The new Islamic year is in, alhamdulillah. Please do not forget to fast on the 9th & 10th, or the 10th & 11th of this sacred month of Muharram. Fasting on the day of Ashura was never left by the Prophet (saw) as seen in the hadith:
Imam Ahmad and Nasa'i report from the Mother of Believers, Sayyida Hafsa (Allah be pleased with her) that, 'The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace be upon him) did not leave four matters: Fasting `Ashura [10th of Muharram], [during] the ten days [of Dhu'l Hijja], and three days of each month.'
According to hilalsighting.org, the young crescent Hilal of Muharram 1430H was sighted in several parts of North America, after the sunset on Sunday December 28th, 2008, thus starting the Islamic New Year -- Muharram -- one of the 4 sacred months.
Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar Hijrah Calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Holy Quran says, 'The number of the months according to Allah is twelve (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day He created heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified.'
Ibn Abbas reported: 'The Prophet came to Madinah and found the Jews fasting the day of Ashura. He asked them: 'Why are you fasting this day?' They said: 'This is a great day. Allah saved Mousa (Moses) and the tribes of Israel from their enemies on this day and therefore Mousa fasted on it. 'The Prophet said: 'We have more of a right to Moosa than you.' So he fasted on that day also and ordered the people to fast on that day.' [al-Bukhari and Muslim].
A version narrated by Imaam Ahmad adds: 'This is the day on which the Ark settled on Mount Joodi, so Nooh fasted this day in thanksgiving.'
Abd-Allaah ibn 'Abbaas (RA) said: 'When the Messenger of Allaah (SAW) fasted on 'Aashura' and commanded the Muslims to fast as well, they said, 'O Messenger of Allaah, it is a day that is venerated by the Jews and Christians.' The Messenger of Allaah (SAW) said, 'If I live to see the next year, InshaAllaah, we will fast on the ninth day too.' But it so happened that the Messenger of Allaah (SAW) passed away before the next year came.' (Reported by Muslim, 1916).
Al-Shafi and his companions, Ahmad, Ishaaq and others said: 'It is mustahabb to fast on both the ninth and tenth days, because the Prophet (SAW) fasted on the tenth, and intended to fast on the ninth.'
Furthermore, Rasulillah (SAW) said: 'For fasting the day of 'Aashura', I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before.' (Reported by Muslim, 1976). This is from the bounty of Allah towards us: for fasting one day He gives us expiation for the sins of a whole year. And Allaah is the Owner of Great Bounty.
Imaam al-Nawawi (rh) said regarding this day: 'It expiates for all minor sins, i.e., it brings forgiveness of all sins except major sins.'
Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet one who fasts in these days out of his own will is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Muharram are most rewardable ones among the Nafl or voluntary fasts.
The Hadith does not mean that the award promised for fasts of Muharram can be achieved only by fasting for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit. Therefore, one should avail of this opportunity as much as he can.
Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, the 10th day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named 'Ashurah'. According to the Holy Companion Ibn 'Abbas, Radi-Allahu anhu. The Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, when migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Holy Prophet Musa (Moses), alayhis salam, and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its waters. On hearing this from the Jews, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said, 'We are more closely rotated to Musa, alayhi salam, than you,' and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of 'Ashura'. (Abu Dawood)
It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of 'Ashura' was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory and the fast on the day of 'Ashura' was made optional. Sayyidina 'Aisha, Radi-Allahu anha, has said:
'When the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of 'Ashura' and directed the people to fast. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of 'Ashura' was abandoned. Whoever so desires should fast on it and any other who so likes can avoid fasting on it.' (Sunan Abu Dawud)
However, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, used to fast on the day of 'Ashura' even after the fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory. Abdullah ibn Musa, Radi-Allahu anhu, reports that the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, preferred the fast of 'Ashura' on the fasts of other days and preferred the fasts of Ramadhaan on the fast of 'Ashura'. (Bukhari and Muslim)
In short, it is established through a number of authentic ahadith that fasting on the day of 'Ashura' is Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and makes one entitled to a great reward.
According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of 'Ashura' should either be preceded or followed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is that the Jews used to fast on the day of'Ashura alone, and the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, wanted to distinguish the Muslim way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of 'Ashura'.
Some traditions signify another feature of the day of 'Ashura. According to these traditions, one should be more generous to his family by providing more food to them on this day as compared to other days. These traditions are not very authentic according to the science of Hadith. Yet, some Scholars like Baihaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable.
What is mentioned above is all that is supported through authentic sources about Ashura
For further information on this blessed month of Muharram, please read Mufti Taqi Usmani's full article: http://albalagh.net/general/mu
May Allaah SWT grant us all tawfiq in gaining His nearness and eternal Pleasure. Aameen.
Jazakum Allaahu Khayran. WasSalaam.