Pakistan welcomes the new year twice — once with the usual quota of fireworks, music and celebrations to signal the first of January, and again with an amalgamation of silence, reflection and prayer on the First of Muharram, the first month on the Islamic Calendar.
Islam has a calendar based on the revolutions of the Moon rather than those of the Sun. Thus, an Islamic Year is 354 days long and the New Year is celebrated on the first day of Muharram; the first Islamic month which is considered to be the second holiest month of the Islamic year after Ramadan. The New Year has an incredible history and represents the starting point of the Muslim era as it coincides with the Hijrah – the Prophet’s journey from Mecca to Medina on the first of Muharram in 622 CE. This not only allowed the first Muslims of Mecca to escape persecution, but also paved the way for the Constitution of Medina. It was the declaration of Islam as a universal brotherhood with a unique identity in faith and ideologies.
Keeping the original sentiments of the date in mind, the New Year, or Maal Hijra as it is known in Islamic terms, is marked by the recitation of Quranic verses and special prayers and sermons at mosques and public halls. The festivities of the day are meant to highlight everything in life one should be thankful for going into the new year. Hence, people choose to surround themselves with family and friends, exchange well wishes, and relish in traditional cuisine — no celebratory event in Pakistan would be complete without the mandatory biryani and assortments of sweetmeats!
The First of Muharram is a day that is unknown to most but is one us Muslims anxiously await.
In alignment with what the month represents, celebrations are kept simple and peaceful, allowing for time to be set aside by Muslims all around the world to ponder on the passing of time and their own mortality. Not only does the simplicity of the holiday provide clarity and peace of mind, it also emphasizes the importance of critical thinking and self improvement to prepare for the upcoming year in accordance with the values of the religion.
The Islamic New Year celebrations are a magical time: a period of self-reflection, remembrance, and gratitude.