Islam and the New Year
A golfing buddy, Jose “Joe” Simeon, asked me pointedly if Muslims consider it against Islam to celebrate New Year’s Day. I don’t recall my exact answer, partly because I was exhausted after an 18-hole round of golf and partly because my frame of mind was far from anything religious. But in fact this question has plagued many Muslims because of the lack of clear and categorical fatwa or opinion from ulama or Muslim scholars on the issue. There is no specific verse in the Holy Quran dealing with it, although there are references in the Hadith al-Sharif or traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) which a radical mind could quote to support an interpretation, such as adopting the ways of non-Muslims, which is considered apostasy.
While it seems to be a light issue, it is a subject of debate among, and mirrors the quandary confronting, present-day Muslims. They are torn between the strict, intolerant Wahhabi-Salafist teaching proselytized violently by extremists like the Islamic State, which champions Islamic supremacy at a heavy toll to humanity, and the reformist, forward-looking moderates.
Muslims have their own New Year, called “Amon Jadid,” and it does not fall on Jan. 1. They follow the lunar calendar in which the start and end of every month is determined by the sighting of a crescent moon, while Christians follow the Gregorian calendar. The Islamic New Year falls on the first day of the month of Muharram, the first month of the lunar calendar, which last year fell on Sept. 22. It marked Hijra or the flight of Mohammad (PBUH) and his companions to Medina to escape the prosecution of the ruling clans of Mecca in AD 578, and to establish the first Islamic state. In the Philippines, this is celebrated through executive fiat as a special nonworking day in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in provinces where there are considerable Muslim residents.
Unlike during the Eids (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha), no grand festivities are held to mark Amon Jadid. It is celebrated more in prayer sessions in mosques, spending time with the family, and sometimes fasting and remembrance, reflection and gratitude. In fact, according to Muslim superstition, the first days of Muharram are not safe for travel and are not auspicious days to start businesses, engagements and other undertakings.
While Amon Jadid is a religious festival, many Filipino Muslims look upon and consider the New Year’s Day celebration as a social and cultural event (minus the rituals observed during the Feast of the Black Nazarene). And being social animals, they are easily influenced by their social environment and the enthusiasm or festive mood of their Christian neighbors and friends.
And to answer Joe Simeon: Muslims who take part in the celebration of New Year’s Day are not less Muslim. As a lawyer, I learned early on an elementary legal precept: What the law doesn’t prohibit is allowed. Neither the Holy Quran nor the sayings of Mohammad (PBUH) specifically prohibit it. In fact, the religion of Islam, being rooted in the culture of peace when it was evangelized by Mohammad (PUBH), encourages the propagation of peace among humankind, starting with the Muslim greeting of “Salaam,” or peace.
Whether Amon Jadid or New Year’s Day, those who celebrate it enter a new phase in their life in which they commit to discard old bad habits and resolve to change and reform. And as we face a new period in our life, we should collectively resolve to drive away the demons and culture of hate, bigotry and prejudice that mire our society in social unrest and stagnation, and learn to embrace one another as God’s/Allah’s creations, all striving for salvation.
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Macabangkit B. Lanto (amb_mac_lanto@ yahoo.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.
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