Islamic New Year an opportunity for reflection, renewal for Muslim Community

Imam Shamudeen at the Central Mosque of Charleston. Muslims will mark the Islamic New Year at sunset on Sept. 11 this year. Shamudeen said the holiday is a time to reflect on the Prophet Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina. File/Wade Spees/Staff

Imam Shamudeen loves cycling.

When the spiritual leader is not preaching on Friday evenings at the Central Mosque of Charleston, he's biking across the Ravenel Bridge where he enjoys a cool breeze, a spectacular view of the Cooper River and the architecture of the cable-stayed bridge.

There's a spiritual lesson in this moment.

"The purpose of a bridge is to connect two things. We're attempting to build bridges between Muslims and Christians, Jews and other faiths," Shamudeen said. "There's always an opportunity, if a person stops and thinks, to reflect."

Many more Muslims also will take the time to reflect as the Islamic New Year approaches. 

Although the new year is not as popular or grand as other Muslim holy days, it's a moment when many Muslims pause and reflect on their faith.

The sighting of the new moon at sunset will mark the first day of Muharram, the first month on the Muslim calendar. The new year honors the Prophet Muhammad's hijrah, or migration, from Mecca to Medina when he fled persecution to found the Islamic faith.

Muhammad's hijrah provides a deeper lesson for Muslims today. Shamudeen focused on the term "hijrah," which actually means "to avoid," he said. He noted how the Prophet Muhammad avoided what was wrong to establish good.

"Hijrah for us is not only that physical migration that took place 1,440 years ago," Shamudeen said. "It's a constant process. It's a mentality. It's a philosophy. It's something we live by. Hijrah is something we constantly do. We want to avoid, stay away from the wrong things and do the right things. It's a state of mind."

This year, this holiday begins at sunset on Sept. 11. Muslims will transition from 1439 AH to 1440 AH. The letters "AH" mean Anno Hegira, or "year of the hijrah." The same way the birth of Jesus Christ marks the first anno Domini year on the Gregorian and Julian calendars, the Prophet Muhammad's migration marks the first year on the Muslim calendar.

The Islamic New Year may be forgotten by some Muslims because it's not one of the faith's holiest holidays. Most Muslims recognize the Eid Al-Fitr, which concludes a month of fasting, and the Eid Al-Adha, which includes prayer and food in honor of the story about Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to show his faithfulness.

But the Islamic New Year doesn't require fasting or feasts. And it's not celebrated like other cultures, such as the Chinese New Year, which rings in the new year with parades and fireworks.

College of Charleston Asian studies professor Dr. Garrett Davidson said that because of the holiday's low spiritual ties, the event, which falls on the lunar calendar like all Muslim holidays, can get lost in the Gregorian Calendar of events.

"The Eid's or the Prophet's birthday, those are the things that have religious significance," Davidson said. "They are times when families get together. The Islamic New Year, there's really not a tradition. It doesn't have the same significance."

While it may not be celebrated with feasts like other Muslim holy days, or recognized in the way other cultures bring in the new year, some Muslims will take time to acknowledge the new year.

Many Muslims were expected to celebrate by attending worship services at the mosque on the Friday before the holiday where they'll likely hear a message tied to the prophet's migration and sacrifices. Others may celebrate simply by renewing their commitment to God, just as the Muhammad was committed.

Mohammed Degia, who attends the mosque in Charleston, will think about how Muhammad built a society from scratch after fleeing persecution.

"There is a practical significance," Degia said.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.