TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7: Most Americans won’t be ringing in the new year for several weeks—but for Muslims, today is the first day of a new calendar year, also known as Al-Hijra.
Happy New Year 1432!
Literally, the word Hijra describes an Islamic migration from one’s homeland to a new place, and today’s observance recalls the famous migration of the Prophet Muhammad and his followers to Medina in 622 CE. (Get the Islamic perspective at Al-Risala, a nonprofit organization focused on Islam.) In 622, Muhammad was fleeing from an assassination plot that had been set for him in Mecca.
Today, the abbreviation after each Islamic year is “A.H.,” meaning “After Hijra.” (Wikipedia has more.) Of course, it took a while after the journey to officially determine that a new calendar should start. The Prophet’s original destination wasn’t called Medina originally. It was Yathrib, but soon that city was renamed Madinat un-Nabi, or “the City of the Prophet.”
The first Islamic Hijra/migration actually happened in 615 CE, although Muhammad only counseled the group of travelers in the 615 Hijra; the Hijra remembered today occurred in 622, and Muhammad was on the journey.
Today, the entire Islamic world regards a Hijra as sacred and important, primarily because it is a means of doing the work of God in the larger world. In Muhammad’s Final Sermon, he called all Muslims to “convey my message on my behalf to all the nations of the world.” Some Muslims even review the events surrounding the 622 Hijra on the Islamic New Year. (The BBC has details.) The Islamic New Year isn’t celebrated as elaborately as some other holidays, but the faithful often ponder New Year’s resolutions and the enduring wisdom of their long religious tradition.
ONE FINAL PUZZLE: Did you try to do the math to see if 1,432 years have passed since the calendar began? It doesn’t seem to come out right, does it? Why? The Islamic year is based on lunar cycles and is shorter than our current global calendar. That’s why Islamic holidays seem to move earlier through our calendar, each year. In English, it’s perfectly fine to wish your Muslim relative, neighbor or co-worker a “Happy New Year 1432!”