As the New Year approaches, it gives one the opportunity to pause and ponder upon the nature of the New Year that we, as Muslims, tend to celebrate with increased fervor. In actuality, the Islamic New Year, also known as the Hijri New Year, commences on the 1st day of Muharram – the first month in the Islamic Calendar - rather than the 1st day of January, and it is on this day that the year count is augmented.

So what does the word ‘Hijri’ stand for? In its literal Arabic translation, it means ‘migration’. In this case, it refers to the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) migration, or Hijra, from Makkah to Madinah in the year 622 AD. Hence, the year 622 AD marks the start of the Islamic Calendar and the beginning of the Islamic era i.e. 1 AH. The Hijra essentially became the very foundation upon which the first Muslim city was built, which in itself serves as a turning point in the history of Islam.

The Islamic calendar was initiated by Umar bin Al Khattab (RA), the 2nd Caliph of Islam and one of the dearest companions of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The motives behind the creation of the Islamic calendar was ingrained in the attempt of rationalizing various, often conflicting, dating systems being utilized during that period and agreeing upon one unified system.

The Islamic Calendar, unlike the regular Gregorian calendar, is based on the lunar system. The Islamic year is 11 to 12 days lesser than the Gregorian year because the Islamic lunar year is not dependent on varying seasons or weather conditions. Hence, the New Year differs for both Calendars every year.

There are a total of 12 lunar months in the Islamic calendar which start from the day of the Prophet’s (PBUH) migration;

1. Muharram

2. Safar

3. Rabi al Awwal

4. Rabi al Thani/ Rabi al Akhar

5. Jumada al Awwal

6. Jumada al Thani/ Jumada al Akhirah

7. Rajab

8. Sha’ban

9. Ramadan

10. Shawwal

11. Dhul-Qi’dah

12. Dhul-Hijjah

The Islamic lunar year essentially comprises of 354 or 355 days as opposed to the 365 days in a Gregorian year. Moreover, a day in the Islamic calendar commences at sunset, rather than 12:00 AM which holds true for the Gregorian solar based calendars.

The Islamic calendar holds great sentimental value for not only Muslims but also non-Muslims. It sheds light on the importance of time computation and the indication of not only religious events but historical events as well. In the Gregorian calendars, the details and lessons of history perhaps get lost and buried in the background hence, the Islamic calendar fills that gap immaculately. As Muslims, we must be aware of the nature of our Islamic Calendar and the weight of its significance in not only Islamic history but world history.