Tue, 21 Nov 2000

No paganism

Mehru Jaffer's article on the origin of New Year's celebrations should open our eyes that many annual New Year celebrations come from pagan rituals (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 19, 2000, From paganistic celebrations to religious solemnness).

Mehru did not elaborate on the origin of the Islamic calendar in as much detail. She was right when she mentioned that "The Muslim calendar, based on the moon, moves the New Year forward by 11 days each year". But her illustration that "in Iran the date of New Year's celebration is March 21, when people put grains of wheat and barley a few weeks ahead and celebrate its growth in the memory of Spring" could be misleading.

People could believe the Islamic New Year has its origins in this and is celebrated on the same date annually. Whereas, in fact, this is just a local tradition in Iran. In Iran, the first 10 days of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar) are a period of a mourning by the Shi'ites for the death of Husayn, one of the Prophet Muhammad's grandchildren.

The Islamic calendar was instituted by Umar ibn Khattab (who died in 644), a close friend/disciple of Prophet Muhammad who was also one of the Four Patriarchal Caliphs after the Prophet died. In 637, Umar smartly chose the date of the lunar calendar's month of Muharram as the Islamic New Year to mark the historical moment of Muslim struggle. On that date, July 16, 622, Muslims migrated from Mecca, dominated and controlled by the Prophet's Quraish tribe, to Yathrib (now Medina) to avoid pressure and torture. It is known as Hijrah (Emigration). And in this city, Muhammad successfully developed his teachings.

Thereby, the origin of the Islamic New Year is far from a pagan ritual, myth or legend as mentioned by Mehru.