoh was to take care of Musa AS.

Likewise, the lesson for us today is that if you obey Allah(SWT), even if it is unfashionable and seems difficult, He(SWT) will guide you through the challenging waves of life and even when Shaytaan and his forces attempt to undermine or harm you.

We are reminded that we have a unique identity and encouraged to fast another day to differentiate ourselves from the Jewish faith. Our difference is in our increased submission to Allah(SWT) – fasting another day. Our difference is in following our beloved Prophet(SAW). Our difference is recognising that what we have been given is from Allah(SWT) and therefore must be the best thing for us, since He created all of us, there musy be good in this and it is most worthy of respect.

We shouldn’t obsess over whats trending and forget we have something invaluable. Our dress, colour, race or postcode doesn’t define us. Our belief in Allah(SWT) defines who we really are. When you’re alone, you appreciate this best. It’s a moment away from the group think – the sectarian, gangish, clan which will leave you on a whim when things get difficult. This week, I visited Bedford prison and heard life stories from a few who had turned their lives around – the common thread was that they realised they needed to take responsibility for themselves and they had no other worthy of trust and help than Allah(SWT).

So don’t swear because it shows how macho you are. Don’t dress to conform and become a sheep. Don’t fear if you are with Allah(SWT). 

Now, the Egyptians and Bani Isra’eel saw miracle after miracle performed before them. `Ikrimah, Ash-Sha`bi and Qatadah said: “They are his hand, his staff, the years of famine, the failure of the crops, the flood, the locusts, the lice, the frogs and the blood.” But after each, Fir’awn would go back to his denial, oppression and torture and it became apparent that Pharaoh would never believe in Moses’ s message, nor would he stop the torture of the children of Israel.

Allah inspired Moses to conduct his people of Egypt, but only a few of his people believed in his message.

But none believed in Moses except some youth among his people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs lest they should persecute them; and verily, Pharaoh was an arrogant tyrant on the earth, he was indeed one of the Musrifeen (polytheists, sinners, and transgressors, those who give up the truth and follow the evil, and commit all kinds of great sins). [Yunus 10:83]

Allah commanded Moses to depart, and the children of Israel prepared themselves to leave Egypt. This later became known as Exodus and is still commemorated today by Jews as the Passover. They carried with them their jewels and belongings. In the darkness of night, Moses led his people towards the Red Sea, and in the morning they reached the beach. By then, Fir’awn was aware of their departure, so he mobilized a huge army to pursue them.

The impatient children of Israel soon became agitated and exclaimed: “In front of us is this impassable barrier, the sea, and behind us the enemy; surely death cannot be avoided!”

Moses replied that he would wait for further guidance from Allah. These words filled them with some hope, but man is always impatient for results: they were willing to surrender themselves back into slavery. At that moment Allah revealed to Moses: “Smite the sea with your staff!” Moses did as he was commanded. A fierce wind blew, the sun shone brightly, and in a flash, the sea parted, the crests of the waves standing like mountains on each side.

Musa AS and the Israelites crossed the sea. They started descending into the miraculous paths, happy that divine rescue had been sent to them.

Pharaoh viewed this miracle with arrogance, presuming that if Musa AS could cross the waters, so could he. As the last of Bani Israel passed through it, Pharaoh and his army entered. Musa AS wanted to strike his staff against the sea again to block the passage of the pursuers but was commanded by Allah not to react.

Some reports mention that Pharaoh knew at this moment that Musa AS had the true God on his side. However, Pharaoh could no longer recant, because of his arrogance! Even with such convincing evidence before him, he could not submit and be humble to Allah.

And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him, he said, “I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.”

Now? And you had disobeyed [Him] before and were of the corrupters?

So today We will save you in body that you may be to those who succeed you a sign. And indeed, many among the people, of Our signs, are heedless.

Ibn Abbas reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When Allah drowned Pharaoh, he said: I believe in the One in whom the children of Israel believe. Gabriel said: O Muhammad, if only you could have seen me while I was taking mud from the sea and filling his mouth, fearing lest the mercy of Allah should reach him.” [ Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3107]

However, this declaration came too late! He had missed his chance, having spent years playing games with his life, waiting too long before acknowledging the truth.

Key lessons

  1. Know that Allah(SWT) cares for you and is aware of everything which happens to you and this Ummah. Every trial, difficulty, oppression, illness, stress – He(SWT) knows it all and has complete wisdom about its purpose. Did Musa(AS) need to be born in this time in order to succeed? Only the All-Wise knows and we don’t know.
  2. Allah(SWT) is all Powerful. We all think we are smarter than the last player. Every tyrant, criminal, oppressor, drug dealer thinks they are better than the last and they will never get caught for their wrongs. Allah(SWT) showed us even if you try to wipe out nations, employ military forces, disunite, discriminate, harm, abuse and enslave, His(SWT) Plan will overcome all other plans. The same water which drowns ships today can become a safe passage for a newborn child. This same water can destroy the biggest tyrants in the world. None can overcome the armies of Allah(SWT), nor do any of us have any power or ability without Him(SWT) – use it right.

    At the same time, like those who escaped with Musa(AS), we too must take action, in accordance with the Sharee’ah, to be worthy of victory.

  3. Allah(SWT) is always giving us chances to fix up. Repentance and wiping our slate is always available to us until its too late. Our final moment could come at any time, even while we’re riding with our boys on another cruise, scrolling our Instagram feed or planning on watching another Netflix film.

    Don’t miss out this chance to wipe out a whole year of sins – fast Ashura and a day extra – either Sunday and Monday or Monday and Tuesday.

  4. Know that we have a unique and blessed identity – we are different from other cultures and faiths. The book of Allah(SWT) and the guidance of our Messenger are our guiding stars and they will raise us in the sight of people and Allah(SWT), not the brands we wear, the company we keep or the fam we claim to be part of. We’re all going to our grave and will face our Creator alone stripped bare of brands and postcodes. May Allah(SWT) give us the ability to prepare for that day so that we don’t look back in shame at our life, rather we have prepared for a good ending.
  5. We often look to others for money, respect and recognition. But we too will all be between an ocean and an army at one point in our lives. Let’s prepare to rely on the firmest handhold so that when everything else around is failing, we can stand firm and say – all work to rely on Allah(SWT) Indeed, my Maker is with me and He (SWT) will guide me. I have full certainty and reliance on Him.


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