Documents Cited in the Supreme Court Ruling - 19
The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 7
The Encyclopedia of Religion
Marcea Eliade, ed.

ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS YEAR. The Islamic religious year is highlighted by two major events that are enjoined by the Qur'an and that are celebrated all over the Muslim world. These are the pilgrimage, or hajj, which culminates in the 'Id al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice1, in the last lunar month, and Ramadan, the month of fasting, which ends with the celebration of the 'Id al-Fitr (Feast of Fast Breaking) on the first day of the next month, Shawwal. Because the twelve-month calendar of Islam is based on a purely lunar year of 354 days, these events have no fixed relation to the seasons of the 365-day solar year. Over the course of years, they may occur in spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Thus, no connection with pre-Islamic solar feasts can be made, nor can any tradition of agricultural cults be traced. (Celebrations of the solar seasons do occur in various parts of the Muslim world, but they are not based on the Qur'an or on hadith.)

    The beginning of each month of the Muslim calendar is reckoned from the appearance of the new moon, which must, according to tradition, be reported by at least two trustworthy witnesses. Because religious leaders in some Muslim countries do, in fact, rely on astronomical calculation of the first appearance of the crescent while others continue to follow the Qur'anic prescription of actually seeing the moon, differences of one day in reckoning the beginning or end of a month are common. The date may also vary according to local weather conditions.

    Certain days of the week are considered to be endowed with good or bad qualities, as can be understood from relevant collections of hadith. Friday, the day of communal prayer at noon, is always regarded as auspicious, and Monday and Thursday carry positive aspects, as do the "white nights" before and after a full moon.

    The year begins with the month of Muharram. Its tenth day, 'Ashura', was suggested as a fast day by the Prophet but subsequently became associated with the death of Muhammad's grandson, Husayn ibn 'Ali, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram 81 / 10 October 680. Although this day is a time of mourning for all Muslims, it is the Shi'ah, the "party" of 'All, who have attached very special significance to Husayn's martyrdom and to the entire month of Muharram. Thus, Sunni Muslims do not subscribe to the elaborate celebrations developed in later centuries, particularly in Iran and India, where commemorations extend through the first ten days of the month. During this period women wear subdued colors, preferably black, with no jewelry. Men and women hold separate gatherings (majalis) during which a male or female preacher reminds the audience of the suffering of Husayn and the other imams. The preacher recounts legends of the events at Karbala; singers recite threnodies; and those present beat their breasts, call blessings upon the Prophet, and profusely shed tears. "Weeping for Husayn opens the door to Paradise," it is said, and the tears themselves are collected for future use as a panacea.

    During the first ten days of Muharram, special craftsmen prepare ta'ziyahs, or tabuts, tall, domed, wooden structures (up to thirty feet high) that represent the tombs of the imams. Beautifully carved and gilded or painted, they are carried in the 'Ashura' processions along with colorful standards lofted in memory of Husayn's standard-bearer, Ja'far. A lavishly caparisoned white horse is led as a symbol of Husayn's mount, Dhu al-Janah, and of the white horse on which the Hidden Imam is expected to ride when he finally reappears. During these processions many people flagellate themselves with chains from which hang small knives (wounds thus inflicted never become septic), and fire walking is sometimes performed. In some areas, such as the Deccan, 'Ashura' processions at times assumed almost carnivalistic aspects, as eighteenth-century miniatures show. Late in the day the small ta'ziyahs are buried in a place designated as "Karbala," while the more precious ones are stored, along with other implements, in 'ashura-khanahs or imam-barahs, large buildings for the meetings of the Shi'i community. A special dish with numerous ingredients is cooked in remembrance of the mixed food in Karbala, prepared from whatever happened to be in the heroes' bags. In Turkey, sharing this asure with neighbors is a custom among both Sunni and Shi'i families.

    In nineteenth-century Lucknow, ta'ziyah rites were continued until the tenth day of the following month of Safar, thus marking forty days of mourning from the start of Muharram. Among the Shi'ah, no weddings are celebrated in Muharram, and the month has always been a time when communal or sectarian feelings run high. Not infrequently, rioting results. The Isma'ili community, at least since the time of Aga Khan III (r. 1885-1957), does not participate in Muharram because it has a hazir imam ("present imam") in the Aga Khan and need not look back to Husayn's death.

    Various literary and dramatic genres have also developed around the events at Karbala. The genre of maqtal Husayn, poetry or prose telling of Husayn's suffering, has been known since the early Middle Ages, and the marthiyah, or threnody, began to be developed by Indian poets about the beginning of the seventeenth century. This latter genre, which originated in the Deccan and spread to northern India, found its finest expression at the Shiíi court of Lucknow in the nineteenth century.

[7 Encyclopedia of Religion 455]
    In Iran, and to a lesser degree in Iraq and Lebanon, the martyrdom of Husayn came to be recreated in ta'ziyah plays interweaving numerous mythical elements to establish the martyrdom as the central event in the history of the universe.

    In the month of Safar, which follows Muharram, a sad mood used to prevail among Muslims because the Prophet once fell ill during this period. The last Wednesday of the month, when the Prophet felt better, was a day of rejoicing.

    Rabi' al-Awwal ("first Rabi"), the third lunar month, is marked by the Mawlid al-Nabi ("birthday of the Prophet") on the twelfth. The day is celebrated as the date of the Prophet's birth (milad) although it was actually the date of his death and is also widely commemorated in that connection. Nonetheless, the joyful celebration of Muhammad's birthday began comparatively early; it was introduced on a larger scale in Fatimid Egypt, where the rulers, descendants of Muhammad's daughter Fatimah, remembered the birthday of their ancestor by inviting scholars and by distributing sweets and money, a feature that has remained common. Ever since, the pious have felt that celebrations of the Mawlid have a special blessing power (barakah).

    The first major celebration of the Mawlid al-Nabi is described for the year AH 604/1207 CE in Arbala' (modern Irbil, in northern Iraq), where the Sufis participated actively. The Mawlid became increasingly popular first in the western and then in the central Islamic lands. A special genre of poetry known as mawlud developed in almost all Islamic languages. In Turkey the mevlud by Suleyman Celebi (d. 1409), telling in simple verse the miracles connected with the birth of the Prophet and describing his life, is still sung. In many countries, candles are litóin Turkey the day is still called Mevlud Kandili (Lamp Feast of the Birth) and the Mawlid provides an occasion for donning festive clothes, burning incense, and distributing sweets. Orthodox circles have traditionally taken issue with the use of candles because of the similarity to Christmas celebrations; likewise they have disallowed musical performances and deemed that only the recitation of the Qur'an seems permissible on a day that also marks the Prophet's death. The stories that have been traditionally recited reflect the people's love and veneration of the Prophet, whose birth, according to some eighteenth-century writers, was "more important than the Laylat al-Qadr," the night when the Qur'an was first revealed, for it meant the arrival of "mercy for the worlds" (surah 21:107). Lately, however, there is a growing tendency to demythologize the contents of Mawlid literature; the speeches and poems offered on that day, and through out the month in many countries, are meant to remind people of the ethical and social role of the Prophet, the "beautiful model" (surah 33:21) of his community. Newspapers and television publicize this attitude.

    The following month, Rabi' al-Thani ("second Rabi'") has no ritual justified by the Qur'an or hadith. However, in many areas, especially in India and Pakistan, the eleventh marks the anniversary of 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, whose Sufi order, the Qadiriyah, is the most widespread fraternity. The month is therefore called simply Yarhin, meaning "eleven" in Sindhi. As on other saints' days, flags are flown, meetings are convened to recite eulogies for the saint, and food is cooked and distributed in his name.

    No religious events, other than local saints' days, are noted for the following two months, Jumada al-Ula ("first Jumada") and Jumada al-Akhirah ("last Jumada"), but the seventh lunar month, Rajab, is blessed by celebration of the Prophet's Mi'raj, his heavenly journey, which took place on the night of the twenty-seventh. In Turkey, this is again a kandil, or "lamp feast," on which people fast during daytime. In other areas, such as Kashmir, it used to be celebrated for a whole week. Although the celebration of the Mi'raj cannot vie in popularity with the Prophet's birthday, the mystery of the Prophet's heavenly journey has deeply impressed Muslim piety and poetry. Other events commemorated in Rajab include the first nights of the month, ragha'ib, celebrated in some areas (notably Turkey) as the time when Aminah conceived the Prophet, as well as 'Ali's birthday, celebrated by all Shiíi communities on 13 Rajab.

    In the following month, Sha'ban, a non-Qur'anic but very popular feast is the Laylat al-barakah (Peers., Shabby Barite), celebrated on the night of the full moon. Historically this is the night when the Prophet entered Mecca triumphantly, but in Muslim folklore it is considered to be the night when the "writing conferring immunity is written in heaven" or, more generally, the night during which the fates for the coming year are fixed. Therefore pious Muslims fast, pray, and keep vigils. On the whole, however, and especially in Indo-Pakistan, the night is celebrated with illuminations and fireworks. Orthodox critics object to such displays as symptoms of Hindu influence, even though the Shabby Barite is mentioned in a non-Indian environment as early as the twelfth century, in a poem by Sana'i of Ghaznah (d. 1131). The Shiíi community celebrates the birthday of Imam Mahdi, the last of the twelve imams, on this day.

    The month of Ramadan is the most demanding of the Islamic year, especially when it falls in the hot season. [7 Encyclopedia of Religion 456] Each day, Muslims must fast from the moment there is enough light to distinguish white from black threads until the sun has completely set. The order to abstain from food, drink, smoking, sex, and even from injections or intake of fragrance requires a strong intention (niyah) of the fasting person. He or she will then break fast with an odd number of dates and some water before proceeding to the evening prayer. The problem of how to keep the fast in northern countries during the long summer days has aroused much controversy; one solution is to break fast at the time when the sun sets in the next Muslim country or on the forty-fifth degree of latitude. For every day that the fast is neglected, or cannot be performed because of illness, pregnancy, or menstruation, the observant Muslim is obliged to compensate either by fasting some other day or by feeding a number of the ever present poor.

    The Laylat al-Qadr ("night of power"; surah 97), during which the first revelation of the Qur'an took place, is one of the last odd-numbered nights in Ramadan, generally considered the twenty-seventh. In its honor people may spend the last ten days of Ramadan in seclusion, and those who do not fast otherwise will try to do it during that period. The pious hope for the vision of the light that fills the world during this blessed night. The Isma'ilis pray all night in their Jama'at-khanah. Many people perform the tarawih prayers (a long sequence, including twenty to thirty-three rak'ahs of prayers and prostrations) after breaking the fast. Then they may enjoy the lighter side of life: the illumination of mosques and the activities of all kinds of entertainers that used to be a regular part of every Ramadan night. A second meal is taken before the first sign of dawn.

    The 'Id al-Fitr (Feast of Fast Breaking), which brings release from the month-long abstinence at daylight, is called the "lesser feast," but it is most eagerly awaited as a celebration of the return to normal life. Its Turkish name, Seker Bayrami ("sugar feast"), points to the custom of distributing sweets. After the morning prayer of 1 Shawwal in the spacious 'idgah, it is customary to put on new clothes and to visit friends. The sigh that one has no new clothes for the feast is a touching topic in Islamic love poetry.

    After the 'Id al-Fitr there is no major feast in Shawwal or in Dhu al-Qa'dah. The later month is used for preparations for the pilgrimage (hajj), which takes place in Dhu al-Hijjah. [See Pilgrimage, article on Muslim Pilgrimage.]

    On 10 Dhu al-Hijjah, the 'Id al-Adha, or 'Id al-Qurban (Feast of Sacrifice), called the "major feast," is celebrated in the valley of Mina, near Mecca, with thousands, and now millions, of Muslims ritually slaughtering sheep or larger animals and thus reenacting the substitution of a ram for Isma'li, whom Abraham was willing to sacrifice (surah 37:102). Because this is the only feast in which the community celebrates the memory of a mythical event, every Muslim is called upon to repeat the slaughter at home; theologians do not accept the substitution of money for the sacrificial animal, as some liberal Muslims have suggested. According to popular belief, the slaughtered animal will carry its owner across the Sirat Bridge to Paradise. The meat of the animal sacrificed at home is distributed to the poor, and the hide is given to a charitable foundation. The Indo-Muslim designation of the feast as Baqar 'Id (Cow Feast) and the slaughtering of cows have often caused Hindu riots during these days. The return of the pilgrims is duly celebrated, as one can witness every year at the airports of Muslim countries. Later in the month, on 18 Dhu al-Hijjah, the Shi'i community celebrates the 'Id al-Ghadir (Feast of the Pond), the day on which Muhammad invested 'Ali as his successor near the pond Khumm.

    Every place in the Islamic world has special celebrations for commemorating local saints. Some of these festivities, called 'urs (spiritual "wedding"), attract tens of thousands of people. Almost all of them follow the rhythm of the lunar year. The 'urs of Ahmad al-Badawi in Tanta, Egypt, is celebrated, however, according to the solar year in early June, when the Nile is rising, and may be connected with pre-Islamic fertility rites. In Turkey, the anniversary of the birth of Mawlana Rumi is now celebrated on 17 December. Likewise, Ismaíilis celebrate the Aga Khan's birthday according to the Christian, or common, era.

    Some Muslim festivals are connected with the solar year. The most important is Nawruz, the Persian New Year, which occurs at the vernal equinox. It is celebrated in a joyous way wherever Persian culture spread, even in Egypt. It is customary that seven items have to be on the table (in Iran, the names of these seven must begin with the letter s). Orthodox Muslims have often objected to the celebration of Nawruz, but for most people the beginning of spring has always been too delightful to be neglected. The Bektashi order of Sufis in Turkey have explained Nawruz as 'Aliís birthday and have thus islamized it. Another Turkish celebration, Hidrellez, combines the feasts of the saint-prophet Khidr and of Ilyas, associated with the biblical Elijah. The day falls on 6 May and is connected with a change of winds and weather.

    An interesting way of depicting the sequence of the ritual year is found in a poetic genre of Indo-Pakistan called barahmasa ("twelve months"). It is derived from Hindu tradition and in its islamized forms describes the twelve months through the words of a lovesick young [7 Encyclopedia of Religion 457] woman who experiences in Muharram the pain of seeing her beloved slain, celebrates his birthday in Rabi' al-Awwal, and finally meets him in Dhu al-Hijjah, when visiting either the Ka'bah in Mecca or the Prophet's tomb in Medina.

    Muslim mystics, as strictly as they might have adhered to ritual, have spiritualized the liturgical year. The Feast of Sacrificeówhether it be named 'Id al-Adha, 'Id al-Qurban, or 'Id al-Nahóhas meant, for them, to sacrifice themselves before the divine Beloved, and the true '~d has been to see the face of the Beloved whose very presence makes every day a feast for the lover.

    [See also 'Ashura'; Mawlid; Nawruz; and, for discussion related to the month of Ramadan, Sawm. For discussion of the events of the Islamic religious year in a broader context, see Worship and Cultic Life, article on Muslim Worship.]


Gustave E. von Grunebaum's Muhammedan Festivals (New York, 1951 ) gives a general survey of the Islamic festivals, mainly based on classical sources. See also the article "Muslim Festivals" in Hava Lazarus-Yafeh's Some Religious Aspects of Islam (Leiden, 1981), pp. 38-47. E. W. Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians,3 vols., 3d ed. (1846; reprint, New York, 1973) deals with the seasons as they were celebrated in early nineteenth-century Cairo, while Ja'far Sharif's Islamin India, or the Qanun-i-Islam, translated by C. A. Herklots and edited by William Crooke (1921; reprint, London, 1972), describes the Muslim year as celebrated in India, particularly in the Deccan. For the Muharram ceremonies, the best introduction is Ta'ziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran, edited by Peter J. Chelkowski (New York, 1979), and the classic study of the hajj is still Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje's Het Mekkansche feest (Leiden, 1880).

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