In our world of crass sounds and sensations, we've become used to new year's events going off with a bang or two - fireworks screeching, crowds, congestion, explosions of colour and design sprayed onto the age old black canvas of the night sky. Not so with the Muslim New Year. The new year of the Islamic calendar began on Sunday - the date the first of Muharram, the year 1425. For this New Year, the moon did her bit; silently, without any fanfare, making her age-old simple yet spectacular appearance. The moon has witnessed thousands of month's come and go and the history of some of these occasions provides the answer to why the Muslim New Year is such a quiet affair.
The Islamic Calendar
The Islamic calendar takes as its starting point the Prophet Muhammad's (may God's peace and blessings be upon him) exodus from Mecca to Medina. He and his blessed companions made the journey, leaving behind their homes, possessions and in many cases members of their families. This they did in order to build a better life - one built and moulded by the noble precepts of the Holy Qur'an and the guidance of his illustrious Prophet. They made the long, arduous journey to live a life free from the tyranny and persecution that they had been forced to endure in Mecca over 13 years, ever since embracing the religion of Peace.
Life in Medina was characterised by God consciousness, simplicity and justice. There were still many difficulties that came their way, but, by the grace of God, the faith of this new community quickly spread from their humble homes to all corners of the earth. It was in the reign of the second Caliph, Umar al-Khattab, that the Islamic calendar was officially established, marking for all time, the significance of this Hijrah (migration) from the hostility in Mecca to the oasis of Medina.
Muharram is one of the four sacred months. There is much of significance in this month. The 10th day, known as Yawm al-Ashura, is reported as the day when Moses (may God's peace and blessings be upon him) and his followers were saved from Pharaoh's wrath. Muslims remember it particularly by the two days of fasting (either the 9th and 10th or the 10th and 11th), which, although optional fasts are highly recommended. Prophet Moses had also led his followers on the momentous journey from falsehood to truth. Closer in history, other events occurred in Muharram which also bring a collective feeling of reflection for the Muslim community, these including the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (may God's peace and blessings be upon him).
There are no celebrations for the New Year in the Muslim world. Instead, as the year ended with the month marking the sacred Hajj ritual, in which Prophet Abraham's sacrifices and sincerity are remembered. Similarly, the first month of the Islamic calendar is also a time of reminding ourselves of our intentions, and remembering those who made that initial migration, as history records, with the most noble of intentions.
In a much quoted saying of the Prophet Muhammad (may God's peace and blessings be upon him), he noted:
"The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.'
Our time would be well spent in putting pen to paper, planning our goals founded on a pure intention, giving us a much needed direction in what can otherwise be a chaotic life. Starting with our personal aims, then those including our family and neighbourhood, our wider communities and ultimately for humanity at large, we all have the potential to better our world.
The moon witnessed the initial Hijrah centuries ago, and now her appearance marks a new year to witness our Hijrah. Not all journeys are physical though, if we can make the Hijrah of our hearts to sincerity with anything of the enthusiasm that characterised the first generation of Muslims, we have travelled far.