The truth about the Islamic New Year


If you think a “Happy New Year” always comes on the first day of January, then I’m afraid there is something you still have to learn! No doubt, the New Year of the Gregorian calendar, today in worldwide use, falls on 1 January, continuing the practice of the Roman calendar. But there are numerous calendars that remain in regional use, calculating the New Year individually and one of them is the Islamic Calendar…

Before revealing the truth about the Islamic New Year, let us first briefly refresh the main points of the Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western calendar or the Christian calendar. It is the internationally accepted civil calendar, introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII with an aim to amend the imperfections of the Julian calendar set by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. The reason was that a tropical year (or solar year), which determines the cycle of seasons, is actually about 11 minutes shorter than 365.25 days, which is the length of the Julian calendar. These extra 11 minutes per year caused it to gain about three days every four centuries, when compared to the observed equinox times and the seasons. In the Gregorian calendar system, this problem was dealt with by dropping some calendar days, in order to realign the calendar and the equinox times. So the Gregorian calendar totally coincides with the seasonal periods, while the Islamic calendar has its own rules…

The Islamic calendar or Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 lunar months in a year of 354 or 355 days. It is used to date events in many Muslim countries (concurrently with the Gregorian calendar), and used by Muslims everywhere to determine the proper day on which to celebrate Islamic holy days and festivals. The first year was the year during which the emigration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijra, occurred. Each numbered year is designated either H for Hijra or AH for the Latin anno Hegirae (in the year of the Hijra). A limited number of years before Hijra (BH) are used to date events related to Islam, such as the birth of Muhammad in 53 BH. Interesting to know that the current Islamic year is 1432 AH, from approximately 7 December 2010 (evening) to 26 November 2011 (evening). Being a purely lunar calendar, however it is not synchronized with the seasons. With an annual drift of 11 or 12 days, the seasonal relation repeats about every 33 Islamic years.

The Islamic New Year occurs on 1 Muharram (the first month in the Islamic Calendar). Since the Islamic year is shorter than the Gregorian one, it does not come on the same day of the year. Once every 33.58 hijri years, or once every 32.58 Gregorian years, 1st Muharram coincides with one of the first ten days of January. Subsequently Islamic New Years move backward through the Gregorian year back to the beginning of January again, passing through the entire year.

Needless to point out, that to Muslims the Islamic calendar is more than a sentimental system of time reckoning, and dating important religious events. It has a much deeper religious and historical significance in the Muslim life.

Happy New Year to the whole world, be it on January the 1st or not!

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