By Badlisyah Abdul Ghani
November 5, 2013
I would like to wish everyone a Happy Awwal Muharram! The year 1434 Anno Higarae (AH) has come to an end and a 1435 AH begins. This New Year, may you and your family be rewarded by Allah SWT with all the good things in life.
I am so glad that this column conveniently falls on the new year of the Hijrah calendar. It gives me the opportunity to elucidate the significance of today to all of us generally, to Muslims specifically and to Islamic finance distinctively.
Unbeknown to many, the Hijrah calendar is a calendar first established in 638 AD by the second Caliph of the Al Rashidun Caliphate, Umar al Khattab to ensure consistency of dating, chronology of events and time management across all the Muslim land governed under the Caliphate.
This calendar is based on the lunar cycle rather than the solar cycle (Gregorian) or lunisolar cycle (Chinese). Under the calendar, a new day starts at sunset instead of sunrise and the day chosen as the first day of the calendar was 1 Muharram due its significance to Muslims.
Typically, this calendar is used and adopted by all countries in the world where the Caliph ruled and subsequently in all countries deemed as Islamic countries where Muslims are the majority of the population.
The calendar is followed by all of the population irrespective of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. It has also been taken as a private calendar by Muslims living in all other parts of the world just like the Chinese calendar is privately followed by Chinese living in all parts of the world outside of China.
So Awwal Muharram to many of us generally is just the first day of a new year and we celebrate it like we celebrate any other new year. Some will play fireworks. Some will be spending time praying. Some will be visiting friends and families. Some will be joining the parades either as participants or spectators.
What is certain is that Awwal Muharram is a cause for all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim living in an Islamic country to celebrate and reflect upon our lives, making New Year resolutions and affirming one’s commitment for continuous improvement to be a better person.
This is Awwal Muharram to all of us generally.
However, 1 Muharram as a date carries a more significant meaning to Muslims than simply being a date chosen by Caliph Umar as the first day of a new year. The significance was the reason why it was chosen as the New Year date in the first place.
1 Muharram in any Hijrah year was the day that saw the Hijrah or migration by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the early Muslims from Makkah to Madinah that took place on 622 AD. It was the day that transformed the Muslims from a downtrodden, abused and discriminated people to a free, civilised and sovereign people. The Hijrah not only impacted positively on the Muslims but also the whole world.
Hijrah, in essence, is the physical and spiritual transference or transformation, that Muslims must undertake to attain a better situation for themselves to serve Allah SWT.
In the Glorious Quran, Allah, Most High, says: “Those who believe, and migrate and strive in Allah’s cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah: they are indeed the successful people. Their Lord does give them glad tidings of a Mercy from Himself, of His good pleasure, and of gardens where enduring pleasure will be theirs: They will dwell therein forever. Verily in Allah’s presence is a reward, the greatest (of all).” (Al-Tawbah, verses 20-22).
The Hijrah undertaken by the Prophet was the prime example of this divine calling to Muslims and we commemorate this day to remind us of our need to continuously better ourselves in our strive for God’s cause come every 1 Muharram.
So as we celebrate the coming of a new year, we also remember the Hijrah and do Hijrah of our own. The Hijrah also carries a greater significance to Islamic finance specifically and the global economy generally. The migration that took place on 1 Muharram 0 AH was a major crossing line between two major eras in Islam — the era of Makkah and the era of Madinah.
Every scholastic discourse on Shariah would be made around these two eras. If we read the Quran, we can clearly see the contrast in the revelations between the two eras.
Shariah scholars divide the revelation in the Quran as the Makkan Quran being those revealed in Makkah, and as the Madini Quran being those revealed in Madinah. Both constitute one complete divine scripture of Islam but the revelations can be clearly distinguished with those revealed in Makkah focused on “Tauhid” about the Oneness of Allah SWT (monotheism), while those revealed in Madinah covered matters regarding life in general including how we conduct our finances and businesses.
It was only after the Hijrah to Madinah that we saw “Riba” (ie usury) was absolutely forbidden in financial transaction. The occasion of the Hijrah should be recognised in history book and commemorated by industry players as the day Islamic finance truly came to being.
We should no longer generally say Islamic finance is more than 1,400 years. We have a focal point to chronologically refer to.
All in all, the Hijrah, despite just being a journey between two cities about 200 miles apart, carries a lot more significance than many of us think or were taught. A learned man once wrote that, “it (Hijrah) marked the beginning of an era, a civilisation, a culture and a history for the whole of mankind” and knowing the above, I wholeheartedly agree.
Let us all celebrate today with this knowledge in mind. Salam Maal Hijrah!
Badlisyah Abdul Ghani is ED and CEO of CIMB Islamic Bank Bhd.