Muḥarram & the Islamic New Year

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar year and has 354 days over 12 months. The first month of the Islamic calendar is Muḥarram and begins today on Aug 20, 2020, which will mark the year 1442 A.H.[1] A day in the Islamic calendar is defined as beginning at sunset.

The first year of the calendar begins when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah, known as the Ḥijrah, in 622 C.E. He, along with his early followers, fled persecution and established a new Muslim society.

Name Arabic Meaning
al-Muḥarram ٱلْمُحَرَّم sacred
Ṣafar صَفَر void
Rabīʿ al-ʾAwwal/Rabīʿ al-ʾŪlā رَبِيع ٱلْأَوَّل /‎ رَبِيع ٱلْأُولَىٰ the first spring
Rabīʿ ath-Thānī/Rabīʿ al-ʾĀkhir رَبِيع ٱلثَّانِي‎ / رَبِيع ٱلْآخِر the second/last spring
Jumādā al-ʾAwwal/Jumadā al-ʾŪlā جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْأَوَّل‎ / جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْأُولَىٰ the first when land dries out
Jumādā ath-Thāniyah/Jumādā al-ʾĀkhirah جُمَادَىٰ ٱلثَّانِيَة‎ / جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْآخِرَة the second/last when land dries out
Rajab رَجَب respect/honor
Shaʿbān شَعْبَان scattered
Ramaḍān رَمَضَان burning heat
Shawwāl شَوَّال raised
Dhū al-Qaʿdah ذُو ٱلْقَعْدَة truce
Dhū al-Ḥijjah ذُو ٱلْحِجَّة pilgrimage

The Islamic calendar was determined in the year 16 A.H. during the reign of the Caliph ʿUmar. He consulted with the senior Companions and they decided that Muslims should have their own calendar and dates, just like other civilizations and religions have.[2] Someone suggested adopting the Persian or Byzantine calendar, the way that Muslims were using their coins at the time, but this idea was rejected. Others suggested dating the calendar from either the birth or death of the Prophet, the start of revelation when he was forty years old, or the migration from Makkah to Madīnah. The latter idea was adopted since it marked the transition from being an oppressed minority to having an independent community.[3]

The Companions and early Muslims did not actually celebrate the new Islamic year by greeting each other with phrases like “Happy New Year” or anything to that effect. Nonetheless, if no one considers it to be a religious practice or something that is recommended, then such greetings are fine. It is important for Muslims to be aware of the Islamic calendar and at least know what year it is, even if they are not referring to it regularly. Such a practice maintains a connection with Islamic History and also reminds them that Muslims have certain distinguishing characteristics, which establishes their unique Muslim identity.

The month of Muḥarram was declared special in the Qur’an: “Indeed, the number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve. This was decided by Allah on the Day when He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred. That is the right religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them.” [Qur’an – At-Tawbah 9:36] The Prophet Muhammad specified these months: “The year is twelve months, of which four are sacred: three consecutive months of Dhul Qaʿdah (11th), Dhul Ḥijjah (12th), and Muḥarram (1st), while the fourth is Rajab (7th).”[4] These months were originally established from the time of Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] and even maintained by the pagan Arabs before Islam, where they would forbid warfare so that people could travel and conduct business, and perform Pilgrimage to Makkah safely. After the Qur’an was revealed, these months were affirmed to have special status, and even enhanced more.

The Prophet said: “The best days to fast after Ramadan is in the ‘month of Allah’: Muḥarram.”[5] So it is recommended for Muslims to fast more in this month than in regular months, if they want to earn extra reward. The 10th of Muḥarram is extra special and is known as the day of ʿĀshūrā’. It is highly recommended to fast on this day and recommended to fast one day prior or after it as well. There are some narrations that indicate other virtuous acts on the 10th of Muḥarram but those reports are not very authentic. Lastly, some people believe the month of Muḥarram is unlucky so they avoid getting married or traveling at this time, but these are baseless superstitions.

[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar | Anaheim – Aug 20, 2020

[1] This is according to astronomical calculations. Often, the calendar is determined, for religious purposes, by an actual crescent sighting in the evening. A.H. means after Ḥijrah [migration].

[2] It is also reported that this occurred in the year 17 or 18 A.H.

[3] See Al-Bukhārī #3934 and Ibn Kathīr, Al-Bidāyah wa n-Nihāyah 3:251-253.

[4] See Bukhārī #2958. This does not negate the fact that Ramaḍān is still the most sacred month of the year.

[5] See Muslim #1982

What Happens On Eid Al-Aḍḥā Day?

What Happens on Eid al-Aḍḥā Day?

The 10th of Dhul Ḥijjah is known as Eid al-Aḍḥā [the festival of sacrifice] and is a day of celebration for Muslims. In fact, the following three days of the 11th, 12th, and 13th are also an extension of the days of Eid.
This Eid is known as the ‘festival of sacrifice’ because it commemorates the incident where Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] was ordered by God to sacrifice his son, and they both willingly submitted. No human sacrifice actually occurred, because it was only a test of obedience and devotion, and Ibrāhīm was told to sacrifice an animal instead as a symbol of his devotion [See Qur’an 37:100-110 and contrast with the Bible – Genesis 22:1-14]. It was a powerful reminder about the importance of sacrificing the things we love.

Praising Allah During these Days

There is a specific way to praise Allah during these days that is said out loud. The phrase to be said is known as the takbīrāt [glorifications]:
allāhu akbar, allāhu akbar, lā ilāha illallāh, allāhu akbar, allāhu akbar, wa lillāhi l-ḥamd
“God is great, God is great, there is no god besides Allah, God is great, God is great, praise belongs to him”
This formula should be said out loud by each person immediately after each and every one of the five daily prayers. It begins on the 9th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Thursday] after Fajr prayer and continues until the 13th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Monday] after ʿAsr prayer, making it a total of 23 times. The phrase must be said at least once but is recommended to be done more than that. It is common to say it three times. [There is some difference of opinion on this point]

The Eid Prayer

On the morning of Eid al-Aḍḥā on the 10th, it is recommended to:

  • take a bath to be fresh and clean for the day and brush your teeth[1]
  • dress in your best clothes and try to smell nice by using some fragrance[2]
  • not fast on this day. In fact, it is prohibited for Muslims to fast on Eid because it is a day of celebration [which involves eating]

It is recommended for Muslims from different mosques to assemble together in a large area, if possible, and pray together. This Eid prayer is obligatory on adult men, but it is recommended for women and children to attend as well, even women who are not praying due to their period.
When a person leaves his house to attend the prayer, he should praise Allah on the way there by saying the takbīrāt out loud, as mentioned previously.
When arriving at the gathering place there are no extra prayers recommended nor is there a call to prayer [adhān] or commence [iqāmah]. A Muslim should continue praising Allah until the prayer is about to start.
The Eid prayer is identical to the Fajr prayer except that extra takbīrs [saying ‘allāhu akbar’] are added while standing. The Imām [prayer leader] begins the prayer as usual and recites the opening supplication inaudibly with his hands folded, and the people praying behind him do the same. Then he raises his hands like at the beginning of prayer, says ‘allāhu akbar’ and lowers his hands to his sides, and everyone follows suit. This is done a total of seven times in the first unit, so that there is one initial takbīr to start the prayer and seven additional ones after that. After the final takbīr, the hands are folded and the recitation of the Qur’an begins as usual. It is recommended to recite sūrah al-aʿlā in the first unit. When the imām stands for the second unit of prayer, there are five extra takbīrs added while raising the hands as was done in the first unit. Then the prayer continues as normal. It is recommended to recite sūrah al-ghāshiyah in the second unit.[3]When the prayer is finished, the imām will stand and deliver two sermons like on Friday. It is important for people not to start talking or walk away during these lectures.
The timing for the Eid prayer begins fifteen minutes after sunrise and lasts until high noon. The mosque(s) organizing the prayer will set a specific time at which the Muslims will gather within this time frame. If someone misses the prayer, it cannot be made up.
After the prayer and sermons are complete, it is recommended for people to greet each other. There is no specific way of greeting, but many Muslims will shake hands, hug each other, say ‘Happy Eid’ [Eid Mubārak] or ‘May Allah accept from us and you’ [taqabbal allāhu minnā wa minkum].

Animal Sacrifice

It is highly recommended [and mandatory according to some scholars][4] for every able Muslim to slaughter an animal on Eid day. This can be done on the 10th, 11th, or 12th day of Dhul Ḥijjah. The animal to be slaughtered is a sheep or goat, or seven people can share in one camel or cow, since they are much larger animals.
It is recommended to give about one third of the animal in charity, feed friends and family with another third, and keep the final portion for oneself. However, it can be distributed all in charity or even kept all for oneself. For those who find it difficult to physically purchase and slaughter an animal, they may pay someone on their behalf to perform the sacrifice and distribute the meat. Here are some organizations that do this and distribute the meat to the poor and needy in various parts of the world: Islamic ReliefIslamic Relief USAHelping HandLife, or Baitulmaal. Furthermore, since animal sacrifice has different prices for different countries, it is best to pay the amount that it would have cost you to do it in your own country by adding extra money for another animal. For example, if sacrificing a sheep would cost you $200 in the USA but $40 in Bangladesh, you should sacrifice five animals in Bangladesh if you live in the USA and earned your money there.
Sacrificing an animal is not an act of cruelty. Animals have been created by Allah for the benefit of humans. They exist for us to use, but not abuse. There is no doubt that due to greed and consumerism, many animals are being abused nowadays. Islam teaches the balance between benefiting from animals but not abusing or mistreating them.

Happy Eid


[1] See Muwaṭṭa’ #428
[2] See Ibn Khuzaymah #1756
[3] Note that there is another way to perform the Eid prayer with three extra takbīrs in each unit. Consult an expert in Islamic Law for more details.
[4] Kitāb al-Ikhtiyār 5:20
The Journey of Hajj

By: Shaykh Mustafa Umar

What is Ḥajj and ʿUmrah

Ḥajj is a journey to Makkah commemorating the spirit of devotion to Allah performed by Prophet Ibrāhīm [Abraham] and his family. It entails visiting Makkah and some other nearby regions. Ḥajj occurs only once a year from the 8th-12th in the month of Dhul Ḥijjah. It is attended by about four to five million Muslims and is the largest annual gathering of people in the world.
ʿUmrah is a shortened version of Ḥajj which can take place at any time of the year in Makkah and only takes about an hour or two to complete. It is highly recommended to perform it at least once in a lifetime. Those who go for Ḥajj usually perform an ʿUmrah as well during the same journey.

Makkah

Makkah is an ancient city in Western Arabia which was founded by Hājar [Hagar], the wife of Prophet Ibrāhīm. It is a narrow valley about 900 feet above sea level and 50 miles from the Red Sea. Prophet Ibrāhīm was instructed by Allah to leave his wife Ḥājar and son Ismāʿīl [Ishamel] in this barren valley as a test to see whether he and his wife were willing to overlook the principle of causality and put their trust in Allah. They both passed their tests with flying colors, so Allah made the region of Makkah a special place.

Ibrāhīm and his son built the Kaʿbah, which was the first building entirely dedicated to the worship of one God alone.[1] He instituted the Ḥajj Pilgrimage where people have been visiting the once-empty valley for thousands of years.[2] Makkah now has a population of 2 million people [2012] and the word Mecca in English is now used to refer to a place which attracts a lot of people. The city has been mentioned several times in the Qur’an and is known as Umm al-Qurā [the mother of all settlements] because of the prominent position it occupies in Arabia. The region has also been mentioned in the Bible as the wilderness of Parān in Genesis 21:21, although some Christians insist on giving another meaning to that verse.
Makkah’s religious merit lies primarily in the fact that it contains the Kaʿbah, which all Muslims around the world face towards during prayer. However, the city also has immense historical value because the Prophet Muhammad lived there for most of his life and the first thirteen years of the revelation of the Qur’an occurred there.

Virtues of Ḥajj

Eschatological Dimensions

Ḥajj has the potential of being one of the most rewarding acts of worship a Muslim can ever perform. The Prophet said, “Whoever performs Ḥajj [sincerely] for Allah and avoids obscenity and sins will return [from the journey] like the day his mother gave him birth [i.e. with no sins].”[3] It is important to remember that the aforementioned benefits are conditional upon the Ḥajj being fulfilled properly. No one should assume that just by doing the motions of Ḥajj they will automatically receive a get-out-of-hell-free ticket. It is important to keep in mind the warning of the Prophet, “It might be that a person who fasts gains nothing from it except hunger and a person who prays gains nothing from it except fatigue.”[4] If this principle applies to prayer and fasting, the same would potentially apply to Ḥajj.

Social Dimensions

Ḥajj has far reaching social dimensions as well. A Persian intellectual explained it thus: “Everyone encircles the Kaʿbah collectively. The movement is as one unit, one group of people. There is no individual identification, that is, of being a man or woman, nor black or white. It is the transformation of one person into the totality of a ‘people’. Every ‘I’ joins together and becomes a ‘We’, establishing the ‘ummah’ [community] with the aim of approaching Allah.”[5]
The American revolutionary Malcolm X described his experience in these words: “There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my thought patterns previously held.”[6]

Who Must Perform Ḥajj

Ḥajj is an obligation[7] at least once in a lifetime for Muslims who are able to go. It is one of the five pillars upon which Islam stands and should never be neglected or even delayed. As soon as a person is able, they must immediately go.
Only the following Muslims are exempted from performing Ḥajj:

  • Children: A person is only held responsible for their actions in the sight of Allah after he has attained maturity and the intellect has developed.[8] This occurs during when a child reaches puberty. A boy is considered to be a mature adult when he has his first wet dream [or equivalent]. A girl is considered to be mature when she either has her first wet dream [or equivalent] or begins her menstrual period. If neither of these occur before the age of fifteen[9] they are considered to be mature at that age.
    • Young children who cannot fully understand what they are doing may still be taken on the Ḥajj and their parents will get the reward for allowing them to experience this Islamic phenomenon.
    • Children old enough to understand what they are doing will benefit from performing the Ḥajj. They should try to perform it the best they can, but it will not lift the obligation from them. Therefore, when they reach the age of maturity, they will have to perform it again as soon as they are able.
  • Mentally handicapped: Those people who are afflicted with an illness or defect that impairs their intellect are not considered responsible adults. They are treated like children in that they are not responsible for their actions in this world or the next. However, they may still perform Ḥajj and go through the motions, just like children do.
  • Financially unable: Someone who is unable to afford the expenses of traveling to Makkah and back, paying for the stay there, and having their family taken care of while they are gone, is not required to perform Ḥajj. Nowadays, Ḥajj can be quite costly. A person should try to find the most economical travel package they can and go if they can afford that.
    • It is important to note that a person should not borrow money in order to perform the Ḥajj. Also, paying off [currently due] debts takes priority over going for Ḥajj, since that money actually belongs to someone else. However, having long-term debt like a loan on your house has no impact on your ability to go for Ḥajj since you make monthly payments and it is not expected of you to pay off the loan immediately. Therefore, your entire housing debt is not ‘currently due’, rather, only your monthly payment is, and that can be subtracted from your assets.
  • Physically unable: A person who is physically unable to undertake the journey due to severe discomfort or other reasons is exempted from performing Ḥajj. However, there are many facilitations for disabled people such as wheelchairs and escorts for those who can afford them, which would not lift the obligation from those people.
  • Relative danger of the journey: If there is a highly probable likelihood of danger when traveling to Ḥajj, then a person is exempted. In the past, people faced desert bandits or sea pirates when traveling long distances and sometimes had to go in armed groups to protect themselves.
    • It is a requirement for women to have a male relative [maḥram] such as her brother or uncle accompany her on the Ḥajj to ensure her safety. However, if she is unable to have a male escort and there is probable certainty that her journey will be relatively safe, this requirement is overlooked. Nonetheless, the current government of Saudi Arabia has placed specific visa restrictions concerning women in accordance with their understanding of Islamic Law on this issue so check with your local embassy.

The Standard Ḥajj Schedule

There is much more to learn about Ḥajj which is beyond the scope of this article. To find out more, see the book Hajj & Umrah: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to the Journey. Below is a table describing approximately what happens on each day of Ḥajj.

Day Actions
Before Makkah Assume Iḥrām
Arriving in Makkah Ṭawāf & Saʿy*
8th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stay at Minā
9th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stay at ʿArafah
Sleep in Muzdalifah
10th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stone one Marker at Minā
Offer a sacrifice
Shave head
Exit Iḥrām [partially]
Visitation Ṭawāf*
11th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stone the three Markers at Minā
12th of Dhul Ḥijjah Stone the three Markers at Minā
13th of Dhul Ḥijjah [Optional] Stone the three Markers at Minā*
Before Leaving Makkah Farewell Ṭawāf

If you have not gone on the journey, ask God to facilitate the journey for you.

 [1] See Qur’ān 2:127-128, 3:96-97, 22:27-30

[2] See Qur’ān 22:28
[3] Bukhārī #1521, 2:133. Also see Qur’ān 2:197.
[4] Ibn Mājah #1690, 1:539, graded ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ [authentic] by Shaykh Albānī
[5] Ali Shariati, Hajj: Reflection on Its Rituals, 27.
[6] Malcolm X with the assistance of Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 371.
[7] See Qur’ān 3:97
[8] The exact time when this happens is only known to Allah. However, we must approximate when this occurs for legal reasons to distinguish between a child and an adult, hence the following criteria specified in Islamic law.
[9] This is calculated in lunar years according to Islamic law.