As the nights grow longer and our warm whispers become evident in the frigid air, the crash of the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve marks the commencement of a new year. Occurring on the same day, same minute, same second, the scene is practically the same year after year.
The Islamic calendar, however, is much less predictable. For a Muslim, New Year’s is just another celebration.
Muharram is the real new beginning. Each year, Muslims around the world experience the first of the month on a different day, in a different manner, and eventually in different seasons. Sometimes we’re slathering on sunscreen to shelter ourselves from the summer sunrays. This time of year, we’re reluctant to slip out of our cozy comforters in the morning.
The only thing that remains the same is the month’s sanctity.
The significance of this month starts with an eventful journey – the journey of all journeys. Our beautiful Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, travelled from Makkah to Madinah, starting a new chapter in the growth of Islam, spreading the colors of Islam in a new city, and eventually throughout the world. We all know the story, yet we forget to soak in its importance.
This month also holds substance due to another one of our dear prophets, Prophet Musa peace be upon him. According to Ibn Abbas, when the Prophet migrated to Madinah, he found that the Jewish population used to fast on the tenth day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which Musa and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its water.
On hearing this from the Jews, the Prophet said, "We are more closely related to Musa than you" and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura” (Abu Dawood).
This event occurred on the day of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, the most sacred day of the month. The Prophet said, regarding this day, “For fasting the day of Ashura, I hope that Allah will accept it as expiation for the year that went before” (Muslim). In order to differentiate Muslims’ rituals from those of the Jews, the Prophet recommended those who wished to fast on the tenth, to either fast the ninth and tenth, or the tenth and eleventh of the month. However, those who wish to only fast the tenth can do so as well. Because this is among the Nafl (optional) fast, the Ashura fast is not obligatory.
Allah beautifully crafted the juxtaposition of Muharram to the month of Hajj, Dhul-Hijjah. The year ends with us chanting “Labbaik,” submitting ourselves once and for all to our Lord, and the year begins with equally captivating spiritual fervor, starting the cycle once again.
Take some time to write down a few “Islamic New Year Resolutions” and take a step with your right foot, in the right direction.
We, along with everything else in this world, change with time. But the immeasurable goodness of this month never will. For as long as Allah wills, this will be our real beginning.