Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ras As-Sana—Happy Islamic New Year!

December 18, 2009 CE is the Gregorian Calendar day corresponding to the Muslim New Year, 1431 Al Hijra (AH) 1 Muharram.

Ras As-Sana, “the head of the year”, marks the beginning of Islam as a community of believers who integrated spiritual and earthly life in submission to Allah, marking their migration (the Hijra) from Makkah to Madinah, where they were led by the Prophet Mohamed (in 622 CE) to escape persecution from the hostile tribes of Makkah. In breaking with his own tribe, the Prophet further established the primacy of Islam over tribe and family.

As such, Ras As-Sana is a socio-cultural event, rather than a primarily religious one, unlike the 2 Eids, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha (see this year's Eid Al-Adha and the Jeddah floods, here). It is a time for reflection on the Hijra, and on one’s own past year’s events, past aspirations and accomplishments; as well as a time of planning for the New Year, including “New Year Resolutions”. Those familiar with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, will recognize Ras As-Sana as an Arab cognate of the Hebrew words, both languages being of Semitic origin.

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, and is the most sacred after Ramadan (the 9th month). The name derives from the Arabic “haram”, forbidden, as it is one of 4 sacred months in which fighting is forbidden, or unlawful. A number of historic events during the month are marked, and mourned by both Sunnis and Shias, though the month’s events in 61 AH (680 CE) figure more prominently in Shiism. Each day has historic significance, but the main ones are listed below.

The Battle Field at Karbala

1 Muharram, the Islamic New Year is observed by all Muslims. Shia Muslims begin the period of mourning which marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala, a battle fought in Karbala, Iraq, during which Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet, was killed. This was a battle for leadership of the Ummah, with the forces of Hussein, a Hashemite descendant of the Prophet on one side, and Yazid I, the 2nd Caliph of the Ummayad Dynasty.
2 Muharram, Hussein bin Ali established his camp in Karbala
7 Muharram, Yazid orders water access by Hussein’s forces to be banned
10 Muharram, the Day of Ashura (literally the 10th day), Hussein is killed during the Battle of Karbala. For Shia Muslims it is a day spent in mourning, in pilgrimage (or parades), and in imitation of the suffering of Hussein and the killing of the Prophet’s family.
25 Muharram, Hussein’s son Ali, the 4th Shia Imam, who had survived the Battle of Karbala and captivity, was martyred, poisoned at his home in Madinah on the 25th of Muharram, 95 AH by the 20th Caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty, Hisham Bin Abdul-Malik.

Worshipping at the mosque in Karbala for Ashura

The Islamic Calendar is calculated differently than the Gregorian one, and the first year starts 622 years later. Because the Islamic calculation is based on a number of partially lunar calculations, the year is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar Gregorian calendar which is fixed at 365 days with one day added every 4th year. This means that all date conversions between the 2 are complex and often miscalculated, especially by functionaries (eg passport offices). It also means that while celebrations are fixed in the Islamic Calendar by day of the month, they are a “moveable feast” in relation to the Gregorian calendar. Although Christian celebrations were also initially calculated by the moon, and thus were also moveable feasts, the only one that remains so is Easter, the celebration corresponding to the death of Jesus during Passover (also a moveable feast).

The shrine of Hussein bin Ali

A Happy Islamic New Year to All!

If you are celebrating, how will you be celebrating, with whom?
What strikes you most as you reflect on the past year 1430 AH?
What are your wishes for 1431 AH?
If you are a non-Muslim, have you celebrated in a Muslim country?
What was that like?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Related Posts:
Ras As-Sana رأس السنة‎ New Year: 1 Muharram 1432 AH/ December 7-8, 2010 CE
December 8, 2010--An Important Date for Each of the 3 Abrahamic Faiths


ellen557 said...

Great post! I'm not celebrating this year because, well, you know now about Ashura so it will be a quiet time in our household.
I've never been in a Muslim country at the time of the new year though! It'd be interesting to see if there's any sort of celebrations or something to mark the day.

Imperfect Stepford Wife said...

HI Chiara,

This is the first time I have heard of it, I wonder if hubby knows. I don't think we will be celebrating...

For this new year I wish for a baby insha'Allah, and for happiness in my marriage and health for my daughters. Law school would also be nice, but I can be patient.


Chiara said...

Ellen--thanks for your comment. Yes, I debated about the "Happy" because it isn't an occasion for celebration in that sense for Shias. It doesn't seem to be so marked an occasion publicly in Muslim countries and I found very little on that aspect. It seemed as if it is more a time of personal reflection and exchanging greetings. Perhaps other readers will enlighten us both.

Salma--thanks for commenting. It has never been raised in our home either, except perhaps in phone calls to family members, ie greetings during the regular family calls. It seems to me that the Western New Years is a much bigger even even for Muslims in the West or for those in Muslim countries who operate more overtly on a Western(Gregorian) calendar.

I hope all your New Year wishes are granted. Hmmm deadlines coming up for law school applications... LOL :)

I hope others will share their experiences as well.

Susanne said...

Great, informative post. I wish your husband (and you) a happy (or whatever's appropriate) new year! :)

Medina said...

This is a great post Chiara and I would like to add that Ras Alsanah is actually an innovative celebration in the Islamic literature. Islam has only two feasts, Eid Al fitar and Eid al Adha. The Islamic feasts are traced back to the prophet Mohammad when he first arrived to Medina. The prophet Mohammad found that the people of Medina celebrating two occasions every year and these occasions are related to pre Islamic events. The prophet Mohammad said to the people of Medina that Allah replaced these two days that they are celebrating by much better feasts, Eid Al fitar and Eid Aladha. Hence, according to the Islamic theology, Eid Al fitar and Eid Al adha are the only feasts that were celebrated by the prophet. The Month of Muharram is one of the four sacred months in Islam when fighting is forbidden. so, Muharram, literally means forbidden, is only distinguished from the other months by the day of A shoura, which means the tenth day. The story of A shoura is also traced back to the prophet Mohammad when he first arrived to Medina and found that Jews fasting the tenth day of Muharram. The prophet asked people of Medina, why Jews fasting this day? and he was told that Jews fasting this day because it is the day that Allah saved Moses from pharaoh. The prophet Mohammad then said that Muslims should also fast this day. Nowadays, Muslims celebrate Ras Alsanah, birthday of the prophet, an addition to the mourning of Hussein which is celebrated only by shiea Muslims. Celebrating these occasions are considered innovative by many Islamic schools of jurisdiction. For example, the Birthday of the prophet is not celebrated by Salafi Muslims but Sufi Muslims. Mourning of Hussien is only celebrated by shiea Muslims. Ras Alsinah is only taken as a reminder of the events of passed year by Muslims but it is not taken as an actual celebration. For example, Muslims only greet each other and wishes for a happy new year. I hope this add more information to the post.

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you! As we tend to say in these multicultural parts, "Happy whatever you celebrate". I have noticed that the ubiquitous "Merry Christmas!" has all but disappeared on taking leave of acquaintances, store help, waitpersons, etc. Since I happily wish the best of the Christmas spirit of love, peace, and joy to all, I am boldly going forth and shocking all and sundry with a "Merry Christmas" or at minimum a "Happy Holidays", especially now that I am staying with family in more Christian territory than I usually frequent. People are surprised, and then pleased.

Medina--Welcome, and thank you for your informative comment. You summarized well some points in the post, and added more background and context. I have called this category Celebrations because of the distinction between religious festivals and more strictly cultural ones. You insight about the origins of the 2 religious feasts per year, and fasting on Ashoura are very interesting. You have confirmed that the Islamic New Year is a low key event but one that is marked privately.

Your comment also reminded me to put in the links to previous posts on Eid Al-Ahda and Eid Al-Fitr. I hope those who are not familiar or enjoy the pictures will take a look.

Thanks again for your great comment, and I look forward to your commenting on other posts, new and old!

Anonymous said...

The turmoil associated with the martyrdom of Hussein bin Ali (raziallahu anhu) and his father Ali (raziallahu anhu) can be traced back to the murder of the third caliph Uthman (raziallahu anhu) (

Having said that I wouldn't delve deeper into the history and the circumstances surrounding these murders of great men, because during my research i have never found any authoritive sources about them. And also the leading Sheikhs who have wisdom do not discuss this because key facts are missing from the history and whatever has been written is not authenticated about this period.

Any thing that has been written by Sunnis squarely blame the shias and vice versa, the history sources which are available delve more on the blame game rather than presenting the historic facts.

And these were the events which affect the muslim nation even today, the division of muslims into Shias and Sunnis was a direct result of these tragedies.

Discussing the circumstances of Hussein (raziallahu anhu's) murder, it is beleived that Yazid did not order the killing but a over zealous commander of Yazid's army committed that attrotious act.

However having said that nothing regarding this has been authenticated in the history and i wouldn't blame or exonerate anybody. But i would love to see a unified muslim nation without the boundaries of being a Shia or a Sunni.

It must be noted that if the history and present events are taken into consideration, both Shia's and Sunni's have contributed their part to the Muslim Nation. So discounting one for the sake of other would just do more harm.

And at last may Allah bless you all this new year and bring glad tidings.

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah--Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expanding the discussion, in such a respectful way. I share your wish for unity or at the least mutual respect and consideration. All best New Year wishes to you and your family as well.


Related Posts with Thumbnails