The Islamic New Year — also known as the Arabic New Year or Hijri New Year — is the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. The first year of this calendar began in Gregorian CE 622 when the Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina with his people.
In the Islamic calendar, days begin at sunset. The event falls on a different day every year because the Islamic year is 11 to 12 days shorter. As rituals and prayers mark the occasion, Muharram is known as the month of remembrance and is sacred to Muslims across the world.
History of Islamic New Year
In Mecca and other areas, Muslims of the 7th century CE faced religious persecution for their beliefs. Therefore, the exodus of Muhammed and his followers to the city that would later be called Medina — a movement called the Hijra — where Muhammad would set forth a Constitution that delineated Muslim’s rights and responsibilities. This event is of great importance in the Muslim faith, which is why Islamic New Year commemorates this sacred moment of history.
It’s not just the first day of the month Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar year, that’s important to observe for Muslims around the world. The entire month is of holy significance. For example, it is also in Muharram — second only in importance as a solemn occasion to Ramadan — that the 10th day, Ashura takes place, marking Noah’s leaving the Ark and also Moses crossing the Red Sea.
For Shia Muslims, it’s also the death anniversary of Muhammad’s grandson Hussein. They mark the occasion with mourning ceremonies. Shias, particularly those in Afghanistan, Bahrain, India, Lebanon and Pakistan, take part in remembrance parades called “matam”, where men gather in the street to take part in ritual chest-beating. For Sunnis, Muharram is a time of ushering in the new, with solemn prayer and reflection.
The lunar calendar is 11 or 12 days shorter than the Western solar calendar, so a sort of “cycle” is created around Islamic New Year as it falls back year after year. This is so those of the faith can experience the same range of temperatures and weather events as all the historical figures in their holy books did.
Muharram is an important religious and cultural event, so asking Muslim friends about the significance of Muharram can be an interesting learning lesson. Muslims themselves could also share stories, ideas and feelings with others, to mark the Islamic New Year.
Islamic New Year timeline
Nigeria recognizes the Muslim New Year as a state holiday.
Saudi Arabia — having already adjusted the means of calculation of its lunar calendar several times — settles on a system based on astronomical observation of the moon’s phases, instead of visual confirmation of the new moon.
Umar ibn Al-Khattab — Muhammad’s companion and the second caliph — adopts Hijra as the reference point for the Islamic calendar.
In an event known as the Hajri, the Muslim prophet Muhammad leads his people away from religious persecution in Mecca, to Yathrib, now known as Medina.
Islamic New Year FAQs
What year is it in Islam 2020?
The current Islamic year is 1442 AH, running approximately from 21 August 2020 to 10 August 2021 in the Gregorian calendar.
How do you say happy Islamic New Year?
Usually something like this, “On the joyous occasion of Islamic New Year, here’s praying Allah blesses you with good health, wealth, peace and prosperity.”
What is the holiest city in Islam?
Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are the two holiest cities according to Islam, unanimous among all the sects. The Kaaba in Mecca is considered to be the most sacred site.
How to Observe Islamic New Year
For Shias: mourn the passing of Hussein, Muhammad’s grandson
The leader’s murder was an outrageous event in Muslim history, when he was committed during a month where violence is especially shunned. Join the community at your mosque, or take a solemn moment to shed a tear at the injustice.
For Sunnis: contemplate peace and new beginnings
Again, the mosque is a good location to join others of the faith, but even alone or with close family, today is the time for remembering what it all means and planning how to carry on and move forward into a whole new year.
For everybody: remember that all people are the same
Even if your interest is purely academic, the day of Islamic New Year can be a place to start cataloguing all the differences between cultures that only serve to accentuate the similarities. Days of fasting, revering your prophet, taking a sabbath day each week, or even being agnostic or atheist among friends and acquaintances who worship — whoever you are, there are people like you in every country and under any creed.
5 Amazing Stories About Muhammad
A holy embrace
One day at a market, Muhammad noticed his rural friend Zaher bin Haram selling some goods. Muhammad sneaked up on him and embraced him, and when bin Haram realized who it was, he told Muhammed not to let go, wanting the blessings of his touch. Muhammad jokingly asked, “Who among my followers will buy this slave?” Bin Haram joked back, “You wouldn’t get much.” Muhammad, serious now, said, “To Allah you are worthy beyond measure.”
A lesson to walk through
Once, a villager in need of a sturdy mount begged Muhammad for one of his camels. The Muslim prophet said, “You may have one, but a baby, a calf.” The man was distraught and asked what he could possibly do with the calf of a camel. Muhammad urged, “Every camel is the calf of a camel, just as every Muslim is worthy once he matures.”
Age is just a number
An old lady asked Muhammad to bless her so that she could enter the gates of heaven. He said, “No old lady shall enter heaven.” Upset, she asked what he meant. He said, “Read your Quran. All of those worthy will be made young again before coming into the Kingdom.”
Muhammad once said, “Any person who states that only Allah is worthy of worship, that person shall enter heaven.” His friend Hazrat Abo Zar was shocked, saying “What? Even those who commit illegal sex and theft?” Muhammad said, “Even them.” The next day, Muhammad repeated that those who testify that only Allah is worthy of worship will go to heaven. Again, Abo Zar demanded, “Even rapists and thieves?” Again, Muhammad said, “Even them.” The third day, met with the same question from Abo Zar, Muhammad said, “Yes, even they can enter heaven, whether Abo Zar likes it or not.”
A faithful follower
Hazrat Anas was a man who listened to all of the Muslim prophet’s teachings carefully, playing them out in his mind, discussing them with his family and contemplating upon them. One day he was honored and surprised, when Muhammad addressed Hazrat Anas, saying, “O one with two ears!”
Why Islamic New Year Is Important
Muslims comprise over 24% of the world’s population
This means about a quarter of all people are likely celebrating Muslim New Year today, in one way or another, so diligently understanding peers and bearing in mind a few facts can go a long way.
It’s about freedom to worship
In Mecca, Muhammad and his followers often faced harsh criticism and discrimination, even abuse, because they believed in a single God (Allah) and not a pantheon of multiple gods. But they persevered, not unlike the faithful in the Christian bible. In other words, the desire for freedom and the willingness to fight or flee for it is universal.
A holy time for the faithful
Nobody can go wrong by speaking in reverence or holding a feeling of solemnity for this day. This act should be appreciated by those who notice because respect and kindness are never bad habits to get into.
Islamic New Year dates