Now We Have Two United New Years For Muslims and Jews
Rabbi Allen S. Maller
For the first time in several decades, the Islamic New Year and the Jewish New Year both occurred on the same days in the Christian calendar— September 21-22, 2017, Then nine days later, on September 30, Jews were fasting on the occasion of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Muslims were fasting for Ashura.
According to a hadith found in Sahih al-Bukhari (Volume:6 Book:60 No:261), when the Prophet after migrating/escaping to Medina found Medina’s Jews fasting on the 10th of Muharram. He asked them why, and was told: “It is an auspicious day; it is the day when God delivered the children of Israel from their enemy (Pharaoh); so Moses fasted on that day.”
The Prophet said, “I am worthier (to feel the redemption) of Moses than you are (because I and my followers have just personally escaped from a dozen years of persecution and oppression by the pagan Arabs of Macca).” Thereupon, he fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims also) to fast.
This co-occurrence is really not that surprising since Islam and Judaism both use a twelve month lunar calendar. And both Islam and Judaism follow the ancient practice of declaring the New Year based on the first evening sighting the new moon in Jerusalem (Judaism) or Mecca (Islam).
This year and next year, the two religious New Years (the Islamic first of Muharram and the Jewish Rosh Hashanah, first of Tishri) will both fall on the same Christian solar calendar day — but not so in the third year, as that year is one of the seven “leap month” years on the Jewish calendar.
However, since clouds in those locations may obscure the sighting of the new moon’s crescent, and since both religions have become worldwide faiths, it is customary for some religious groups within each religion to observe the New Year based on astronomical calculation evidence rather than on the traditional visual evidence which might be the following day.
For Jews, the new year this year is 5778 (since Adam and Eve) in the Jewish Calendar era. In the Islamic Calendar era this year is 1439 A.H. (after Hijrah). The numbers before the letters indicate how many years since the era’s starting date.
There have been many calendars established to mark a new dynastic (political) era, but they have disappeared after a few centuries when the governing dynasty died out. Religious calendars are different than dynastic ones because major religions last much longer than political states and governments, and so their (spiritual) turning points remain much more quintessential and permanent.
The Christian calendar starts with the birth of Jesus. The Buddhist calendar starts with the enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. The Muslim calendar starts with the emigration of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. So you might think that the Jewish calendar would also start with a very important event in early Jewish history.
If you did think so, you would be mistaken. The Jewish calendar doesn’t start with the birth of Abraham or with the Exodus from Egypt or even with the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai. It starts with Adam and Eve. In fact, all of these “Jewish” events and prophetic personages are important to Muslims, too. So then, why does the Jewish calendar start so many centuries prior to the birth of Judaism and the Jewish People?
The rabbis in the third or fourth century who originated the current Jewish Biblical calendar did so to replace the non-Jewish calendar that the Jews had been using for the previous six centuries. That calendar dated from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. and was the first calendar in the world to record events over many centuries using just one fixed starting point.
The rabbis based their calendar on a second century book of Jewish chronology written by Rabbi Yosi ben Halafta, who followed the example of the opening Biblical Book of Genesis, and began his calculation with Adam and Eve because in the Biblical view, God is the creator of all humans and He is the one God of all historical nations. The Jewish Biblical calendar thus records the chronology of all the generations of written historical civilizations. Everything prior to 58 centuries ago is pre-history.
The oldest astronomical calendar in the world, the Mayan calendar, starts from the middle of the first century on the Jewish calendar. The first dynasty in Egypt arose in the seventh century of the Jewish calendar. The current era of the Hindu calendar, the Age of Kali, also began in the seventh century of the Jewish calendar. Thus all ancient calendars fit within the Jewish Bible based calendar.
By beginning the Jewish calendar with Adam and Eve, rather than with some important event in their own religion, the rabbis emphasized that the one God of Israel was the one God of all humanity. The rabbis also equated human history with urban civilization and writing.
Thus, all written references to human events in the archeological records of the earliest civilizations can be dated with reference to the Jewish calendar.
There is not any before Adam from a historical point of view, only an after. If people understood that Adam and Eve are significant for marking the beginning of historical humanity rather than the beginning of humanity as a biological species, much of the present day conflict over human evolution versus Adam and Eve would disappear.
The Quran, too, presents Adam and Eve as the first recipients of God’s guidance and instruction (Quran 2:37) in how to live up to the ways of their Creator. Similarly, the stories of the Children of Israel are recounted throughout the Quran, often pointing up new lessons, or new reminders of old lessons, for a new people as well as for the old.
For Muslims, God’s history with the Jewish people is accepted and celebrated. The Qur’an calls for the communities blessed with previous revelation to return to worshipping none but Him and observing His ways.
While the Jewish calendar era is the oldest of world’s religious calendars; the Islamic Hijri calendar era is the newest. Although many recent religious communities have arisen in the last 1400 years; such as the Druze, the Sikhs, the Baha’i, and the Mormons; none of them have established a new world wide religious era calendar.
In accordance with both the Bible, as well as with the Quran and the Sunnah/Hadith, Jews and Muslims have no grounds for enmity or poor relations with each other —except insofar as either one or both are behaving unjustly or failing to abide by the standards of their own faith!
The start date of the Islamic calendar —the emigration of Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina— marked their own escape from oppression at the hands of the arrogant polytheists of Mecca, after many years of ever-increasing suffering inflicted upon them. This turning point for Muslims was the occasion for setting up a divinely law-governed community with a Constitution, and in the end what could be called a Covenant closely akin to that of God and the Jewish People and the Torah given to Moses.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the next two years with a co-occurring date of the Islamic and Jewish New Years could help produce a united mutual understanding and co-operation of Jews and Muslims.
My New Year’s prayer for the coming year is that more Jews and Muslims will join efforts to maximize our interrelationships, to come together on what we hold in common, and to promote mutual understanding and active support for each other. May the example of the leaders of Bahrain show us all the way.
Rabbi Maller’s website is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published on this and other Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon.