Today begins the first day of the New Year in the Islamic calendar, the first day of the first of 12 lunar months, Muharram. As I explained in a post last year, the Islamic calendar dates the years from the time of the Prophet's migration (al hijra) with his followers (al sahabah) from Makkah to Madinah in 622 CE by the Gregorian Calendar. This marks the consolidation of the Muslims as a community of believers. distinct from their tribal and familial origins.
The persecution of the Muslims and of the Prophet Mohamed in Makkah was the impetus for the migration, and so Ras As-Sana is a spiritual event, but primarily a socio-cultural rather than a religious one, whereas the 2 Eids--Eid Al-Fitr (the Feast of Breaking the Fast) and Eid Al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice). It is not celebrated in either the Islamic sense of a holy day, like the Eids, or in the Western style secular celebration of the New Year.
Rather, it shares, with any New Year, the qualities of a time of reflection on the year past. This is in a personal sense of one's own development, and as a community of believers. It is also a time for reflection on the travails of the Prophet and the early Muslims, and their migration. The month is also marked by fasting, particularly the first 10 days, and then on different special days for Sunnis and Shias. Day 1 is a day of prayer and giving alms to the needy, Day 10 a day of Thanks Giving prayer for all, and of particular observance for Shias.
The name Muharram derives from the Arabic for haram or forbidden, as this month is one of 4 sacred months (al-Ashhur al-Hurum) in which fighting was prohibited, in both pre-Islamic times, and the time of the Prophet: Rajab, Dhul Qa'dah, Dhul Hijjah, Muharram; ie the 7th, 11th, 12th, and 1st respectively.
Within the course of the month certain dates are more historically significant. As I summarized last year, 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.
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.
Future posts will elaborate on some aspects of these.
Ras as-Sana and the National New Year in Muslim Countries
Muslim nations mark the beginning of the New Year with a reflection on their national life as a Muslim community. This year in Saudi Arabia:
Crown Prince Sultan, deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation, on Monday urged Arabs and Muslims to work for establishing closer relations with other communities and promoting peace, justice and tolerance in the world.
Addressing the weekly Cabinet meeting at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, Prince Sultan expressed his hope that the new Hijrah year, 1432, which begins Tuesday, would bring about peace and stability in the Arab and Islamic world.
“We have to work together to bring nations closer, serve humanity and deepen the values that have been upheld by religions and cultures,” he said. “Islam calls for brotherhood, mercy and tolerance, and spreading the values of justice and love all over the world.”
Prince Sultan thanked God for the success of a recent operation that Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah underwent at a US hospital to stabilize several vertebrae on his spinal cord. He also prayed for the king’s good health.
On behalf of King Abdullah, Prince Sultan wished the annual GCC summit that began in Abu Dhabi on Monday success and hoped that it would realize the hopes and aspirations of the GCC leaders and people.
The Cabinet meeting commended the content of King Abdullah’s inaugural speech at the Gulf Africa Investment Conference in which the king urged GCC businessmen to establish partnerships with their African counterparts.
Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja said the Cabinet expressed its satisfaction over Saudi Arabia winning 11th position among 183 countries in terms of business-friendly atmosphere in a report published by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group.
In its latest report, "Doing Business 2011: Making a Difference for Entrepreneurs," the IFC elevated the Kingdom’s position by one point from last year. The position makes Saudi Arabia the best place to do business in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Cabinet approved the formation a national committee for geographic data systems. The committee will formulate the Kingdom’s policies regarding geographic data systems and organize a national conference on the topic every three years. It endorsed an agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the Republic of San Marino.
Khoja said the Kingdom would sign an agreement with Vietnam to avoid double taxation and prevent tax evasion. The Cabinet appointed Bandar Al-Wayeli undersecretary at the Ministry of Economy and Planning.
--Kingdom asks Muslims to promote peace, Arab News, Dec 6, 2010
Multiple Calendars within a Muslim Country
The Hijri Calendar is a religious one, marking dates that are important in the history of Islam, and that set the religious observances for the year. It is also used in an official national sense to mark major events in Muslim countries, and for state documents like birth certificates.
However, the solar Gregorian Calendar, which is the Western calendar and the official international one, is in use most prominently in the business life of Muslim countries.
As the Hijri Calendar is lunar, and the months shift in relation to the seasons, it cannot serve as an agricultural calendar. For this purpose, traditional farmers have followed more local agrarian calendars or the Julian Calendar.
While some would debate whether this month, also associated strongly with mourning, given the major historical events outlined above, and its inception as an exile, is happy or sad particularly for Shia Muslims, and celebrations of Ras as-Sana are more reflective and religious than celebrations of the Gregorian New Year, one can certainly wish blessings to all.
A Blessed New Year
& A Wonderful 1431 AH
to All Muslims Around the World!
رأس السنة المباركة
Ras As-Sana--Happy Islamic New Year
December 8, 2010--An Important Date for Each of the 3 Abrahamic Faiths