The New Year That Wasn’t Celebrated

Gradually, year by year, I’m getting less than enthusiastic to see that big, sparkly ball drop. Years ago, I used to make sure I got all my desserts ready and program my TV to go back and forth from various stations and countries ushering in the New Year to their own rhythms. Yep, I’d celebrate the New Year about ten times, starting with the folks in Australasia, and making my way through parties in Europe, the tropical beats of Latin America, and then finally the latest pop tunes back home in the U.S.A. But this year, that was all old news. What I discovered is that for years, I had been missing the most important New Year celebration–that of the Islamic month, Muharram.

It’s kind of sad really. The majority of Muslims I know, myself included, don’t keep track of the Islamic calendar. Sure, we look at it to figure out when Eid is and when to fast for Ramadan, but really, it takes a backseat to the sunny Gregorian calendar that most of us are familiar with. For instance, I can tell you which day of the year a number of holidays I don’t celebrate are held on the Gregorian calendar, but I cannot tell you right now around which day Ramadan will start this year. To be honest, I’d have to Google it, ask my husband, or just go moonwatching. I can tell you today’s date on the Gregorian calendar, but I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly which date it was on the Islamic calendar. I can, however, tell you the month, and that as people celebrate the first of the Gregorian “New Year”, the first month of the Islamic New Year is being ushered out.

I started this blog last year with a goal to learn more about Islamic history. You remember the posts of yester-year–I searched for something Islamically significant that happened on July the 4th, and lo and behold! I found out a lot about a Mr. Salahuddin Al Ayyubi. But somehow I got a little out of the habit as time went on, and here we are today, in the middle of two very different New Years with my one mutually-celestial resolution to use my time more wisely so that I don’t miss out on the significant events in life.

And that’s how we happened upon the New Year that wasn’t celebrated and not watching that big ball drop.

It is now 1,432 years after the hijra, the migration of the vast majority of Muslims in Mecca to Medina. It is different from the Gregorian calendar in that it does not mark the beginning or ending of a life, nor the beginning of a Revelation, or the triumph of a war. It simply marks a vast movement of a people from one place to another to preserve their dignity, livelihood, and Divinely-given right to worship as they pleased. They traveled in the desert for at least 200 miles based on faith. It was Muharram, the prohibited month–no fighting was to take place. So instead of fighting, they walked away.

Not remembering the Islamic New Year–not remembering Muharram–means forgetting those first peaceful followers who embodied the true meaning of Islam. It means forgetting how far we have come as an ummah. Focusing on the Gregorian calendar to the neglect of the Islamic calendar means not staying in touch with our foundations–a simple people who just wanted to live peacefully and eventually ended up creating one of the strongest empires the world has ever known based simply on faith.

So this New Year, I challenge you to find significance for your present life from the past. Already some significant events have passed. The 2nd day of Muharram was the day Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) died. The 10th day, Yaum al Ashura, was a day of fasting, when Musa (as) led his people on an Exodus from Pharaoh’s tyranny and when Husayn ibn Ali (ra), the Prophet’s grandson, was martyred.  Perhaps this year, if you look closely enough, you’ll find that something significant in Islamic history happened on your own birthday…your hijri birthday that is…

May you have a blessed new year that is full of meaningful celebration.


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