The Muslim prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in Judeo-Christian tradition) is one of the most remarkable figures in religious history. He is the father of three great religions, the first to believe in one God, and his tales are recounted by all three faiths.
Eid al-Adha, the holiest feast of the Muslim calendar, marks the end of the annual pilgrimage (Hajj.) Eid Al-Adha begins on the tenth day of Dhu’l-Hijja and lasts four days.
It commemorates an event roughly three thousand years ago, when the prophet Ibrahim took his son Ishmael/Ismail to be sacrificed at the command of the Lord. But before Ibrahim could go through with the act God gave Ibrahim a ram to be sacrificed in the place of his son.
There are two major distinctions between the this and the Judeo-Christian version as written in Genesis.
First, in Genesis the son to be sacrificed is not Ishmael, but Isaac.
And second, in the Qur’an Ishmael is aware of his father’s intentions and agrees to be sacrificed. Thus, Eid al-Adha remembers not only Ibrahim’s sacrifice, but Ishmael’s as well.
Arguably the figure of Ibrahim is more prominent in the Islamic faith than in either Judaism or Christianity. Even though he lived twenty-five hundred years before the Prophet Muhammad, Ibrahim is said to have lived a life consistent with Muhammad’s teachings. In addition to nearly sacrificing Ishmael, Ibrahim also broke ties with his own father Azar, an idolator who refused to follow the teachings of the one true God.
Traditionally Eid al-Adha was been celebrated through the sacrifice of an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel or cow. (In recent years the practice has become more controversial. Animal sacrifice is not one of the five pillars of Islam and Muhammad himself did not eat much meat.) The meat of the animal was split into three parts. One part for themselves and family, one part for friends and neighbors, and one part for the poor.
Eid al-Adha also recalls the journey of Hajar, mother of Ishmael, and her search for water:
…Prophet Ibrahim brought Lady Hajar and their baby son Ismail, by the command of God, to the deserted uncultivable valley of Makkah where the sacred house, Ka’bah, is now located. Prophet Ibrahim left Lady Hajar and their son alone by the order of God, and Lady Hajar said, “never ever will God neglect us.” Eventually, she ran out of provisions. Shortly thereafter, she ran up and down two hills, Safa and Marwa, seven times looking for water. Finally, a spring of water gushed at her baby’s feet. God had not neglected them. That same water is still gushing (Zamzam Well).
This week an estimated 9 million people gathered in the city of Karbala to remember the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the holiest figures of Islam since its founder.
Forty days ago Shiite Muslims began a period of remembrance for the third Imam, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE.
After being released from captivity, surviving followers of Imam Hussein
“headed towards Karbala so that they could revisit the graves of their loved ones and bury the heads of the Martyrs with the bodies. They arrived at the site of the graves and the battle of Karbala on the twentieth of Safar, or forty days after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his followers.” http://www.shirazi.org.uk/ashura.htm
Arba’een means 40. It’s a sacred length of time in Islam.
The Qu’ran recalls the story Moses (Musa) and his forty nights away from the people to hear the word of God. [2:51] Muhammad said,
“Whoever dedicates himself to God for forty days, will find springs of wisdom sprout out of his heart and flow on his tongue.”
The holiday this year appears to be remarkably free of violence, considering the 9 million visitors that streamed from all parts of the country. In 2004 simultaneous bombings targeted pilgrims observing Arba’een; the attacks killed 170.
“I came to Karbala with my family and children after walking for 12 days,” says one pilgrim from Basra, “We were not afraid of terrorists…We have been taking risks and if we die we will be martyrs.”
Ashura (aka Ashoura) means 10th. Ashura falls on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the New Year. Fasting, though not obligatory during Muharram, is highly encouraged on this date.
Ashura is observed by both Shi’a and Sunni Muslims throughout the world, although for varying reasons. These differences give insight to the both commonalities and the conflicts between the two branches of Islam.
Ashura is one of the most sacred days of the year for Shi’a Muslims, who commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali in the Battle of Karbala. The battle took place on Muharram 10, 61 AH, or October 10th 680 CE in what is now Iraq.
Hussein was the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Hussein and over a hundred of his followers, many of whom were family of Muhammad, were slain in the Battle of Karbala.
Hussein is the third Imam of Islam for the Shi’a Muslims.
In the immediate wake of the passing of Muhammad, disagreement arose as to the true successor of Muhammad, and two groups solidified.
The larger group elected the Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s father-in-law and close companion, citing among other things, Muhammad’s asking of Abu Bakr to lead prayers at mosque shortly before his death. These followers became the Sunni. They felt that election was the accepted way of deciding leadership at that time, and that Muhammad would have agreed to this, or would have left no doubt as to his successor.
But the election took place without the participation of key members of Muhammad’s family, including his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali, who were preparing Muhammad’s body for burial. This smaller group believed Muhammad chose Ali as successor, citing as partial evidence a speech Muhammad made at Ghadir Khumm:
“Of whomsoever I am the mawla, Ali is his mawla.”
Mawla means “friend,” but it can also mean “master” or “protector.”
Also, the Shi’a believed that since the prophet Muhammad was appointed by God and God alone, his legacy was passed on by blood, not by the elections and factions of men.
In the 24 years between Muhammad’s death (632 CE) and Hussein’s ascension to Caliph, three Caliphs ruled the Islamic empire: Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman.
Under their reigns the Empire spread from Arabia to what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan in the East, to Turkey and Georgia in the North, and to southern Spain and northern Morocco in the West.
Uthman’s reign was the longest, lasting just over a decade. In 656 CE Muslim rebels laid siege to his palace and killed the Caliph. What follows is one of the most hotly debated aspects of all Islam.
Uthman was succeeded by the son-in-law of Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib. Initially Ali is reported to have initially refused the Caliphate, but he eventually accepted.
Aisha, a wife of Muhammad and daughter of the first Caliph Abu Bakr, believed Ali let Uthman’s killers off the hook too easily and raised an army to overthrow Ali. This did not succeed, but increased tensions between the two factions.
Around this time Muawiyah I, governor of Syria appointed by Umar, refused to acknowledge Ali as the new Caliph. Muawiyah had been the son of a powerful family controlling Mecca in the days of Muhammad. Ali doubted his piety, for Muawiyah had converted to Islam only when it was politically advantageous to do so. Muawiyah rebelled against Ali in what is known as the first Fitna, or Muslim Civil War. A truce was reached, but when Ali appointed one of Uthman’s suspected killers to be governor of Egypt, Muawiyah invaded Egypt and assumed authority.
In 661 CE the first Imam Ali was killed by the poisoned sword of a Kharijite. By this time Muawiyah, as ruler of Syria and Egypt, was the most power man in the Empire. He forced Ali’s oldest son, Hasan, to step down as the new Caliph.
When Muawiyah died in 680 CE (60 AH) he appointed his son Yazid as Caliph. This was the first time the Caliphate had been passed from father to son.
Which brings us to Hussein ibn Ali. Hasan’s younger brother. Hussein refused to acknowledge Yazid as ruler and mounted a campaign against him.
Meanwhile rebellion broke out against Yazid in Kufa. Yazid’s forces squashed the rebellion.
Hussein, unaware of this, set out for Kufa with a band of followers numbering between 108 and 136. He expected to be greeted with support in Kufa, but encountered Yazid’s troops, led by Umar ibn Sa’ad near the city of Karbala.
It was on the tenth day of Muharram that Hussein ibn Ali and all his supporters were killed by overwhelming forces.
In the aftermath of the battle the news of Hussein’s death solidified the Shi’a people against the Umayyad dynasty.
“Many westerners do not understand why it is that Shia Muslims mourn the martyred Imam Hussein as though the event did not occur a thousand years ago but as if it happened as recently as yesterday.”
Today Shi’a Muslims around the world are united in their view of Yazid as a force of evil.
Many Sunni join them in this depiction. However, Sunni are divided. And in addition to remembering the death of Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, Sunni observe Ashura for additional reasons. According to tradition, the 10th of Muharram is the anniversary of the date:
God created the earth
Adam and Eve were banished from Heaven, or the Garden,
Noah, or Nuh, stepped off the ark onto Mt. Judi
God saved Moses, or Musa from the Egyptian Pharaoh
Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were born
The origin of the establishment of Ashura for all these dates is unlcear. In his journeys Muhammad observed the Jews celebrating the tenth of Muharram as a day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
Today, both Sunni and Shi’a mourn the tragedy of the death of the grandson of Muhammad, and Ashura is commemorated in different ways by the one-billion-plus followers of Islam.
“I had long been deeply impressed by the religious fervor of hundreds of thousands of Iranians whom newsreels in the 1980s showed marching in the streets, flagellating themselves with heavy-duty, Hydra-headed whips, drawing blood to commemorate the martyrdom of Iman Hossein in 683 CE. When I found myself in Shiraz on the memorial day Arbaeen, which marks the 40th day after the martyr’s death, I heard that self-flagellations were about to take place down the road, and I rushed there with my camera and notebook. What I found was a well-stylized dance. Young men were eagerly stepping in a circle to the tune of pleasant, if repetitive, music, gently waving slight whips, with which they symbolically touched their well-covered backsides. They did not even work up a sweat, much less draw blood.
His Highness the Aga Khan has been the Imam of the Shia Ismaili for over fifty years. The Ismaili are the second largest group of Shia in the world. At age 20 he was chosen by his grandfather to succeed him rather than his father or uncle. Wrote his grandfather, Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan:
“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes that have taken place, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age, and who brings a new outlook on life to his office.”
Five years before 9/11 the Aga Khan gave a foretelling speech to a group of young people, mostly Americans, about to enter “the real world.” Excerpts are below.
“Today in the occident, the Muslim world is deeply misunderstood by most.
“The Muslim world is noted in the West, North America and Europe, more for the violence of certain minorities than for the peacefulness of its faith and the vast majority of its people…And the Muslim world has, consequently, become something that the West may not want to think about, does not understand, and will associate with only when it is inevitable…
“…the historical process of secularisation which occurred in the West, never took place in Muslim societies. What we are witnessing today, in certain Islamic countries, is exactly the opposite evolution…
“The news-capturing power of this trend contributes to the Western tendency to perceive all Muslims or their societies as a homogeneous mass of people living in some undefined theocratic space, a single “other” evolving elsewhere. And yet with a Muslim majority in some 44 countries and nearly a quarter of the globe’s population, it should be evident that our world cannot be made up of identical people, sharing identical goals, motivations, or interpretations of the faith…
“…Concepts such as meritocracy, free-world economics, or multi-party democracy, honed and tested in the West may generally have proven their worth. But valid though they may be, responsible leadership in the Islamic world must ask if they can be adapted to their cultures which may not have the traditions or infra-structure to assimilate them: There is a real risk that political pluralism could harden latent ethnic or religious divisions into existing or new political structures…
“Although the modern page of human history was written in the West, you should not expect or desire for that page to be photocopied by the Muslim world.”
I was in the large church room when the Aga Khan delivered this address. Like others of my young age I did not understand the importance of his words, every one of which came true in the years that followed.
~ November 26, 2011 ~ November 14, 2012 ~ November 3, 2013
Happy New Year!
What’s that? No party hats? No noise makers, or funny glasses with “1432” on them?
Nope, the Islamic New Year is a time of reflection and reverence, not outward celebration. The name Muharram itself–the first month of the Hijra calendar–means “holy” or “forbidden”. Muharram is one of the four “sacred” months (not including Ramadan), during which certain acts are forbidden.
“…the one that keeps a fast in the month of Muharram will receive the reward of thirty fasts for each fast.”
Details of the Hijra calendar are laid out in the Qur’an which states: “The number of the months according to Allah is twelve.” The number of days in each month is determined by the lunar cycle. The Qur’an condemns luni-solar calendars which insert an intercalary or leap period “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.”
In other words, the days and months of the year are set down by God, as are rules about when to abstain from certain activities ranging from fighting to eating to intercourse. So even if man tries to shift the months of the year for his convenience, this doesn’t change the natural timetable by which prescribed activities are allowed and forbidden.
Islam and the Moon
Islam’s use of the moon and the lunar cycle as the sole determinant of the year stands in stark contrast to luni-solar calendars that originated from earlier cultures, many of which worshipped a “sun-god”, be it Ra, Helios, or Mithra.
Today the crescent moon is the most widely recognized symbol of Islam, yet early Muslims used icon-free banners of various colors. The moon and star, symbols of Byzantium since the 4th century BC, spread across the Islamic world during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
The Qur’an forbids worship of the moon or any other object. During the Prophet Abraham’s quest for God, Abraham first worships a “shining planet”, but when the star fades he says, “I love not those that disappear.” When the moon rises he says “This is my Lord.” But he is disillusioned when the moon sets as well. Finally, when sun rises, he says, “This is my Lord; this is the greatest of all” But like the moon and star, even the sun sets. Abraham at last proclaims, “I have devoted myself absolutely to the One who initiated the heavens and the earth. I will never be an idol worshipper.” [Qur’an 6:76-79]
The birthnight of Islam may have been Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran by the Angel Gabriel in 610 CE. But the Year known as 1 in the Muslim calendar came over a decade later..
The Prophet Muhammad was living in Makkah, teaching Islam and monotheism to his followers, and thus angering the city’s governance. Even then Makkah was a pilgrimage destination, but for a very different reason. The Kaaba–the birthplace of monotheism in Islam–held idols of pagan gods worshipped by the many cults and clans around Makkah. Much of the power of city leaders rested on their perceived connection with pagan gods and idols.
Muhammad found support in the people of Medinah, who would travel the 200 miles distance to Makkah to meet with him and learn the ways of Islam. Muhammad refused to stop teaching Islam, despite offers of riches and power from government leaders if he did, and threats to his life if he didn’t. In September of 622 he cut his ties with the leaders of Makkah and led his followers north to Medinah to establish the world’s first city-state governed by the laws of the Qur’an.
Though today Makkah is the direction toward which Muslims pray and the destination of the Hajj, it was Muhammad’s departure of the city that set in motion the Islamic calendar. We’re beginning the 1430th year of Al-Hijra, or “the Migration.”
Months of the al-Hijra calendar
Muharram: Forbidden, holy Safar: Whistling of the Wind Rabi al-Awwal: First month of spring Rabi al-Thani: Second month of spring Jumada al-Awwal: First month of dryness (summer) Jumada al-Thani: Second month of dryness Rajab: To respect. One of the four sacred months, Rajab is also called Rajab al Fard (alone), because the other three sacred months are consecutive. Shaban: Continual Increase Ramadan: Intense heat Shawwal: Uplift or breakage Zul Qu’dah: To sit Zul Hijjah: Pilgrimage (month of the Hajj)
The names derive from pre-Islamic times when the months coincided with the seasons.
[from Dec. 28 – 2008 – For the first time in over three decades Muslims will celebrate two ‘New Years’ in a single Gregorian calendar year. First, Al-Hijra 1429 on January 9/10 2008 CE and now 1430 AH on December 28/29. The next time this will happen will be in 2041 CE, so better make this one count!]
~ 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.
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.
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]
Nope, this has little to do with the environmental movement. Green here signifies the religion of Islam, and the March in question was led by Moroccans protesting Spain’s continued occupation of the Western Sahara (then Spanish Sahara) well into the 1970s.
The Green March was orchestrated by Morocco’s King Hasan II who emphasized Western Sahara’s long-standing ties with his country.
In 1975, faced with growing international opposition and fighting within the territory, Spain announced the possibility of creating an independent state out of Spanish Sahara.
However, both Morocco and Mauritania (to the southeast) had claims to the territory. Hasan took the case to the International Court of Justice. The Court determined that there were ties between the Saharan territory and Morocco, but that the ties were not substantial at the time of Spain’s colonization of the territory; thus the Court recommended a Saharan referendum on self-determination.
In a televised announcement, Hasan emphasized the first part of the Court’s recommendation—the territory’s ties to Morocco—and called on Moroccans to liberate Spanish Sahara by means of a massive peaceful march.
On November 6, 1975, around 350,000 unarmed Moroccans assembled on their southern border and crossed over into then-Spanish territory calling for the return of Moroccan Sahara. The Spanish commanders refused to fire on the unarmed civilians as Hasan had predicted. The Green March went off peacefully and triumphantly. Later that month Spain agreed to temporary joint administration of the territory with Morocco and Mauritania, after which Western Sahara would be split between the two African nations.
Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara in 1979 after a guerrilla war movement in favor of Saharan independence. The anniversary of Green March is a triumphant holiday in Morocco, although the call for independence is still hotly debated in Western Sahara.
There’s little evidence in the Qur’an for green’s emergence as the color most symbolic of Islam, but numerous Muslim countries include green on their flags. In fact Libya’s flag is entirely green, the only single-color banner in the world.
One Surah (76:21) does notes that in paradise, denizens will be clad in green robes of fine silk.
Other sources claim that the Prophet Muhammad wore green and used green in his armies’ banners.
Still other theologians point to green as the color of nature and of life. So in a sense the Green March may have been related to the environmental movement after all…
“There is no deed more precious in the sight of Allah, nor greater in reward, than a good deed done during the ten days of Sacrifice.”
Prophet Mohammad reported by Ibn Abbas
[Published Dec. 9, 2008] It brings me great joy to write about Eid al-Adha today. Not just because it’s one of the holiest days of Islam, and one of only two Eids (Festivals).
It’s also because Eid al-Adha is the first holiday I wrote about for Every Day’s a Holiday, which means we’ve come almost full circle. Since the Islamic calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, it hasn’t quite been a solar year, but we’re getting there.
I have learned so much about the Islamic calendar over the past year, my head hurts. I used to think, Why does the Islamic calendar have to be different from every other calendar in the world? Not all calendars are 365 days long, but at least they make some effort to correct themselves every few years. A leap day, leap week, leap month. Leap something! The Islamic calendar says, uh-uh. Pay no heed to seasons. A month observed in the summer 15 years ago is observed in the winter now, and vice-versa.
It struck me as counterintuitive. Or some kind of weird trick to play on kids. But now, after following the calendar through a full cycle, I see two reasons.
The first is that as all other calendars shift in relation to the Islamic calendar, Muslims get to share and contrast their celebrations and holy days with all other cultures.
The holiest third of the month of Ramadan just touched the ten days of atonement of the Jewish calendar, observed between the High Holy Days. Precisely as Muslims broke the fast with Eid al-Fitr, the Jews began the fast of Rosh Hashanah.
And Eid al-Adha this week coincides with the Catholic Festival of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), both of which speak to the bond between parent and child, and the bond between humanity and God.
Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, commemorates the moment when Abraham nearly sacrificed his son at Allah’s request. And the moment the Lord stopped Abraham in time to offer him a ram to take Ishmael’s place.
It is this moment between Abraham and his son Ishmael, that the Prophet Mohammad set forth as the defining event of Islam, which means literally, “submission”. For this reason, the structure known as the Kaaba–where Abraham first introduced monotheism to the world–was sanctified by Mohammad as holiest site on Earth.
During Eid al-Adha Muslims strive to experience the oneness of God, beginning with a special prayer:
In the name of God
And God is the greatest
O God, indeed this is from you and for you
O God, accept from me
And just as when we make a sacrifice for a friend or a loved one, we find that the sacrifice was not from us, but for us.