Al-Hijra is the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar.
Al-Hijra marks the Hijra, the moment in 622 CE when the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and set up the very first Islamic state. This year the Islamic New Year, or Al-Hijra, falls on Saturday 25th October. Observed in every Islamic community, the New Year is a fairly low key event in the Muslim calendar, with no specific religious ritual required on this day. However, Muslims are encouraged to think about the general meaning of Hijra, and regard this as a good time to reflect back on their lives and to plan ahead for how they can improve them.
The most important day of the Islamic New Year celebration is the tenth day of Muharram, the Day of Ashura. On this day many Muslims spend time in prayer and fast during daylight hours. Some Muslims begin their fast earlier, and make it last longer during the hours of daylight on the 9th and 10th or, 10th and 11th days of Muharram. This deprivation commemorates the twin events of Noah leaving the ark and when God saved Moses from the Egyptians.
For the Shi’a Muslims, the Day of Ashura has a further significance, for it is also a day of mourning for Husayn ibn Ali. The grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali was martyred in 680 CE at Karbala, Iraq. One of the more extreme Islamic groups, the Shi’a Muslims whip themselves as part of a mourning ritual for Husayn ibn Ali. This practice is rare in the United Kingdom, although a few religious leaders encourage Muslims who feel that they should lose some blood on this day to donate blood to the blood transfusion service instead.
Once the fasting and prayer is over, Muslims eat a dessert on the Day of Ashura, known as Noah’s pudding. This dessert is made out of water, grains, pulses, fresh and dried fruit, salt and honey. It is then sprinkled liberally with orange or lemon rind, spices, nuts and pomegranate seeds.
The Islamic calendar is lunar, which means the date alters each year, with days of celebration beginning at sundown and ending at sunset the following day. In the United Kingdom Al-Hijra is not a public holiday, but many Muslims take the day as a holiday.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.