When is Islamic New Year (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Muslim populations
Observed on First of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar
Observed by Muslims
The Hegira, or Hijrah (“withdrawal”), refers to the flight of Muhammad (c. 570–632) and his followers to Medina in 622. In the Koran, the word hijrah means “moving from a sordid state of affairs to a better one.” Muhammad continuously preached the doctrines of one God (Allah) and the impending Day of Judgment, but he had very little success in Mecca even though his tribe the Quraysh was one of the wealthiest and most powerful tribes in Mecca. The Quraysh were powerful because they controlled the Kaaba, the house of Allah, said to be older than history. According to tradition Allah commanded Adam to build it in the shape of Baitul Maamoor, the house in heaven, and so it is called Baitullah. When Muhammad began to preach the true religion of Allah, his own tribe violently attacked him, and his followers and committed numerous atrocities against them.
Muhammad and his followers migrated to Yathrib, 199 miles north of the city of Mecca, in September 622. Yathrib was later renamed Madinat un-Nabi (Medina) or the City of the Prophet. The year in which the Hegira took place was chosen as the first year of the Islamic Era in 638 by Umar ibn al-Khattab (c. 581–644). The Islamic New Year, El am Hejir, commemorates Muhammad’s flight to Medina. It is important to know, however, that the Hegira did not occur on the first day of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar), but in the third month, Rabbi-al-Awwal, about 66 days after the New Year.
Origins and History
The Islamic lunar calendar starts from 622, the year of Muhammad’s flight to Medina. El am Hejir, the Islamic New Year, commemorates this event. After Muhammad had preached openly for a decade, the opposition to his preaching reached such a point that, fearing for his own well-being and that of his followers, he sent some of them to Ethiopia, where the Christian ruler gave them asylum. Meanwhile in Mecca the situation deteriorated. Muhammad’s followers were abused, harassed, and tormented. Eventually Muhammad sent 70 of them to Medina.
In the autumn of 622 Muhammad discovered a plot to kill him and with his closest friend, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (c.
573–634), he too set off for Medina.
When the conspirators arrived at Muhammad’s place in Mecca to capture him, they found that Ali, his cousin, had taken his place in bed. Infuriated, they put a price on Muhammad’s head and set out in hot pursuit. Muhammad and his friend, however, had actually taken shelter in a cave where a spider spun its web right across the cave’s mouth.
When the pursuers saw that the web was unbroken, they continued on without stopping. Muhammad and his friend reached Medina safely. They were cheerfully welcomed by a crowd of Medinans, as well as Meccans who had gone beforehand to prepare the way.
This was the Hegira, a carefully planned migration that not only marked the beginning of the Islamic Era but also, for Muhammad and all Muslims, a fresh start. From that time on, the principle of the community, rather than just blood connections, became the bigger brotherhood of all Muslims. Muhammad’s companions on the Hegira were known as the muhajirun, “those who made the Hijrah.” The people in Medina who converted to Islam were called the ansar, or “helpers.” Muhammad was well aware of the situation in Medina. Before the Hegira in 622, Medina had sent representatives to Muhammad asking him to intercede in a dispute between two dominant tribes. The interaction of the envoys with him had so impressed them that they invited Muhammad to settle there.
Following the Hegira, Muhammad’s brilliant qualities so astounded the Medinans that the warring tribes and their partners momentarily closed ranks.
During the lull on March 15, 624, Muhammad and his followers moved against the pagans who had settled in Mecca.
The first battle took place near Badr, which is today a little town southwest of Medina. It had several significant effects. The Muslims, who were fewer in number, thoroughly routed the infidels.
Also the discipline exhibited by the Muslims showed the pagans the abilities of Muhammad.
The pagans of Mecca struck back a year later.
With 3,000 men they fought the Muslims at Uhud, near Medina. They succeeded in driving back the Muslims and managed to wound Muhammad. The Meccans attacked Medina again two years later, but this time luck favored the Muslims. At the Battle of the Trench, Muhammad and his people defeated the Meccans again. Subsequently the Muslims controlled Medina.
Muhammad was so successful in building a series of coalitions among the tribes of Medina that, by the year 628, he had 1,500 followers. This enabled him to gain access to the Kaaba during talks with the Meccans, a milestone in the history of Islam. In 629 he reentered Mecca after a seven-year absence and won over the city without violence and in a spirit of forbearance, which set a precedent for future conquests. He destroyed the idols filling the Kaaba and eliminated the pagan practices permanently.
Also he gained the support of Amr ibn al-As (d. 663), Egypt’s future conqueror, and Khalid ibn al-Walid (584–642). Although both men had initially been Muhammad’s bitterest rivals, they converted to Islam and joined him.
El am Hejir, the Islamic New Year, is not a spectacular observance in the Muslim world and lacks the significance of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the two most important feasts of the Islamic calendar.
Though there is no definite religious ritual necessary on the New Year, Muslims think about the general meaning of the Hegira, and regard the moment as a good time for making New Year’s resolutions.
For the Shia sect of the religion, though, the first 10 days of the New Year are reserved for mourning the events of the year 680, when Imam Hussein (c. 626–80), Muhammad’s grandson, was killed at the Battle of Karbala. This event is also called Muharram, after the month in which the tragedy took place. In the first nine days of the month, scenes from the Battle of Karbala are reenacted.
These scenes are known as majlish and take place in Shia mosques.
Since a lunar month varies in length from 29 to 30 days, the Muslim year is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year and has only 354 days. El am Hejir, therefore, is observed 11 days earlier each year according to the Gregorian calendar than it was the previous year.