~ November 26, 2011
~ November 14, 2012
~ November 3, 2013

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar.

But you won’t find fireworks displays or any celebrations akin to both Western and Eastern New Year traditions. On the first day of the year Muslims reflect upon the Hijra–the Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE.

Muharram procession. (Chan'ad Bahraini)

The Hijra is considered the beginning of the Islamic calendar; hence, years are referred to as AH (After Hijra).

During the month of Muharram, Muslims focus on the Islamic principles of sacrifice, selflessness, patience, and knowledge of Allah Ta’ala. It is also one of the four sacred months. Fasting during Muharram is not obligatory, but is encouraged during the first ten days, especially the tenth day, Ashura.

The Islamic calendar is approximately 355 days with twelve months of 29 to 30 days. For this reason the Islamic calendar does not usually coincide with the solar calendar, but falls about 10 days earlier each year.

The dates of Muslim holidays vary depending on the visibility of the lunar crescent. Unlike other lunar calendars which begin on the new moon, in the Islamic calendar a month begins when the crescent of the moon is first visible.

Though lunar cycles can be predicted, lunar sightings cannot, due to inclement skies and other atmospheric conditions. For this reason pre-printed calendars are not considered accurate, although they are necessary for planning. Saudi Arabia has adapted a standard calendar based on the lunar cycle as it would be viewed on a clear night from Mecca.

Islamic Star and Crescent

Observing the Islamic calendar, or Hijra calendar, is a sacred duty to all Muslims.

Prior to the Hijra in 622 CE much of the Arab world used a lunar calendar that was offset by an “Intercalculation,” or extra month, inserted every three or so years. The Intercalculation month was inserted by government astronomers to keep the lunar calendar in line with the solar calendar. But by arbitrarily manipulating the lunar cycle the dates of the four sacred months became corrupted. As the Qur’an explains in 9:36:

“The number of the months with Allah is twelve months by Allah’s ordinance in the day that He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred.”

During the sacred months sacred activities are observed and fighting is forbidden; thus it was/is vital that all Muslims be on the same calendar and that the sacred months not vary from state to state:

“Postponement (of a sacred month) is only an excess of disbelief whereby those who disbelieve are misled. They allow it one year and forbid it another year so that they may make up the number of the months which Allah has allowed in order to permit what Allah has forbidden.”[Qur’an 9:37]

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