By: Dr. Bilal Philips
January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doors and gateways. He was commonly depicted in statues, carvings and paintings as a two headed man with one head facing forward and the other head facing backwards. In 46BC Julius Caesar chose January 1st as the first day of the New Year as Janus symbolically represented the door to the New Year. Wild parties and orgies were held on the night before the New Year’s Day as a re-enactment of the chaos which Roman mythology depicted as preceding the cosmos or the ordered world whose organization was set by the gods. Furthermore, by that time, Janus had become, in practice, the highest god receiving the ritual sacrifices of Roman worshippers before the other gods, including the chief god, Jupiter.
Thus, in its essence the celebrations of the New Year on January 1stand New Year’s Eve, the night before, are a part and parcel of pagan religious rituals based on idolatrous beliefs in false gods. Consequently, it is completely Haraam (sinful and forbidden) for Muslims to participate in or adopt any of its related rituals, customs and symbols.
If a non-Muslim greets a Muslim, “Happy New Year”, the Muslim is not allowed to respond in a similar manner or say, “Same to you.” Instead, in order not to offend or hurt the feelings of non-Muslim friends or acquaintances, one may say instead, “Happy holiday.”
As for celebrating the New Year according to the Islamic calendar which begins with the month of Muharram, this is also not permissible from a number of perspectives. First and foremost, if one does so believing that it is pleasing to Allah to do so, thereby transforming it into an act of worship, it becomes a Bid‘ah or cursed innovation in the religion about which the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Every innovation in religion is misguidance and all misguidance leads to the Hellfire.” If one does so merely as a custom, it is still impermissible as it falls under the prohibition of imitation of pagan customs about which the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever imitates a people becomes one of them.”
 Pope Gregory 13th who set the modern calendar, the Gregorian calendar, also officially fixed the first day of the year for ChristianEurope as January 1st in 1582.
The Islamic year has twelve months that are based on a lunar cycle. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) – so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth….” (9:36).
“It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light of beauty, and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and the count of time. Allah did not create this except in truth and righteousness. And He explains His signs in detail, for those who understand” (10:5).
And in his final sermon before his death, the Prophet Muhammad said, among other things, “With Allah the months are twelve; four of them are holy; three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumaada and Sha’ban.”
Islamic months begin at sunset of the first day, the day when the lunar crescent is visually sighted. The lunar year is approximately 354 days long, so the months rotate backward through the seasons and are not fixed to the Gregorian calendar. The months of the Islamic year are:
1. Muharram (“Forbidden” – it is one of the four months during which it is forbidden to wage war or fight)
2. Safar (“Empty” or “Yellow”)
3. Rabia Awal (“First spring”)
4. Rabia Thani (“Second spring”)
5. Jumaada Awal (“First freeze”)
6. Jumaada Thani (“Second freeze”)
7. Rajab (“To respect” – this is another holy month when fighting is prohibited)
8. Sha’ban (“To spread and distribute”)
9. Ramadan (“Parched thirst” – this is the month of daytime fasting)
10. Shawwal (“To be light and vigorous”)
11. Dhul-Qi’dah (“The month of rest” – another month when no warfare or fighting is allowed)
12. Dhul-Hijjah (“The month of Hajj” – this is the month of the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, again when no warfare or fighting is allowed)
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