Friday, December 7, 2012

Celebrating Hijrah, Brief Introductory Remarks

When this article is published, we are already in the fourth week of Muharram.   Slightly more than three weeks from now, the Christian New Year is coming.  Three years ago, in 2009, the New Year of Hijrah coincided with the New Year of Christian Era within the same week.  The 1st Muharram in that year fell on Monday, while the 1st January fell on Thursday.

As the Hijri or Islamic Calendar is lunar based, while the Gregorian or Christian Calendar is solar based, the former drifts away 11 days every year.   By the time the next 1st January arrives, the Islamic Calendar would already go beyond six weeks.

On the 1st Muharram every year, the Muslims all over the world would celebrate their new year.  Unlike the New Year celebration of the 1st January, which is mostly about merry making, where people often throw wild parties, the 1st Muharram celebration is largely a sober affair.  It is generally celebrated with religious spirit. 

In Malaysia, the 1st Muharram is a public holiday.  They call this celebration, Ma’al Hijrah, meaning, with Hijrah.  As the name suggests, it means “be with the spirit of Hijrah.”  When I was young, it was simply called New Muharram, meaning, the new year of Hijrah.

Many Muslims in Malaysia would celebrate the eve of the new Hijri year by reciting two supplications or prayers (dua): one before the sunset, and the other after the sunset prayer.  The former is to ask forgiveness for whatever committed or omitted during the year about to pass, and the latter to seek blessing and guidance for the year to come. 

The reason the first supplication is made before the sunset, and the second after the sunset prayer, is because the day in the Islamic Calendar, being lunar based, starts at sunset.  Hence the supplication for forgiveness is made just before the starting of the New Year, and the supplication for blessing and guidance is made as the New Year commences. 

It is alleged that by reciting these two supplications, the Devil, whose main job is to lead people astray, would cry woefully.  This is because, as all the sins committed by the Muslims in the span of the past one year are forgiven by reciting the first prayer, all his efforts would therefore be rendered useless.  By reciting the second supplication, the Devil would supposedly not be able to seduce them for the year to come.  

Whether those supplications truly have such an impact to the Devil would be anyone’s guess.  We know for sure that these prayers, and the ensuing sayings on the impact to the Devil, did not come from the Prophet.  This is because neither the Prophet nor his companions celebrated the Hijri year, for there was no Islamic or Hijri Calendar during the time of the Prophet and his subsequent successor, Abu Bakar as-Siddiq.  This Calendar was established only during the time of Abu Bakar’s successor, Umar al-Khattab.

Be as it may, these supplications are good, for we are enjoined to ask for forgiveness, and for blessing.  It is what we are asked to do daily.

Throughout the world, many Muslims would spend the rest of the night of the New Year, or part of it, in prayers, Quran recitation, or other religious activities.  On the next day, some Muslims in Malaysia would take part in the marching, followed by the speeches.  TV, Radio, mosques and other mass media would be filled with speeches to relive the spirit of Hijrah.

This reliving of the spirit of Hijrah notwithstanding, not many among the Muslims are aware that the Hijrah or Migration of the Prophet did not take place in the month of Muharram.  It took place in the month of Rabi al-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic Calendar.  Coincidentally, the month of Rabi al-Awwal is also the month the Prophet was born, which most Muslims know, since this is the month they would celebrate Maulid al-Rasul, or the birth of the Prophet.  By most accounts, the Prophet also died in this month (Rabi al-Awwal), which, again, not many know.

Why is “Hijrah” celebrated in the month of Muharram when historically it took place in the month of Rabi al-Awwal?

The obvious answer is that it is the spirit of Hijrah which is being celebrated, not the month it actually took place in history.

Why is Muharram taken as the first month of Hijri Calendar, when the Hijrah actually took place in Rabi al Awwal?

The answer is because the Arabs consider Muharram to be the first month.  The Companions led by Umar did not want to confuse the masses by introducing other month to be the starting month in the Islamic Calendar.  When the issue was mooted, no doubt Rabi al-Awwal was also proposed, and other months such as Ramadan as well, but Uthman bin Affan, who was to be the successor of Umar, argued that it should be Muharram, and his proposal was unanimously accepted.  The Prophet himself had declared that Muharram is the first month of the year.

Why the Prophet and his Companions did not celebrate the Islamic New Year like we do?

The answer is because during the time of the Prophet and his first successor, Abu Bakar, there was no Islamic Calendar yet.  It was introduced during the time of Umar, the successor of Abu Bakar.

If Umar introduced it, why didn’t he, his companions, and Muslims in those days, celebrate it?

The answer is because they introduced it to cater for the needs that arouse during their time.  They didn’t introduce it so that they can celebrate the New Year, like we do nowadays.   They also didn’t celebrate it because they didn’t even have the notion of New Year like we do these days.  To them, it is just another day, but we celebrate it because we are not among those who had undertaken hijrah or migration.  Those who had gone through this had sacrificed practically everything for their faith.  On our part, at least once a year, we want to be reminded of that momentous event and learn from it.

What are the needs that Umar and his companions tried to address?

We shall cover that in the next installment, insyaAllah.


  1. great article! I enjoy reading your articles. Keep it up, brother!