The calendar says this is going to be a festive season: Eid al-Adha, Christmas, New Year and many other festivals in many lands will be celebrated in late December, followed by the dawn of 2007. Will it be a new beginning – respite from mayhem and relief from deprivation for our fellow beings – a real peace for all? It is too much to hope for, but hope we must, to keep striving for universal peace.
"Happy New Year!" That greeting will be said and heard for at least the first couple of weeks, as a new year gets under way. Gifts receiving or offering or extravagant parties will ramp the atmosphere for a few days. Some will have feast and real festive but some others, without knowing what exactly they are doing, will just dance in tune.
The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays, some in the West say. They say, "It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago." In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible crescent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).
The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of blossoming. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical or agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary, another argument in the West.
Although in the first centuries after Christ the Romans continued celebrating the New Year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread and mainstream churches began losing hold over masses, some of the churches compromised having their own religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations. New Year celebration is one of them.
New Year is still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision by some Christian denominations, preceded by Christmas or birthday celebration of Jesus Christ on December 25. December 25 as a birth date for Jesus is merely traditional, and is not thought to be his actual date of birth, as we find in ‘The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church’, page 280.
Well, New Year, Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving Day in America are modern day Christian religious celebrations like two Eids to Muslims and Diwali, Dashera etc. to Hindus.
People according to their religions celebrate the occasions as religious duties in search of virtues. It though looks good yet is contrary to common wisdom to participate in any religious festivity by followers of another religion. In Islam, at least, it is considered a sin to enjoy any religious festival save those recommended by Islam alone.
The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic liturgical year. The Islamic year begins on the first day of Muharram, and is counted from the year of the Hijra (anno Hegirae) the year in which Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emigrated from Makkah to Madinah (July 16, 622 AC). The Islamic New Year 1428 AH will mark the 21st day of January 2007. It is celebrated relatively quietly, with prayers and readings and reflection upon the life and Hijra of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and there is no religious calibration in it.
Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ismail (Ishmael). According to the Qur’an, just before Ibrahim sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ismail with a lamb, thus sparing his life.
One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10th day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah.
The festival is celebrated by sacrificing loved animals and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolises obedience to Allah and its meat distribution to others is an expression of generosity and care for fellow human beings.
May we wish, all of us remain generous to others today and the whole New Year…!
[A Darul Uloom Deoband graduate and Editor ‘Eastern Crescent’, English monthly, M. Burhanuddin Qasmi, a poet is also Director of Mumbai-based institute ‘Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre’. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]