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Updated: Nov. 10 2001
Muslim Holidays and Festivals
Muslims have a rich history of celebrating their important holidays. I have outlined here the ones celebrated by both the Sunni and Shia Muslims and then listed the additional holidays celebrated by the Shias who include the important dates during the course of the hereditary succession from Prophet Muhammad (sas) who appointed Hazrat Ali (as) as the successor to his important mission on earth.
These events are celebrated in families and become community affairs where special prayers are offered for being blessed with the joyous occasions. There is a lot of merrimaking and rejoicing including application of henna, decorating houses and streets with lights and decorations, cooking special dinners and sweets which are distributed to everyone present. Everyone wears new clothes and children receive money and gifts. The celebrations include oral renditions of the Quran and beautiful poetry is recited in the praise of Allah, Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali. Since Muslims make up a rich tapestry of many nations and languages, these are recited in the local language besides the traditional Arabic for Quranic recitations.
For example, in the Arabic speaking countries, there are Madohs and Qasidas (poetry) accompanied by traditional musical instruments. In India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Hindi and Urdu poetry in the praise of Allah, called Hamd, poetry in the praise of Prophet Muhammad, called Naat, and in the praise of Hazrat Ali, called Qawaali, is especially enjoyed by the believers. In the times of Fatimid Imams, there used to be great processions led by the Imam in full regalia with accompanying bands, with streets illumined for the occasion, especially on Milad un Nabi, Yaum-e Ali, the two Eids, birthdays of the Imams, Eid-e Gadhir and Navroz celebrations. Then, in countries under Persian influence, like Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, etc. Qasidas with communal dancing abound. After all, poets like Rumi, Hafez, and Nasir Khusraw flowered from these nations.
In the linked pages that follow this article, I have outlined the uniqueness of each celebration, its material and spiritual significance and how it is celebrated in various Muslim communities throughout the world. As we are fasting during the month of Ramadan, we rise from the physical to the spiritual, when abstaining from food and water during the daylight hours, spending the month in charitable works and spreading goodwill, our actions and thoughts are turned towards the One On-High and we continue to perform works that would please Him year round. Not only during Ramadan, but all Muslim holidays and celebrations are meant not only for rejoicing and feasting but for the higher goals and the real purpose of life, for which every Muslim strives in earnest.
To quote Mowlana Hazar Imam at his recent visit in Syria:
"The Shahada, La illaha illah Muhammadur Rasulilah - binds a thousand million people who over the centuries, have come to live in different cultures, speak different languages, live in different political contexts, and who differentiate in some interpretations of their faith. Within the Ummah, the Ismaili jamat reflects much of the same pluralism. The plurality of the Muslim world is not just an irreversible historical fact, but it is a strength for which we must be grateful, and a strength that must be continuously harnessed to the building of the future within the ethics of Islam. Any differences must be resolved through tolerance, through understanding, through compassion, through dialogue, through forgiveness, through generosity, all of which represent the ethics of Islam.
"Islam enjoins upon us and on every individual the maintaining of a balance between spiritual life and material well being, and to ensure that his or her material endeavors are underpinned by the ethical principles of Islam. This balance between din and dunya* entails not only the fulfillment of the individual's spiritual obligation but also of the obligation to acquire knowledge and to use it for the benefit of others." * Din means Religion, Dunya means World - another way to say it is spiritual and secular.
Isn't it beautiful? I always get refreshed by listening to his words, Alhamdulillah!
Did you know that contrary to popular belief, Saudi Arabia and the Middle Eastern countries do not even make the list of the top ten countries with the highest Muslim population? Even China has a higher Muslim population! This explains why Muslims are perplexed and have not understood the current profiling and appalled by the ignorance of the West towards the diversity in Islam. See for yourself:
Top 10 Largest National Muslim Populations
Source: Adherents.com (this information is dated approx. 1997)
Indonesia 170,310,000 Pakistan 136,000,000 Bangladesh 106,050,000 India 103,000,000 Turkey 62,410,000 Iran 60,790,000 Egypt 53,730,000 Nigeria 47,720,000 China 37,108,000
The Islamic Calendar
The Islamic year is based on a lunar year as opposed to the Gregorian calendar which is based on a solar year. The Islamic year and months begin at the first sighting of the New Moon. Islamic days begin and end at sundown. In calculating the beginning of the year and the months, some Muslims use the sighting of the New Moon at their own location; other Muslims use the sighting of the New Moon in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. If the months are calculated using the expected first sighting of the New Moon in North America then adjustments should be made for use in the Middle East which is about eight hours ahead
The Islamic or Hijrah calendar is made up of 12 lunar months. The Hijrah year is therefore 354 11/30 days long, which means that it migrates through the solar year, starting about 11 days earlier each (Gregorian solar) year. The Islamic year is considered to have started at sunset of Thursday, July 15, 622 in the Julian calendar and has twelve months of alternately 29 and 30 days, the last month having 30 days only in leap years:-
Month Days 1 Muharram 30 2 Safar 29 3 Rabi-ul awwal I 30 4 Rabi-ul thani II 29 5 Jumada-ul awwal I 30 6 Jumada-ul thani II 29 7 Rajab 30 8 Shaaban 29 9 Ramadan 30 10 Shawwal 29 11 Dhul Qa'da 30 12 Dhul Hijja 29/30
The leap year occurs in the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 24th, 26th and 29th years of a 30 year cycle. The beginning of a new month is commonly defined, however, by physical observation by the religious authorities of the new moon. Thus the calculated dates may be off by a day or two and may even vary from country to country. In practice this is most important for the beginning and end of Ramadan, the month of fasting and for the feast of Eid al Adha.
Muslim Festivals, Holidays and Observances
Navroz - New Year - March 21 follows solar calendar and so is not included in the table below - Navroz is celebrated by Muslims of Persian heritage or influence and by all Ismaili Muslims around the world
1 Muharram Hijrah New Year A holiday in many countries. The new year day of Hijrah reminds Muslims the Hijrah (migragion) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) from Makkah to Madinah in the year 622 C.E. 10 Muharram Ashura' Shi'a observation of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. 12 Rabi'ul awwal Milad-e Nabi
Mawlid an Nabi
The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). 27 Rajab Layla tul Mehraj The Ascent of the Prophet (pbuh) in a spiritual journey to God. Ramadan Month of fasting Believers abstain from food, drink or tobacco from sunrise to sunset, and abstain from intimate relations. The beginning of the fast starts at dawn Sahar and the end is sunset, Iftaar when a meal is enjoyed with family and friends. 23 Ramadan Layla tul Qadr Night of destiny. This is the night of the revelation of the Qur'an. Muslims pray throughout the night seeking Allah's glory. 1 Shawwal Eid al Fitr
This feast marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Known as Seker Bayram in Turkish, Hari Raya Puasa in South East Asia. 10 Dhu al Hijja Eid al Adha Festival in memory of Prophet Abraham's sacrifice. At the conclusion of Hajj or holy pilgrimage. Celebrations can last up to four days. Known as Kurban Bayram in Turkish, Hari Raya Hajj in South East Asia and Tabaski in parts of Africa.
As the Muslim day begins at sunset, so do the holidays. The Gregorian dates given in this site are for the day of the feast, so in Western calendar terms, the feast can be said to begin at sunset on the evening before the date given.
2002 Calendar with Islamic dates in North America
Historical background and how these festivals are celebrated
Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr Please also view President and Mrs. Clinton's past messages regarding Islam from year 2000
Eid Stamp released by U S Post Office
Eid ul Adha - Prophet Ibrahim's Offering
Eid-e Gadhir Declaration of the Heir of Prophet Muhammad
Milad-e Nabi or Maulid - Prophet Muhammad's Birthday
Yaum-e Ali - Hazrat Ali's Birthday
Present and Living Imam's Birthday Celebration
Imamat Day Succession of Prophet Muhammad's Progeny
Layl tul Qadr - The Night of Power 23rd of Ramadan
Navroz - New Year - March 21 (follows solar calendar)
Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim Celebrations
Verses in the Quran proclaiming the Imams - Ahl-e Bayt (Family of the Prophet)
Pan Tan Paak Ahl-e Bayt Page
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