The Islamic new year: a time for contemplation and growth
By: Sheikh Haisam Farache
Milestones are markers fundamental to the human psyche. As we near the end of the calendar year, outside of the controversies surrounding the months of Ramadan and Zul Hijah, have we given any thought to the other months of the Hijri (Islamic) calendar? In fact, could we even say that we know the Islamic months and could we recall them in order?
It is especially imperative for Muslims living outside of Muslim majority nations to maintain a connection to Allah through the specific Prophetic acts of worship encouraged during each particular month and to understand the significance of the Islamic months as they relate to the life of a Muslim.
This week marks the end of the Islamic Year 1435 and with it, the opportunity for a new dawn in nearness to our Creator in 1436, Insha Allah. It is an opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed and to ask Allah to forgive our sins and the sins of our brethren. Additionally, it is a time to look forward to new beginnings and to seek greater closeness to Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) by striving to embody our own humanity through consciousness of Allah and service to others.
The first month of the Islamic year is the Month of Allah, commonly called Muharram and it is one of the scared months, whereby the reward for one’s deeds are multiplied, as are the penalties for sins. The month of Muharram contains a special day, the tenth day. It is narrated in Prophetic traditions that the tenth of Muharram was the day Allah decreed for emancipation of Bani Israel (the children of Israel – Prophet Jacob – peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) from the tyranny of the Pharaohs. The Jews were freed from their slave hood and the tyrants were dealt the justice of Divine intervention.
In a time and place where those who submitted to the Divine will of Allah were methodically persecuted because of their beliefs; by being enslaved, having their children systematically killed and their women systematically assaulted, the relevance of the story of Bani Israel in Egypt bares particular significance for those who submit in contemporary times and are subject to current trends of a similar nature. Therefore, the significance of Ashura must be more profound to the believer as we approach the end of 2014.
It has also been mentioned that the tenth of Muharram was the day Allah selected to save the people of Prophet Nuh (Noah- peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) from the floods. The common thread in the stories of the Prophets Nuh and Musa (peace and blessing of Allah be upon them both) are that Allah changed the circumstances of the people once they sincerely repented for their misgivings and they firmly entrenched themselves in the ways of their respective Prophets.
The above scenario is identical for the people of our time; if we yearn to have our grievances alleviated and to establish justice and peace, we must repent to Allah and become righteous. Without this vital step, our condition will not change and our sorrows will deepen. Other practical solutions need to be implemented but without internal change in our perceptions and external change in our actions, Allah’s divine assistance will not grace our lives or the lives of humanity. This realization and application is the fundamental step!
How can one day have so much significance? The Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) is recorded as saying in the fasting of the day of Arafah, I hope Allah will expiate thereby for the year before it and the year after it, and in fasting the day of Ashura I hope Allah will expiate thereby for the year that came before it. Therefore, the All-Mighty Lord of the Mercy and Grace pardons a whole year of minor sins and the abovementioned repentance is required to expiate the major sins. Once people repent the divine assistance of Allah begins to descend.
When the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) migrated to Medina, he witnessed the Jews fasting Ashura and he asked why they fasted this day. He was told it was the day Allah emancipated the Musa and his followers from the Pharaohs, so Prophet Musa used to fast this day in gratitude to Allah. A Prophetic tradition states that the best sawm (fasting) after sawm in the month of Ramadan is during the month of Allah, known as Muharam. In particular the fasting of the tenth day of the Muharram, known as the Day of Ashura. The Prophet recommended fasting on the tenth and also the ninth of Muharram.
What else can one do to ensure the maximum benefit from the month of Muharram and in particular the tenth day? Another Prophetic tradition related that whoever fasts `Ashura it is as if s/he has fasted the entire year and whoever gives charity on this day it is like the charity of an entire year. Giving charity in secret appeases the wrath of Allah and expedites the Divine Mercy of Allah. The Prophetic acts of fasting and giving charity are causes that Allah uses to improve the human condition, both individually and socially.
For those in a dilemma about which days to fast, the scholars have stated that if there is confusion about the beginning of the month, one should fast for three days, to be sure of fasting on the ninth and tenth days. The difference of opinion of the scholars is indeed a mercy for those who believe.
Furthermore, leading up to New Years Eve (1 January), people, generally, begin to think about their life and some even make resolutions about how they will approach the new year and their work, health and relationships. Could I suggest that believers also use the beginning of the Islamic New Year to also make New Year’s resolutions? Instead of resolutions about material progression, the resolutions of a believer would and should be about one’s progression on the path of enlightenment and nearness to the Creator.
My suggestion would be that each person makes specific intentions for the year regarding; the amount of money one donates to charity, the amount of time one spends volunteering, the amount of time one wastes on idle pursuits (such as non-essential social media interaction, counterproductive YouTube videos and the like), memorizing verses of Quran or Prophetic traditions, making quality time to spend with family, assisting one’s mother and/or father, speaking well with one’s siblings, furthering Islamic knowledge, serving those less fortunate and thanking Allah for the all blessing and bounties for which He has bestowed upon us. In addition, it helps to write down intentions and to regularly review those intentions in order to fulfill those commitments to yourself.
I ask Allah to accept all our deeds for the previous year and to pardon all of our sins, I also ask Allah to make the upcoming year one of great prosperity and advancement for all who proclaim to submit to the Divine will of the Most Merciful Creator of all that is in existence.