Every year, a large number of Muslims get into the festive spirit and celebrate New Year’s day. Whether it’s Facebook status updates, Twitter messages or even holding New Year’s Eve parties – many Muslims (especially, but not exclusively in the West) go the whole 9 yards when it comes to ringing in the New Year. But is this a harmless cultural practice with no faith based significance or a step in the wrong direction? I believe that it is the latter.
Here are 4 reasons why I believe that Muslims should not celebrate the New Year:
4. It is Technically Inaccurate and Pagan
As Muslims, we have our own calendar that has been in constant use for 1400 years. Even though we may end up using the Gregorian calendar due to circumstances beyond our control, we know for a fact that Allah has ordained the use of the lunar calendar for us in our worship. According to our Hijri calendar (initiated by the great Sahaaba Umar , the new year actually begins on the first of Muharram. To learn more about it click here.
The Gregorian calendar (so called because it was developed by Pope Gregory) decided on the 1st of January as the New Year to celebrate the circumcision of Jesus. Its origin – like so many modern-day holidays – lies in the pagan Roman festivals associated with Janus – the two headed deity who symbolised change.
3. What Exactly is There to Celebrate?
Any celebration by Muslims needs to be put into context of the local and global situation of our fellow human beings. The two Eids amply do so by encouraging prayers, duaa for those suffering and alms to the needy. However, celebrating the New Year does no such thing.
It is a celebration that is cut off from the reality of the rest of the Ummah. The starvation in Somalia, the murder in Syria, the imprisonment of Gaza, the ethnic cleansing of Burma – celebrating the New Year is pretty much exactly the opposite of the “fever and wakefulness” that the Prophet spoke about when he said we were like one body.
Salahuddin Ayyubi was once asked why he hardly ever smiled even though this was a sunnah of the Prophet . He replied, “How can I smile when I know that Masjid Al Aqsa is being defiled and the Muslims are suffering?!” That attitude, dear brothers and sisters, is why he achieved what he did and why we’re still debating on whether or not it is acceptable to send “Happy New Year” messages.
2. They may involve Un-Islamic Practices
Let’s be honest. When you picture New Year’s Eve celebration, you don’t picture people sitting in a gathering that could take place in a mosque or with the local Imam around. Instead, they are (and I know this is a generalization) usually events that mirror the celebrations of where this holiday originated from. It is usually an Islam free zone, which is not entirely surprising given that it has no basis or relationship to Islam.
1. It is Against the Spirit of Islam
I am well aware that there is a difference of opinion on this matter between scholars, and I respect that. However, there are a few points I’d make to that.
Firstly, the number of scholars who condone the celebration of the New Year are in the minority.
Secondly, the scholars who do condone it almost never actually celebrate the New Year themselves or with their families – at least not in public – showing that even though they may believe it acceptable, it is not preferable.
Thirdly, many of them predicate their views based on a number of caveats – that it is no longer a pagan or Christian ritual, that it is good dawah to non-Muslims and that it not involve any un-Islamic element. Most of these caveats are difficult to satisfy adequately.
This is meant to be a gentle reminder and not a harsh rebuke. It would be against the spirit of Islam to not show kindness and respect to non-Muslims. We are encouraged to be warm and welcoming, not least because it will attract others to our faith. By the same token, it is against the spirit of Islam to do any of the above by subordinating our own faith, culture or heritage.
There are many ways to showcase our manners and act as ambassadors for our faith without having to adopt the celebrations of others. By adopting the celebrations of others, we may be harmlessly saying a few words or just enjoying ourselves. Equally, we may be opening the door to disappearing within the dominant culture and to a future which of blurred boundaries for our community and children.
This issue occupied the minds of greater people than us – Uthman , Ali and many other of the greatest Sahaaba. When the great assemblage of the companions of the Prophet had discussed this issue at length, the matter was brought to a close by the wise words of Caliph Umar that are as relevant today as they were then. He said,
The Hijrah has separated truth from falsehood, therefore, let it become the epoch of the era.”
So this year – as the clock strikes midnight on the 10th of Rabi` al-Awal, 1436 A.H. – thank Allah for the blessings of having our own calendar and the two Eids. May Allah give us all many, many more in happiness, health and unity for the whole of the Ummah. Ameen.
Authors note: I would like to state here that many have made good counter-points to the article in the comments sections below. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall on, we can all agree that it should not divide us from each other…or from our fellow citizens.