This past Saturday, November 26th, was the Islamic New Year 1433. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle so it is shorter and moves every year. The hijra, the migration of the small Muslim community from Mecca to Medina in 622 of the western calendar, marked the beginning of this calendar. This migration is one of the most significant events in the history of Islam.
Prior to the hijra, Muslims in Mecca constituted a small group of followers of the Prophet Muhammad. They practiced Islam privately out of fear of persecution, which many of the early followers endured. With the hijra, the situation of this small group of believers changed, as well as the course of the Muslim community as a whole.
In 622, the Prophet Muhammad began sending his small group of followers to the oasis town of Yathrib, now known as Medina. The Prophet had been looking for a place to take his followers after persecution of the Muslims intensified. Initially, the Muslims who did not have the protection of a clan or tribe were the main targets of the persecution. After the death of Abu Talib, the Prophet’s uncle and protector, in 619, the Prophet’s clan withdrew their protection of him. Around that time, warring factions in Yathrib heard of the Prophet Muhammad and asked him to go to the oasis town with his followers and act as an arbitrator. There he established an agreement with the Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other groups living in Medina called the Consttiution of Medina or the Charter of Medina, which became the foundation for the new Islamic state.
In Medina, there was a transition from individuals practicing privately to a Islamic nation-state. During the period in Medina, the concept of the ummah, Muslim community, came to fruition. The ummah changed the nature of the relationship between Muslims. Rather than focusing on kinship as the tie between people, this new community emphasized common belief in Islam as the foundation for the bond.
In Medina, the focus was not only on the development of personal belief, but on the development of Islam as a complete way of life. This is emphasized by the differences between verses of the Qur’an revealed in Mecca and those revealed in Medina. The verses revealed in Mecca are often shorter, employ more vivid imagery, and focus on themes like the oneness of God, the Day of Judgment, accountability, and the overall purpose of life, while verses revealed in Medina are longer and establish many laws having to do with community life. Also, several important institutions were established in Medina. For example, the first mosque was built in Medina.
It is in Medina that Muslims establish themselves as a community and are then able to expand Islam across the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, the Islamic New Year marks that fateful migration and the establishment of a community that would give rise to a civilization.
Why do you think that the Islamic New Year is significant? What other faith traditions have another calendar? What is the significance behind those calendars? Please share your comments below.