Al-Hijra is an annual Muslim festival marking the first day of the Islamic New Year and the month of Muharram. This day represents the journey of the Prophet Muhammed from two of the holiest sites in Islam, from Mecca to Medina, in 624CE. Hijra itself means “migration” in Arabic. Muharram itself is one of the four sacred months of the Islamic lunar calendar, of which there are 12 in total, and the second most important after Ramadan. The month moves from year-to-year as it follows the moon phases.
The names of the 12 months in the Islamic lunar Calendar are-
As in the western new year, Muslims often make resolutions on Al-Hijra, but the Islamic New Year and the wider sacred month are worshipped differently in the two predominant strands of Islam, Shiite and Sunni. For Shiites, he fact that the day coincides with the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala, which took place in the southern Iraqi city in 680, is significant. Shiites argue that only relatives of the Prophet Muhammad should succeed as caliph, which sparked the split between Shiite and Sunni after the Muhammed’s death. Mohammed’s first cousin, Ali, was murdered in 661 and at Karbala, his grandson Hussein Ibn Ali was killed by an army sent by Sunni caliph Yazid I. His defeat marked the ascendance of Sunni Islam over the Shiites, a discourse that is very much present in modern politics today, with Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran battling for influence in the Muslim world.
Shiites now mourn Hussain’s death for the first ten days of Muharram and take part in reenactments of the battle. Of particular significance is the tenth day of the month, known as Ashura, the day that Hussein was killed. Shiite Muslims fast and pray in the build-up to Ashura on what will be the Year 1438 AH, which stands for the year of “Hijra.” Millions of Shiite pilgrims travel to their holiest sites for the commemoration, located in both Iran and Iraq, particularly Karbala, which is situated 100 kilometers south of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. They mourn, beat their chests in what is called Latyma, and self-flaggelate, cutting incisions into their heads with machetes. Sunni Muslims, instead of mourning, fast on the day of Ashura to celebrate the victory of Moses over an Egyptian pharaoh on the 10th day of the sacred month.