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Ashura – the free slave of Allah (SWT)

And Allah sets forth an example for the believers: the wife of Pharaoh, who prayed, “My Lord! Build me a house in Paradise near You, deliver me from Pharaoh and his ˹evil˺ doing, and save me from the wrongdoing people.” [Tahrim 66:11]

Alhamdulillah, we are in the season of Ashura which refers to the 10th day of this first month of the new Islamic year, Muharram. Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “I did not see the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as eager to fast a day and preferring it over others except for this day of Ashura and this month of Ramadan.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1902, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1132]

“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]

Al-Hakam ibn al-A’raj reported: I went to Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, and I said, “Tell me about fasting the day of Ashura.” Ibn Abbas said, “When you see the crescent of the month of al-Muharram, count the days and wake up to fast on the ninth day.” I said, “Is this how the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, fasted it?” Ibn Abbas said, “Yes.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1133]

Imam an-Nawawi said, “Al-Shafi’i and his companions, Ahmad, Ishaq, and others said it is recommended to fast the ninth and tenth of al-Muharram together, as the Prophet (ṣ) fasted the tenth and intended to fast the ninth.” Source: Sharḥ al-Nawawī ‘alá Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 1133

“Fasting the day of ‘Arafah I hope Allaah will expiate thereby for the year before it and the year after it, and fasting the day of ‘Ashoora’ I hope Allaah will expiate thereby for the year that came before it.” [Muslim, 1162] This is by the bounty that Allaah bestows upon us, whereby fasting one day expiates for the sins of a whole year. And Allaah is the Owner of great bounty. 

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). This day in particular marks the Exodus of Bani Isra’eel, when Allah(SWT) saved Musa (AS) and his people from Pharaoh.

Ashura is a stark reminder of our true religious identity

Although we mark the year 1443 After Hijra (AH), our belief and practices are not 1400 years old, rather we ascribe to the one true faith spanning human history. We worship and prostrate to the Ever-Living and Eternal God – Allah – that the righteous have always served.

Ashura, or the day of the Exodus, is a day to remember how God saves his believers from wickedness and tyranny, and how God sent Prophets to emancipate the souls of mankind and guide them to the ways of truth and uprightness.

It’s a day to remember that victory is in the hands of the one who responds to the command of His Creator. In the case of Musa(AS), he was victorious because he lived and obeyed His Lord by facing a tyrant. Just as the grandson of the Prophet (AS), Hussain (RA), the leader of the youth of Jannah and who was also martyred on this same day of Ashura – again, he was victorious because Allah does not judge victory or defeat by the worldly outcome. Rather, his standing with courage and sincerity, in spite of the betrayal of many around him, was his victory. 

Leave aside slavery for all else, other than Allah(SWT) 

This day marks a date of freedom from the worship of the created. And this is even more important today when we are surrounded by social media idols and institutions which enforce their ideas and standards upon others. 

Although Bani Isra’eel were led away from the slavery of Pharoah, we see throughout their story, they continued to be enslaved intellectually either through their desire to worship an idol, follow an alternative leader or give in to their own desires.

Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “What is the best jihad?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.” Source: Musnad Aḥmad 18449

This is an encouragement to each of us to speak the word of truth and to seek the approval of no one but Allah. Fear not the consequences of the tyrant, or their power. Don’t seek social media likes or recognition. Nor seek any self-gratification in being brave, rather try to speak truth purely for Allah(SWT).

Speaking truth to power can be defined as disclosing uncomfortable truths to those in power, whereby the people in power will deem the truths to be an inconvenience. It is this teaching that gave rise to many historical accounts of a great number of scholars who, despite knowing the consequences, stood and spoke before tyrants, as you shall read below. Yet, it is important to remember that to first speak out against the imbalance between the oppressed and the oppressor, can either be awkward or critical, depending on the circumstance.

If we look back at the lives of the Prophets, it was almost the case for every major Prophet to speak out against the authority at the time and remain unpopular in the process. It happened to our Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) with the Quraish, Prophet ʿĪsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) with the Romans, and Prophet Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) with the Pharaoh, just to name a few.

The palpable consequences that one can suffer are possibly the reason why so many of us choose not to speak up and correct injustice, thus, allowing the oppression to grow due to dictators being left unopposed. However, we must remember that it is our Islamic duty to speak up against injustice, and by not doing so, we are neglecting this duty.

A tyrant is not a subjective opinion so don’t start applying this to anyone who challenges you – parents, boss, authorities. Rather a tyrant should be someone who is objectively considered to be oppressing and denying human rights. Tyrants cannot handle being challenged and are often intoxicated by their power.

As well as the example of Musa(AS), we have 2 other standout models of this ultimate form of jihad – the first of which is the wife of Firawn – Aasiyah bint Mazaahim. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The best of the women of Paradise are Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid, Faatimah bint Muhammad, Aasiyah bint Mazaahim the wife of Pharaoh, and Maryam bint ‘Imraan – may Allaah be pleased with them.” [Ahmad, 2663]

al-Haafiz ibn Hajar said in Fath al-Baari, 6/448 “Among the virtues of Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh is that she chose death over royal privilege and torment in this world over the luxury in which she was living. And her insight concerning Moosa (peace be upon him) was correct when she said “A comfort of the eye for me” [al-Qasas 28:9 – interpretation of the meaning].

Aasiyah was a queen – the wife of one of the most powerful men to walk the earth. She lived a life of unparalleled wealth and luxury. And yet, she knew that there was something missing. Her palace was the most beautiful on earth and her jewels are the most precious. However, she would often ask ‘Until when will this pleasure last?’ Through the blessing of adopting Musa(AS) as a baby into her palace, she saw him develop and witnessed undeniable miracles and the capitulation of the greatest magicians in the world, all of which cemented her heart upon belief in Allah(SWT), the Creator of all things. She expressed her faith to the outrage of Fir’own and she was forced to give up all her jewels and adornments. Nonetheless, she found neither sadness nor fear in her heart. They tied her, dragged her on the floor, fettered her, dragged her on stones and flogged her. Nevertheless, they could never break her!

When they beat her, tied her and tortured her until her skin was removed from the beating, Fir‘awn ordered them to ask her if she chose him, for her would be love and dignity, or her fate would be death! They asked, ‘How do we kill her?’

He ordered, ‘Take a rock, bigger than her in size, and then ask her. If she declines to give up her stance, then crush her with the rock.’ They asked her, ‘Do you want to give up your stance?’ With all firmness and steadfastness, she said, ‘I choose the Lord of the heavens and the earth.’ She believed in the Lord of Moosa (Moses) and Haaroon (Aaron), may Allah exalt their mention.

Allah (SWT) recorded her final words before death! And Allah presents an example of those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, “My Lord, build for me near You a house in Paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrongdoing people.” [At-Tahrim: 11]

She said, “My Lord, Build for me near You…” She chose her neighbour first – Allah(SWT), the One most important to her, and then she said, “A house in Paradise.” Commenting on the verse, Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Allah revealed to her the unseen and commanded that screens should be removed for her. Thereupon, she saw a palace whose bricks were one of gold and another of silver. Rivers run out from beneath it and it was surrounded by angels. So, she smiled and then her soul was taken before the rock smashed her skull and bones and made her body the same level of the ground.

There are many lessons for us from this but of the most profound is to recognise that she managed to perfect her faith though she was married to the worst human being to walk the face of the earth. That means there’s absolutely no excuse for you to say that I can’t find Iman or I can’t find faith because you know my parents aren’t that religious, or its so hard in the West. You are not a victim of your circumstance. You have been chosen to be in your position and you need to take this opportunity, like Asiyah, to choose your path.

The other thing to note is that sin hardens the heart so the one person that Fir’own did have feelings for who he was married to for many years, even those were crushed as he continued to kill and oppress.

When Allah(SWT) spoke to Musa(AS) on Mount Judi and he showed him the miracles in his own hands – the staff that became a snake when thrown down and his hand turning brilliant white, he was then tasked with his mission – 

Go to Pharaoh, for he has truly become a tyrant, going beyond all bounds. [Surah Taha 20:24] This is many years after his genocide of Bani Isra’eel – killing their males, raping and enslaving their females. So imagine how far he must have gone.

And who was Pharoah to Musa(AS)? His surrogate parent – the one in whose house he had been raised and nurtured. And now he must go and face him after having run away from an accidental act of manslaughter. He’s a wanted fugitive – someone who has killed a man from the upper class Egyptians. Summoned for justice by the tyrant ruler who would have had him imprisoned or killed.

Having escaped homeless and alone, Allah(SWT) has given him years of peace and blessed him with a family from the righteous. He has got it easy now and at this point he is told to go back and speak truth to power!

Moses prayed, “My Lord! Uplift my heart for me, and ease my task for me, and remove the impediment from my tongue so people may understand my speech (Moses AS put a hot coal in his mouth as a young child and this hindered his speech as he grew up). And grant me a helper from my family, Harun, my brother. Strengthen me through him, and let him share my task, so that we may glorify You much and remember you much for truly you have always been watchful over us. [Surah Taha 20:25-35]

All of this is granted by Allah(SWT). Now, Allah(SWT) tells them both to go Fir’own – the greatest tyrant in the world who they have personally witnessed murder hundreds and oppress generations, and say what to him? Speak to him gently, so perhaps he may be mindful ˹of Me˺ or fearful ˹of My punishment˺.Look at the Mercy of Allah(SWT) in giving even a tyrant, a chance to repent.

Now they express their fear – even Prophet Musa(AS) was worried ontaking on this enormous task. They both said we fear “that he may be quick to harm us or will become (more) rebellious (against You).” Allah (SWT) reassured them saying “Have no fear! I am with you, hearing and seeing.” – hearing to show close proximity – I’m with you, like I have always been throughout your life. And earlier, Allah(SWT) reminds Musa (AS) that when you were a child, I guided you to such safety that the one who wanted to kill you became your caretaker.

I want you to picture this – Musa (AS) is a wanted criminal and they have a rap sheet against him – he’s known for a murder and he’s a fugitive. Now he has to return to the house he was brought up in, not on the outskirts of the city, but the main palace where every guard knows him and the highest security will be in place. If he manages to get through that alive, he then has to stand before Pharaoh in the most protected and important part of the palace. Can you image – the stares he gets as he makes this bold journey. And when he enters the court of Pharoah – how the courtiers are laughing at him standing next to Harun, second-class Israelite citizens before Pharaon sat on his throne in a higher position and in authority. And what do they say in this position of apparent weakness and ignominy?

Musa(AS) says we are the messengers of the Lord of the Worlds! Who claimed that he’s the Lord? Pharoah and not only are they challenging him but they are saying you’re not the Lord – we’re actually representing the Lord. 

This is a slap in the face with a statement that would have felt like a major insult to him. And then they go on – and if you have any reason to claim lordship, its because you have enslaved a whole nation.

So the second thing, they say is that your lordship over the slave nation is over – send them with us now

This is speaking truth to power – not that you dont feel fear but you think carefully about to say, seek guidance from Allah(SWT) and then say it, regardless of the consequences. 

Through this incident, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) highlights that we should worry less about the character of the oppressor, and put our trust in Him. The outcome of any stance and any confrontation is known only to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Although there are concessions given for remaining silent under exceptional circumstances such as duress, you cannot remain silent forever; and though there is a place for accountability and a place for silence, if and when the situation calls for it, you must speak truth to power.

And this noble example has continued with the inheritors of the Prophets throughout time, such as the likes of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rh) or Imam ibn Taymiyyah with the Tatars.

Why is this important to you and I? Because as the saying goes, if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. You are the sum of your convictions which is why you are so passionate about defending your football team, fighting racism and protecting your tribe. These examples remind us:

Believe in the value of your convictions – you have Allah(SWT) on your side and you have been blessed to know Him(SWT). That is more valuable than any other opinion or conviction so don’t be afraid about standing your ground whether its about your childs education, your views on relationships, your belief and its relevance or believing in the Creator of the Universe.

Similarly, if you’re in authority, you must respect and value others’ opinions.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. You are a khaleefa (steward) of Allah(SWT) on this earth. Take action and lift your mantle of responsibility. If you see something wrong in the world or an opportunity to do something good, dont leave it for someone else. There is no cavalry coming.

The biggest risk a person can take is to do nothing. At the end of our lives, we will only regret the chances we didnt take. Every risk is worth taking as long as its for a good cause. Of course, be aware of your risks and the resources you need to mitigate them but don’t rely on others to do things.

It’s important to be politically aware and able to influence how your community is led. This also requires social awareness and the labels ascribed to people and those we use for others. Fair judgement involves the capacity to control your emotions, recognise your biases and have the skill to speak up — i.e., knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. For leaders, judgement means knowing how to make it easier for people to speak to them, and perhaps more importantly, knowing who will tell them the truth.

May Allah(SWT) grant us wisdom, courage and the ability to speak the truth when its needed most.


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