Friday, August 21, 2020

Muharram - the Islamic New Year

The Islamic New Year - hope and sorrow at the same time

With the setting of the sun on 19 August 2020 the New Year has begun for Muslims worldwide. You did not notice that? That is because this festival is not celebrated loudly like New Year's Eve with rockets and countdown. The Muslim New Year is a contemplative celebration, as the date is also associated with the memory of a particularly tragic event, the murder of a grandson of the Prophet - but more about that later in the text.

The new year in the Islamic calendar begins with the month Muharram. The counting of the years is not based on the Gregorian calendar, but has its own calendar, which is based on the moon. The counting begins in the year when the Prophet emigrated with his faithful from Mecca to Medina, the so-called Hijra. That was 1442 years ago.

The Muharram follows the month of the pilgrimage (Dhu l-Hidja) to Mecca. In this month the pilgrims should be able to return to their home countries in safety and peace.

The month of Muharram is one of the four holy months of Islam (Quran 9:36). According to Islamic tradition, it is a month of destiny that has seen both promising and tragic events.

For example, Muslims remember Moses and the victory of the Israelites over Pharaoh, who ruled by force. In a hopeless situation they did not give up faith and trust in God and were saved by a miracle of God. In the Qur'an it is stated as follows: "On this We revealed to Moses: 'Strike the sea with your stick.' And it parted, and each part rose up like a mighty mountain. And We then made the others come near. And We delivered Moses and all who were with him. [...]" (Qur'an 26:63-67)

Noah and the pudding

Added to this is the memory of the salvation of Noah and mankind from the Flood, for it was in this holy month that the ark stranded on Mount Djudi. Even today, the so-called Noah's pudding (ashura) is cooked on this occasion. This dessert, made from a variety of ingredients, for example chickpeas, beans, nuts, raisins or pomegranate seeds, is traditionally distributed to neighbours and friends. In the Sura al-Hud it says: "And it was commanded, 'O earth, swallow up your water, O heaven, stop (rain)!' And the water began to sink, and the matter was decided. And the ship came to rest on the djudyy. [...]" (Koran 11:44)

The stories of Moses and Noah bear witness to the mercy of God. They are a source of confidence and hope for Muslims in these New Years.

But the joy on these days is clouded by a particularly tragic event. On the 10th Muharram Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet, was killed. Together with the young man, his family and some followers were cruelly executed by the men of the tyrant Yazid in the desert near the Iraqi city of Karbala.

This grief is shared by Muslims worldwide. In the Shiite and Alevi tradition, this event is given special attention and remembrance through a twelve-day mourning fast. The Sunnis also share this mourning and fast on the 9th and 10th day of Muharram.

In this spirit we wish all Muslims a blessed and contemplative New Year. May it give us all more reconciliation, cohesion and peace.