Islamic Perspectives

Celebrating the Muslim New Year

By Abida Rahmani

The new Muslim or Hijri year 1435 has arrived. Hijrah calendar follows the lunar year according to moon sighting. It consists of twelve months but is 10 days shorter to the solar or common era calendar every year. That is why its seasons and days keep on moving. The CE or the Gregorian calendar is followed all over the world including the Muslim with the exception of Saudi Arabia. But Muslims everywhere follow their religious rituals according to the Hijri calendar. Saudi Arabia follows the Hijri Calendar in all its official and regular work. They have set up an Ummul Qura Lunar Calendar, based on a lot of research.

Most of Muslims do not celebrate this New Year as they celebrate January 1st. A pall of gloom is felt in Muslim society when the first Hijri month, Muharram, comes closer. Moreover, the Shia, a prominent sect within Islam, gets prepared for mourning and lamentations all clad in black mourning dresses.

The Significance of Hijrah in Islam: During the reign of Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) the companions agreed to start the Islamic calendar from the year when Messenger of Allah (pbuh) made hijrah (emigration) to Madina where he eventually established the first Islamic State.

As we enter the blessed month of Muharram, it is critical for us to realise that this event not only marks the beginning of our calendar but, more importantly, it commemorates the establishment of the nucleus of the first Islamic State.

Muharram, the first month of the Hijri calendar, is one of the four sacred months concerning which Allah says, “Verily, the number of months with Allah is twelve (in a year), so it was ordained by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth; of them, four are sacred. That is the right religion, so wrong not yourselves therein” (At-Tawbah 9:36)

Muharram means sacred (muharram): Although Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, the 10th of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. This day is named ‘Ashuraa’. When the Holy Prophet migrated to Madinah, he found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Holy Prophet Moses and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned. On hearing this, the Holy Prophet said, “We are more closely related to Moses, than you,” and he directed the Muslims to fast on the day of ‘Ashuraa’. (Abu Dawood).

In short, it is established through a number of authentic hadiths that fasting on the day of ‘Ashuraa’ is a Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, with a great reward to those who follow it.

According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of ‘Ashuraa’ 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, is that the Jews used to fast on the day of ‘Ashuraa’ alone, and the Holy Prophet wanted to distinguish the Muslim way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another day of fast to that of ‘Ashuraa’. This practice was started before the advent of the Ramadan fast.

However, there are some myths and misconceptions with regard to ‘Ashuraa’ which have found their way into the minds of the ignorant though the same have no support of authentic Islamic sources. For example, some say: This is the day on which Adam was created; This is the day when Ibrahim was born; This is the day when Allah accepted the repentance of Adam; This is the day when Qiyamah (Resurrection) will take place; Whoever takes bath on the day of ‘Ashuraa’ will never get ill and so on.

All these and other similar myths are  baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not worthy of credit.

Some people take it as Sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal on the day of ‘Ashuraa’. This practice, too, has no basis in the authentic Islamic sources.

Some other people attribute the sanctity of ‘Ashuraa’ to the martyrdom of Imam Husain during his battle with the Syrian army of Yazid. No doubt, the martyrdom of Imam Husain is one of the most tragic episodes of the Islamic history. Yet, the sanctity of ‘Ashuraa’ cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of ‘Ashuraa’ was established during the days of the Holy Prophet, much earlier than the birth of Husain himself. On the contrary, it is one of the merits of Sayyidna Husain that his martyrdom took place on the day of ‘Ashuraa’.

Another misconception about the month of Muharram is that it is an evil or unlucky month because Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet, was martyred mercilessly in this month. It is for this misconception that people avoid holding marriage ceremonies in the month of Muharram. This is again a baseless concept which is contrary to the express teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. The Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet have liberated us from such superstitious beliefs.

Lamentations and Mourning: Another wrong practice related to this month is to hold lamentation and mourning ceremonies in the memory of martyrdom of Sayyidna Husain. As mentioned earlier, the event of Karbala is one of the most tragic events of our history, but the Holy Prophet has forbidden us from holding mourning ceremonies on the death of any person. The people of Jahiliyah (ignorance) used to mourn their deceased through loud lamentations, by tearing their clothes and by beating their cheeks and chests. The Holy Prophet stopped Muslims from doing all this and directed them to observe patience by saying “Inna lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon” (We all belong to Allah and we all will return to Him). A number of authentic haadiths are available on the subject. To quote only one of them: “He is not one of us who slaps his cheeks, tears his clothes and cries in the manner of the people of Jahiliyah.” (Sahih Bukhari).

Authentic jurists have said unanimously that the mourning of this type is not permissible. Let us greet the New Hijri year with optimism and prayers for the success, unity and prosperity of the Ummah.