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?
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