Muharram: How do Muslims celebrate Islamic New Year?

Millions of people around the world will be marking the day next week. Here's all you need to know

Muslim men praying
(Image credit: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Muslims around the world will next week celebrate the first month of the Islamic New Year, known as Muharram.

"The Muslim New Year is really celebrated as a cultural holiday, not a particularly religious one," Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, from the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Centre in Washington DC, tells the Washington Times.

When is it?

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As with other Islamic holidays, the dates differ each year as the religion's calendar is based on the phases of the moon, with the start of each month marking a new lunar cycle.

In the vast majority of Muslim countries, Muharram will take place on Monday 3 October this year.

What is its significance?

Before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, who founded Islam, the start of the New Year marked a month of non-violence in the Arab world, where tribesmen would lay down their weapons.

"In the Islamic calendar, it is also what began hijra, the migration of the Prophet and his companions to establish a place where they were free to practice their religion," says Abdul-Malik. Hijra is the name for Muhammad's journey from Mecca to the city of Medina.

"[At the time] this lunar calendar is significant for them because it's the beginning of a new era they recognised in that time," Abdul-Malik adds.

How is it celebrated?

"It's a low-key event in the Muslim world, celebrated less than the two major festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha," says the BBC. These festivals, which mark the end of hajj and Ramadan, are viewed as the most significant events in the Islamic calendar.

Traditions and customs for Muharram vary for Shia and Sunni Muslims, but the date is a public holiday in most Islamic countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.

The majority will celebrate the holiday by attending prayer sessions in their mosque and spending time with family. The main emphasis is on reflection, remembrance and gratitude, say religious scholars.

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