What is Hijrah?

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, Prophet’s Mosque, situated in the city of Madinah in Saudi Arabia, is one of the largest mosques in the world. It is the second-holiest site in Islam, after Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. It is always open, regardless of date or time.

For Muslims all over the world, the first day of the month of Muharram marks Hijrah, the beginning of the Islamic New Year. Hijrah means “migration” in Arabic, and it marks the beginning of the historic journey the Prophet Muhammad made from Makkah to Madinah in the year 622.

Centuries later, Hijrah generally passes with little fanfare, especially compared with holidays like Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr, even though Hijrah is a public holiday in some countries. There are no particular rituals or traditions to celebrate it, although some Muslims will use the opportunity to make resolutions for the coming year.

But Hijrah is nonetheless important because it signifies the birth of a community, centuries ago, that today includes more than 1.5 billion people. According to Islamic history, Muhammad, born in 570 in Makkah, was meditating one night in the year 610 in a cave on a mountain when the angel Jibreel came to him and told him to recite. Those recitations, which were words from God, formed the basis of the Qur’an, the sacred Islamic scripture.

Muhammad began to preach what he had heard, gathering a local following in the process. But as his popularity increased, so did the perception that he was a threat. In 622, Muhammad and his followers left Makkah for Madinah, a city more than 200 miles away. There, he gathered enough adherents to eventually return to and take Makkah.

Hijrah also marks the beginning of the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and one of four holy months.

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, it changes every year with respect to the Gregorian calendar, which is solar.