It’s a new year in the Muslim world. It is the 1441th year after the divinely ordained migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), from Mecca to Medina. This remarkable event of the Prophet’s historic relocation which took place in the year 622 Christian Era (CE) is referred to as Hijrah. The Islamic calendar, which is purely based on lunar cycles, was introduced in 638CE by Umar bn Al-Khattab, a close companion of the Prophet (PBUH) and the second Caliph of Islam. He did it to rationalize the various, at times conflicting, dating systems used during his time.
Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, consulted his advisers on the starting date of the new Muslim chronology. It was finally agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the year in which the Hijrah took place. The actual starting date for the calendar was chosen (on the basis of purely lunar years, counting backwards) to be the first day of Muharram, the first month of the year of the Hijrah. The Islamic calendar is usually abbreviated as ‘AH’ meaning ‘After Hijrah’. The Hijrah is the central historical event of early Islam which led to the foundation of the first Muslim city-state and a turning point in Islamic and world history.
The Islamic or Hijrah year consists of 12 lunar months namely: Muharram, Safar, Rabi al-Awwal, Rabi al-Akhir, Jimad al-Ula, Jimad al-Akhirah, Rajab, Sha’ban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhul Qa’dah, and Dhul Hijjah. Allah, the Almighty, says in Qur’an 9:36 “Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve (lunar) months in the register of Allah (from) the day He created the heavens and the earth; of them, four are sacred.”
Since the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, as opposed to solar, the Muslim year is shorter than the Gregorian year by about 11 days every year. The months in the Islamic year are not related to seasons. This means that important Muslim festivals, which always fall in the same Hijrah month, may occur in different seasons. For example the Hajj and Ramadan can take place in the summer as well as the winter. It is only over a 33-year cycle that lunar months take a complete turn and fall during the same season.
The significance of the Hijrah calendar lies in its use to determine the days for the observance of some Islamic rites in Islam. For instance, while Ramadan fast begins on the first day of the Month of Ramadan, pilgrimage (Hajj) rites are observed between 8th and 13th day of Dhul Hijah. The two major festivals in Islam, Eid el-Fitr and Eid el-Adha, are respectively observed on the first day of the month of Shawwal and 10th day of Dhul Hijjah. Allah, the Almighty, states in Quran 2:189”They ask you (O Muhammad) about the new moons. Say, ‘They are measurements of time for the people and for Hajj…”
The beginning of a new Hijrah year should be a period for giving gratitude to Allah as well as for sober reflections. In the same way that the Prophet (PBUH) migrated from his birthplace for the sake of propagating the Truth inspired by Allah, the Almighty, Muslims are by the same token enjoined to ‘migrate’ from religious bigotry and violence to tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Given the deep rooted mutual mistrust among followers of different religions in the country, we call on Muslims to use the occasion of the new Hijrah year to build bridges of understanding between them and followers of other religions. They are encouraged to strengthen everything that promote social cohesion and unite us as a country; disregarding such things that split us.
While we urge Muslims to pray for the success of the leaders of this country at all levels of governance, we encourage them to also seek divine intervention in all the critical challenges bedevilling Nigeria including insurgency, banditry and kidnapping. Happy New Hijrah Year!