~ The Start of the Islamic Year ~
In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, the year was not numbered, but rather taken from significant events which occurred in the year, such as the year of the elephant.
The Islamic year was started from the time of Umar ibn al Khattāb, the father-in-law of the prophet (ﷺ) and the second Caliph of Islam. The significant event which was deemed to be the most important was the migration, not because it was the migration in itself, rather it was the time that Islam gained prominence and that the Islamic law manifested itself as a way of life, rather than just a set of beliefs and rituals. Thus, the Islamic Calendar starts from the time that the prophet (ﷺ) migrated (made Hijra) to Madina and it is for this reason, the Islamic calendar is called the Hijra calendar. It is sometimes written as hegira calendar. It is usually denoted by a ‘H’ after the date.
The Islamic year started on 11th September and we are now in the year 1440H.
~ A Sacred Month ~
There are four sacred months in Islam, in which war was prohibited in pre-Islamic times. The order which banned fighting was later abrogated, however the months remain sacred, and thus actions during them are more rewarding.
The first month of the Islamic Calendar is Muhurrum and is one of those sacred months.
~ It is celebrated by fasting ~
It is not customary to congratulate or wish others a happy new year when Muhurrum starts as is done in the Gregorian Christian calendar. Rather it is recommended to fast during the month of Muhurrum, more than any other month, except for the obligatory fasting of Ramadān.
Abu Hurayrah narrated that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: The most excellent fast after Ramadān is God’s month, al-Muhurrum, and the most excellent prayer after what is prescribed is prayer during the night. [Sahih Muslim Hadith 2611]
~ The Day of ‘Āshūra ~
The tenth of Muhurrum is a specific day singled out for fasting as the day of ‘Āshūra, which commemorates the day in which Allah rescues our beloved prophet Mūsa (ﷺ) from his enemies. So the prophet (ﷺ) commanded the Muslims to fast on that day too. It is also encouraged to fast a day before it and/or a day after it.
The fast of the Day of ‘Āshūra, is a very virtuous one that expiates (minor) sin for an entire year.
Abu Qatādah narrated that the messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: …The observance of three days of fasting every month and that of Ramadan every year is a perpetual fasting. I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of ‘Arafah may atone for the sins of the preceding and the coming years, and I seek from Allah that fasting on the day of ‘Āshūra may atone for the sins of the preceding year. [Sahih Muslim Hadith 2602]
Historically, there have been other events that occurred in early Muhurrum and even on the Day of ‘Āshūra, such as the martyrdom of Hussain ® the grandson of the prophet (ﷺ) and the invasion of the Tartars when they ransacked Baghdad massacring thousands. These tragic incidents however do not have any religious significance.