Can we wish a “Happy New Year”?

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5 min read

I’ve written this post in anticipation of the most absurd arguments that are used every year, with a brief comment for each. What I hope to show is how a skewed outlook, identity politics on steroids, and ignorance about the shari’ah can all combine to crystallise inane opinions. I’m using this mas’alah (shar’i issue) simply as a case study.

  1. We shouldn’t acknowledge the Christian/Kufri new year”: Well unless you have no intent on writing/recording the year 2020 on paper or responding when asked the date, that goes out of the window – acknowledgement occurs the minute you do that. What’s the date today? 7/1/2020. And oops there you go, we’ve just acknowledged it.
  2. But we shouldn’t celebrate it”: Saying Happy new year is not ‘celebrating’ by any standard of the English language or common-sense, it’s wishing people well in a specified period of time. By this token, it’d be impermissible to to say to someone “hope you have a good weekend” because it’s not the ‘Islamic weekend’ or because it affirms the Sabbath and Christian day of rest, instead of Friday. In fact, there’s more of an argument to forbid well wishing for the weekend because Friday IS a sort of Eid of the week that the well-wishing ignores! One major problem today is that people do not follow through on what they say to its logical ends, and this is how we’re left with an incoherent shari’ah.
  3. The Prophet said we only have two Eids”: Yes, and nobody said that New Years was an Eid and/or a religious celebration. In fact the same people who hark on about New Years claim “we have our own New Years on Muharram”…but I’m pretty sure that the ‘Islamic new year’ isn’t included in the two Eids either – You can’t have it both ways!
  4. We should give precedence to the Islamic New Year”: This demonstrates a simplistic binary approach, it’s not an either/or. One can fully acknowledge the Gregorian calendar as a period of time whilst also calculating a lunar year with 12 months in order to locate particular ahkam related to specific times of the lunar year (zakat, fasting, Hajj etc)

Besides these really simplistic arguments, here’s some points to consider about the hijri calendar (and note the calendar is usually referred to as ‘Hijri’ and not ‘Islamic’ in Arabic):

  1. It was not instituted by the Prophet nor commanded by God. The Hijri calendar where we’re currently in the year 1441 was adopted by Umar b. Al-Khattab as caliph, out of an administrative need. Up until that point people had the names of months that the Arabs had been using from pagan times, but having contracts that extended beyond a year required scribes to record the year in which monies/goods would be due. Up until then the Arabs would simply refer to past years with names such as ‘Year of the Elephant’ etc. According to many narrations, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari raised this administrative dilemma with the caliph Umar, and after wider consultation, Ali b. Abi Talib’s suggestion that the administrative counting begin from the hijrah (emigration to Madinah) was adopted, and so was Uthman b. Affan’s suggestion that the administrative year begin with Muharram and that the old Arab names be adopted to identify the months within that period. (For basic perusal, see Sirah Ibn Hisham)
  2. Yes, God said: “God decrees that there are twelve months ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth, four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation.” (9:36) But beyond appointing 12 months, God did not demand names for those months, nor stipulate that Muharram be the first of the twelve – that was Uthman’s idea. And He certainly didn’t reveal anything about starting the counting from the hijrah.
  3. So when it comes to counting years it was an administrative need rather than a ritual or religious one. There were many suggestions amongst the Sahabah as to when to start the calendar: some said the Prophet’s death, some said his birth, some said the advent of revelation. So in that sense, there is little decisive or religiously ordained about the year 1441AH, it was merely to fulfil a function.

The last argument I’ll deal with here is one pertaining to civilisation. It goes that we ought to give precedence to the Hijri calendar because it represents the Islamic civilisation instead of endorsing western Christian civilisation. A few points:

  1. It’s really not that deep. Putting aside the argument itself, both can be achieved, and as long as you live in the west you’ll have to acknowledge 2020. And simply wishing someone well for that period really isn’t even about calendars, it’s about wishing someone well!
  2. Sorry to have to break it to you, but no, an occasional reference to the hijri calendar will play no role in bringing back the caliphate.
  3. This line of argument shows how identity politics often spills over into matters of the faith, and the ignorant obsessed over it (rather than an intelligent concern) suddenly become muftis and impute on God their own interests by speaking of halal and haram.
  4. We do not have to formulate a counter-culture to everything. Insecurity brings about extreme reactions, of which this issue is an example.

As I stated, the issue itself is mundane. This post isn’t really about New Years per se but about the spread of ignorance. Decent literacy circumvents all of this malarkey and dissonance-causing debate. The same people who obsess over these non-issues very rarely obsess over the Quran and its deeper meanings in the same way, and that speaks volumes.

And with that, happy New Year to all, may God bless and guide us to what is best for both abodes.

1 comment

OmarKN December 29, 2019 - 12:15 am

Clear arguments, thank you.

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