Is Passover or Yom Kippur the Equivalent to Ashura?

26 September, 2020
Q Salam. It is believed by sunni Muslims that our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) fasted on Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, and that he was told that the Jews did so because Moses (peace be upon him) and his people were saved from the pharaoh on this day. The Jews fast on yom kippur which is the 10th day of the 7th month of the hebrew calendar. The event of Moses (peace be upon him) being saved is generally referred to as the passover. My question is what day were those Jews observing at that time from the ones mentioned above? Or was it a custom amongst the Jews of Madinah which is now lost amongst modern day Jews? Can you please shed some light on this? It seems yom kippur but the reason seems to be different from the one mentioned in the hadith literature. The practice (fast) looks like yom kippur but the reason seems to be that of the passover.

Answer

Short Answer:

  • Rabbi Allen S Maller underscores the idea that Muhammad and Moses are among the brother prophets of the One God. 
  • He says: “Evangelical missionary Islamophobes often claim — since Jews do not fast on Passover, the Jewish holy day that celebrates the exodus from Egypt— that this hadith proves that Prophet Muhammad cannot be a true prophet”. But Rabbi Maller vehemently rejects this criticism saying: “From a Jewish point of view, this claim is absurd”.
  • He quotes the Torah’s command that the whole Jewish nation should for seven days refrain from eating any yeast-filled baked grain. The only permitted grains must be unleavened. (Bible, Exodus 12:15)
  • But this is not a fast like the fast of Ramadan; so the Jews often do not call this seven-day restriction of Passover a ‘fast’. That is even though Catholic and Orthodox Churches still refer to any religious dietary restriction —such as meatless Good Friday— as a ‘fast.’ But Rabbi Maller observes: “Medina’s Jews seem to have totally fasted on Yom Kippur.”

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Salam Brother,

Thank you for your question.

Your question basically is: whether Prophet Muhammad was wrong in giving the reason for the fasting of Ashura.

Background Hadith

Please read the hadith:

“When the Prophet [peace be upon him] arrived in Madinah (in 622 CE), he found the Jews there observing fast on (what we Muslims count as) the 10th of Muharram, and so he asked them the reason for their fasting on this day. They said: ‘This is a blessed day. On this day Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy (in Egypt) and so Prophet Musa fasted on this day giving thanks to Allah.’

“The Prophet said: ‘We are closer to Musa than you are.’ Thus, he fasted on that day and commanded Muslims to fast on this day.” (Bukhari)

It is clearly narrated here that the Prophet had actually asked the Jews of Madinah the reason for their fasting. They said: ‘This is a blessed day. On this day Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemy (in Egypt) and so Prophet Musa fasted on this day giving thanks to Allah.’

This means that the Prophet was following the example of the Jews of Madinah. Hence, by doing so he confirmed that example as an authentic religious practice.

Is Passover or Yom Kippur the Equivalent to Ashura?

And Rabbi Allen S Maller[i] has stated in an article that the above example underscores the idea that Muhammad and Moses are among the brother prophets of the One God.  

The Rabbi also says: “Evangelical missionary Islamophobes often claim — since Jews do not fast on Passover, the Jewish holy day that celebrates the exodus from Egypt— that this hadith proves that Prophet Muhammad cannot be a true prophet”.

But Rabbi Maller vehemently rejects this criticism saying: “From a Jewish point of view, this claim is absurd”.

He quotes the Torah’s command that the whole Jewish nation should for seven days refrain from eating any yeast-filled baked grain. The only permitted grains must be unleavened. (Bible, Exodus 12:15)

The Notion of Fast in Judaism

But this is not a fast like the fast of Ramadan; so the Jews often do not call this seven-day restriction of Passover a ‘fast’. That is even though Catholic and Orthodox Churches still refer to any religious dietary restriction —such as meatless Good Friday— as a ‘fast.’ But Rabbi Maller observes: “Medina’s Jews seem to have totally fasted on Yom Kippur.”

Note that the rules of Ramadan fasting in Islam and the Yom Kippur fasting in Judaism are very similar, so there is no wonder that the theme of Yom Kippur and Ashura are similar. The Prophet said:

“For fasting the day of Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for [sins committed in] the past year.”  (Muslim)

Certainly the similarity between the Muslim fasting and Jewish practice is evident.

Rabbi Maller concludes his article[ii] by saying:

“For one thing, Jews —as followers of Prophet Musa— and Muslims —as followers of Prophet Muhammad— should be in the business of harmonizing our scriptural statements whenever possible, rather than making them contradictory to one another.”


[i] Allen S. Maller was the rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California for 39 years, from 1967 to 2006. Rabbi Maller edited the Tikun series of High Holy Days prayerbooks. This seried is used at Temple Akiba and at seven other congregations in California, Nevada and Arizona

[ii] The Day of Ashura and Yom Kippur: The Practice of Muhammad and Moses:  https://aljumuah.com/the-day-of-ashura-yom-kippur-the-practice-of-muhammad-and-of-moses/

And Allah knows best.

I hope this helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

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