The Islamic New year is expected to start today. In this Friday sermon delivered by our Erudite brother, Imam Murtadha Gusau in Okene yesterday, he discussed the meaning and significance of the Hijri calendar.
I Begin With The Name Of Allah, The Beneficent, The Most Merciful,
Dear Brothers and Sisters! After our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had preached publicly for more than a decade, the opposition to him reached such a high pitch that, fearful for their safety, he sent some of his adherents to Habasha/Abyssinia (Ethiopia), where the Christian ruler extended protection to them, the memory of which has been cherished by Muslims ever since. But in Makkah the persecution worsened. Prophet Muhammad’s followers were harassed, abused, and even tortured. At last, therefore, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) sent seventy of his followers off to the northern town of Yathrib, which was later to be renamed Madinah (The City). Later, in the early fall of 622, he learned of a plot to murder him and, with his closest friend, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, set off to join the emigrants.
In Makkah, the plotters arrived at Prophet Muhammad’s home to find that his cousin, Ali, had taken his place in bed. Enraged, the Makkans set a price on Prophet Muhammad’s head and set off in pursuit. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr, however, had taken refuge in a cave where, as they hid from their pursuers, a spider spun its web across the cave’s mouth. When they saw that the web was unbroken, the Makkans passed by and Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr went on to Madinah, where they were joyously welcomed by a throng of Madinans as well as the Makkans who had gone ahead to prepare the way.
Respected believers! This was the Hijrah – anglicised as Hegira – usually, but inaccurately, translated as “Flight” – from which the Muslim era is dated. In fact, the Hijrah was not a flight but a carefully planned migration which marks not only a break in history – the beginning of the Islamic era – but also, for Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Muslims, a new way of life. Henceforth, the organisational principle of the community was not to be mere blood kinship, but the greater brotherhood of all Muslims. The men who accompanied Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) on the Hijrah were called the Muhajirun – “those that made the Hijrah” or the “Emigrants” – while those in Madinah who became Muslims were called the Ansar or “Helpers.”
Prophet Muhammad was well acquainted with the situation in Madinah. Earlier, before the Hijrah, the city had sent envoys to Makkah asking Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to mediate a dispute between two powerful tribes. What the envoys saw and heard had impressed them and they had invited Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to settle in Madinah. After the Hijrah, Prophet Muhammad’s exceptional qualities so impressed the Madinans that the rival tribes and their allies temporarily closed ranks as, on March 15, 624, Prophet Muhammad and his supporters moved against the pagans of Makkah.
The first battle, which took place near Badr, now a small town southwest of Madinah, had several important effects. In the first place, the Muslim forces, outnumbered three to one, routed the Makkans. Secondly, the discipline displayed by the Muslims brought home to the Makkans, perhaps for the first time, the abilities of the man they had driven from their city. Thirdly, one of the allied tribes which had pledged support to the Muslims in the Battle of Badr, but had then proved lukewarm when the fighting started, was expelled from Madinah one month after the battle. Those who claimed to be allies of the Muslims, but tacitly opposed them, were thus served warning: membership in the community imposed the obligation of total support.
The Constitution of Madinah – under which the clans accepting Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as the Prophet of Allah formed an alliance, or federation – dates from this period. It showed that the political consciousness of the Muslim community had reached an important point; its members defined themselves as a community separate from all others. The Constitution also defined the role of non-Muslims in the community. Jews, for example, were part of the community; they were Dhimmis, that is, protected people, as long as they conformed to its laws. This established a precedent for the treatment of subject peoples during the later conquests. Christians and Jews, upon payment of a yearly tax, were allowed religious freedom and, while maintaining their status as non-Muslims, were associate members of the Muslim state. This status did not apply to polytheists (Mushrikun), who could not be tolerated within a community that worshipped the One Allah.
Ibn Ishaq, one of the earliest biographers of the Prophet, says it was at about this time that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) sent letters to the rulers of the earth – the King of Persia, the Emperor of Byzantium, the Negus of Abyssinia, and the Governor of Egypt among others – inviting them to submit to Islam. Nothing more fully illustrates the confidence of the small community, as its military power, despite the battle of the Trench, was still negligible. But its confidence was not misplaced. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) so effectively built up a series of alliances among the tribes his early years with the Bedouins must have stood him in good stead – that by 628 he and fifteen hundred followers were able to demand access to the Ka’abah during negotiations with the Makkans. This was a milestone in the history of the Muslims. Just a short time before, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had to leave the city of his birth in fear of his life. Now he was being treated by his former enemies as a leader in his own right. A year later, in 629, he reentered and, in effect, conquered Makkah without bloodshed and in a spirit of tolerance which established an ideal for future conquests. He also destroyed the idols in the Ka’abah, to put an end forever to pagan practices there. At the same time Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) won the allegiance of Amr Ibn al-As, the future conqueror of Egypt, and Khalid Ibn al-Walid, the future Sword of Allah, both of whom embraced Islam and joined Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Their conversion was especially noteworthy because these men had been among the Prophet Muhammad’s bitterest opponents only a short time before.
In one sense Prophet Muhammad’s return to Makkah was the climax of his mission. In 632, just three years later, he was suddenly taken ill and on June 8 of that year, with his third beloved wife Aishah in attendance, the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) died with the heat of noon.
The death of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was a profound loss. To his followers this simple man from Makkah was far more than a beloved friend, far more than a gifted administrator, far more than the revered leader who had forged a new state from clusters of warring tribes. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was also the exemplar of the teachings he had brought them from Allah the Almighty: the teachings of the Qur’an, which, for centuries, have guided the thought and action, the faith and conduct, of innumerable respected men and women, and which ushered in a distinctive era in the history of mankind. His death, nevertheless, had little effect on the dynamic society he had created in Arabia and the world, and no effect at all on his central mission: to transmit the Qur’an and Sunnah to the world. As Abu Bakr put it:
“Whoever worshipped Muhammad (Peace be upon him), let him know that Muhammad is dead, but whoever worshipped Allah, let him know that Allah lives and dies not.”
Beloved servants of Allah! Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar Hijrah Calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Noble Qur’an says:
“The number of the months according to Allah is twelve months (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day in which He created heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified.”
These four months, according to the authentic Hadiths are the months of Dhul-Qa’adah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. All the commentators of the Noble Qur’an are unanimous on this point, because the Noble Prophet in his sermon on the occasion of his last Hajj, has declared:
“One year consists of twelve months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Dhul-Qa’adah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram, and the fourth is Rajab.”
The specific mention of these four months does not mean that any other month has no sanctity, because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sanctified months for the simple reason that their sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah.
In fact, every month, out of the twelve, is originally equal to the other, and there is no inherent sanctity, which may be attributed to one of them in comparison to other months. When Allah Almighty chooses a particular time for His special blessings, then it acquires sanctity out of His grace.
Thus, the sanctity of these four months was recognised right from the days of Prophet Ibrahim. Since the Pagans of Makkah attributed themselves to Prophet Ibrahim they observed the sanctity of these four months and despite their frequent tribal and clannish battles, they held it unlawful to fight in these months.
In the Shari’ah of our Noble Prophet the sanctity of these months was upheld and the Noble Qur’an referred to them as the “sanctified months (Ash-hurul Hurum).”