This Saturday will be the tenth day of the month of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar, and it is called Ashura. For Shi’i Muslims, the day of Ashura is a major festival. On this day, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was killed in the city of Karbala in Iraq, and thousands of Shi’i Muslims commemorate this day by performing public acts of penance, among other things. During his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged the faithful to fast the day before and the day of Ashura in commemoration of the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. I plan on fasting this Friday and Saturday, God willing.
For me, Ashura is sort of a “Muslim Passover,” because it is a day I forgo food and coffee, something which is very dear to me, in order to commemorate a major event in Jewish sacred history. This really should come as no surprise. Moses figures very prominently in Muslim belief. He is one of the five mightiest Messengers of God, along with Noah, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
The Qur’an says that God bestowed His grace upon Moses and Aaron (37:114), that he was “specially chosen” by God (19:51), and that God bestowed on Moses “wisdom and knowledge” (28:14) as a reward for doing good. In addition, the Book of Moses is described by the Qur’an as a “Light and Guide” (6:91). At least 73 Qur’anic passages many of them encompassing several verses at a time talk of Moses. In fact, more verses mention Moses by name than Muhammad (peace be upon them both).
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 details the plagues that were unleashed on the Egyptians for their refusal to believe in God and set the Hebrews free (7:133). It also details the story of the golden calf and Moses’ anger with his people at their worshipping 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 in the Qur’an (2:50, 26:52-68). Furthermore, the Qur’an mentions 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).
Yet, Moses’ importance extends beyond his pervasive presence in the sacred scripture. During the Prophet Muhammad’s famous night journey to Jerusalem and the Heavens, God ordained upon the Prophet (pbuh) and his people fifty daily prayers. The Prophet (pbuh) readily obliged, but it was Moses, according to the traditions relating the event, who told him to ask God to decrease the number. Moses repeated this insistence until the number was reduced to five.
Moses is one of the most important figures in Islamic belief, and one can not be a true Muslim without having a deep love, respect, and admiration for Moses (peace be upon him). Fasting outside of the month of Ramadan is always a difficult task for me psychologically, and even though the fast is voluntary, it is something I feel I have to do. The entire Exodus story is a happy one for me; it is a tale of bitter bondage and hardship and the glory of God’s deliverance from that hardship. Thus, fasting to remember this day is a great thing, and I’ll try my best not to wimp out. (You don’t know how much I love coffee!)
As I have said many times in the past, it is such an amazing thing that Muslims voluntary forgo something normally allowed to them, food and drink, to commemorate an important event in another’s faith community’s sacred history. I wish more people truly comprehended this reality and saw it for its significance. We Christians, Muslims, and Jews have much more in common than we think, and these commonalities should be emphasized so we can see each other’s humanity and dignity. Many, if not most, Jews do not know how much Muslims love and respect Moses; many, if not most, Christians do not know how much Muslims love and respect Jesus. Once they know this fact, we all can come together as brothers and sisters and work together to better our neighborhoods, our communities, our nation, and our world as a whole. It can not start a moment too soon.