Was the Fast of ‘Ashura Ever Obligatory?

Question

Some scholars mention that fasting on ‘Ashura was obligatory upon the ummah before the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, but I have also heard that this is not true from other scholars. Can you please clarify?

Answer

On the issue of the obligation of the ‘Ashura fast before the obligation of the fasts of Ramadan, the early scholars held divergent opinions.

Imam Abu Hanifah was of the opinion that the the ‘Ashura fast was initially made obligatory and that its obligation was abrogated after the command to fast in Ramadan. A similar opinion is attributed to Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal and to a group of later Hanbalis including Ibn al-Qayyim (al-Hady, Ibn al-Qayyim; al-Mughni, al-Maqdisi 4/441). Qadi Abu ‘l-Walid al-Baji of the Malikis, and a group of Shafi‘i scholars including Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani are also known to have held this opinion (al-Muntaqa, al-Baji; Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar 4:247).

On the other hand, the mashhur and dominant opinion of the Shafi‘i madhhab as well as that of a group of Hanbali scholars was that the ‘Ashura fasts were never obligatory even if they had been regularly observed before the obligation of the fasts of Ramadan (‘Umdat al-Qari, al-‘Ayni11:118). Ibn Raslan claims that this was the final opinion of Imam Shafi‘i (Awjaz al-Masalik, al-Kandhalawi 5/187).

There is a general agreement, however, that the ‘Ashura fasts are not obligatory now, regardless of its initial legal status. A detailed exposition of the proofs for both opinions can be found in the detailed hadith commentaries and have been left out here for the sake of brevity. And Allah knows best.

Bilal Ali

Chicago, IL

8 Muharram 1433 / December 4, 2011

 

 

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