Muharram is not about ‘Happy New Year’

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By  Dr. Faisal Hassan. Edited By Adam Rizvi: During the Pre-Islamic era, years were marked with great events of history and there was a calendar dedicated to it as per the pagan traditions of Arabs, this period is known as the Age of Jahiliya of the era of ignorance. A similar trend has set out recently among Muslims, where they get into the festive spirit and celebrate the new year through forwarded messages, status updates, organizing parties, and observing the change of the year.

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Reason, logic, and evidence suggest that Muslims for whom faith really matters must abstain from such practices as they are basically pagan by origin. Muslims have their own calendar which has been in use for over 1400 years now and they ascertain their religious practices, spiritual observances, and customary rituals as per the Islamic calendar, better known as the Hijri calendar.

In the contemporary world, it has become almost impossible to use any other calendar beside the Gregorian calendar, which is totally understandable, but then Muslims have an altogether different regime to observe and assess the change of dates for the religious matters, more so in matters of worship.

Tazia procession in Lucknow

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The Gregorian calendar was developed by Pope Gregory XIII in the year 1582 AD, almost 1000 years after Muslims had received their own calendar. Pope decided to mark the beginning of a year on 1st January to celebrate the circumcision of Prophet Isa (A.S.), making the Christians observe the change of year with an event that was historic for them, but still, there were no rejoicing and celebrations attached to it by Pope.

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Observing change is a pagan tradition attributed to the two-headed deity Janus, who according to pagan beliefs and practices is the god of change. Change of year became a festive event due to its importance in pagan traditions, this was still the era of ignorance or Jahilia. Islamic celebrations are prominently dedicated to the greater good and they are required to be put into the context of human welfare.

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The Eid festivals mark the sacred events of Islamic history and encourage believers to pray more as compared to usual days and provide help to those who really need help. Celebrating a new year doesn’t make a difference to the humane purposes of Islamic festivity, instead, this celebration detaches those celebrating from the rest of the community, defying the purpose of celebration.

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There is a lot of ways and days in which mannerism could be shown and celebrations could be observed, but it could be easily done without adopting the practices of others. When people adopt celebrations of others, they might feel good and enjoy to the hilt but deep down they know what exactly is being compromised with such indulgences.

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Cultural sensitivity has become quite a concern in contemporary research during the wake of accelerated globalization and hence pluralism has been making its way, which is highly appreciable. But nothing must be put at stake identities, for the crisis of identity is deadlier than anything, it might even open the doors of disappearance into a more dominant culture, making those influenced land into a future with blurred boundaries and lost identities. It is often said with regard to the Islamic calendar that, “The Hijrah has separated truth from falsehood, therefore, let it become the epoch of the era”.

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Contrary to the entire concept of celebrating the change of year, there is a saying of Holy Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.W.) in which he called the entire Muslim Ummah as one body and gave the idea of fever and wakefulness, impacting the entire body equally. At present when fellow believers are battling epidemics and fighting for life in Africa, how could we even imagine celebrations? How could anyone envision festivity over the siege of Gaza, the geopolitical onslaught in Syria?, or for that matter the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas in Burma.

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Someone once asked Salahuddin Ayyubi why he never smiled even though he was more than just a victor, to which he expressed his grief about the sufferings of Muslims worldwide. He was resentful about the defilement of Masjid Al Aqsa, the first-ever Qibla of the Islamic faith where Prophet Mohammed (S.A.W.W.) led the prayers, and behind him stood all the messengers sent to earth by Allah Almighty. Salahuddin believed truthfully that the entire Ummah was one body and he really felt the fever with which it suffered in his times, for which he stood and made the difference, that made him the person we know he was.

Muharram procession in Hyderabad, India photographed by Lala Deen Dayal, C. 1880s

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As water and oil don’t mix well, the same is the case with calendars, Muslims have a lunar calendar that has absolutely no concept of celebrating the change of year while people following other faiths have a solar calendar which has its roots in a pagan culture, marking the change of year attributed solely to the god of change, Janus.

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Muslims must be rather thankful to Allah for everything including the blessings of having their own calendar and the two wonderful Eid festivals. May Allah shower mercy upon entire mankind and bless everyone with happiness, health, good faith, and wisdom to understand what Muharram stands for, with a will to stand for it, Ameen.

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By  Dr. Faisal Hassan The writer is a Doctoral Scholar of Clinical Psychology at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India


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