Faithful prepare to celebrate New Year

Throughout the Muslim world, celebrations marking the Islamic new year begin today, with many Muslims devoting the day to reflection and time spent with family.

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Throughout the Muslim world, celebrations marking the Islamic new year begin today, with many Muslims devoting the day to reflection and time spent with family. Tomorrow is the first day of the Hijri new year, marking the year 1430 on the Islamic lunar calendar. The day marks the arrival of the Prophet Muhammed in Medina after emigrating from Mecca, the definitive moment when Muslims formed a state based on Islamic teachings, and Islam began to flourish as a major world religion.

In the UAE, the new year is marked with a holiday for private and public sectors, though there are no prescribed ceremonies or traditions marking the holiday. Khulood Hassan, 19, a student at Dubai Women's College, said the new year is a time for reflection on the Prophet Mohammed's trip from Mecca to Medina; a time for family and for talking about faith. "Some families tell stories about the Prophet Mohammed, his life and his travels," Ms Hassan said. "I think about the 1,400 years Islam has been around. I think about the continuation of the religion and how it can help me improve my life. But it's not just the first day of the new year that is important, it's the whole first month."

For Abdalla Ali, 19, a medical student at the University of Sharjah, New Year coincides with exams. "So I won't be doing much," Mr Ali said. "It's not about doing things, like Eid, for example. But that doesn't mean it's not important. The Hijrah is actually one of the most important events. It marks the beginning of Islam." After spreading the word of God for more than a decade in the holy city of Mecca, the Prophet Mohammed, fearing that his followers faced grave persecution, urged many to migrate to Ethiopia where their protection was guaranteed by the rulers.

The persecution in Mecca worsened when a boycott imposed on business and social relations with any of Prophet Mohammed's people led to a second migration from Mecca. But the persecution continued, with abuse and torture becoming common. The Prophet Mohammed then sent about 70 of his followers to seek refuge in a town called Yathrib, now called Medina, about 320km north of Mecca. The Prophet Mohammed joined the migrants there in the year 622AD, after learning of a plot to kill him. The city had previously sent an envoy to Mecca asking the Prophet Mohammed to help settle a debate between two rival clans.

Known as the Hijrah, the Prophet Mohammed's emigration from Mecca to Medina marks the beginning of the Islamic era, and is denoted the first year of after Hijrah (1AH). In breaking bonds with his own tribe to preach, the Prophet Mohammed showed the bonds of faith are stronger than those of blood or association. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar year, 11 or 12 days shorter than the solar year, which has a total of 354 days. The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, is one of four during which fighting is prohibited. One of the most sacred months, Muharram holds particular significance for Shia Muslims as a time to remember the Battle of Karbala - in present day Iraq - when Hussain ibn Ali, the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, died at the hands of the Sunni Umayyad Caliph Yazid I.

Because the Islamic calendar follows lunar cycles, it does not use corrections and holidays fall on different days each year. The first day of a new month is marked by the first sighting of the crescent Moon, though Saudi Arabia and Egypt use the setting of the Moon and Sun. In both countries, if the Moon sets before the sun on the 29th day, there will be one more day of the month. But if the sun sets before the Moon, a new month will begin.