Today In History: On July 16, 622, the Hijra Occurred, Starting The Islamic Calendar

Picture the scene. You are part of a group that has followed a charismatic, if somewhat authoritarian Arab in the city of Mecca, and you and your fellow believers are now faced with the bitterness of exile because of the opposition of the elites of the city to religious beliefs that threatened their traffic in idols. So, you and your fellow believers leave in an Arabian summer and travel many miles to a smaller city where you and your group have been promised sanctuary, and you plan for the inevitable confrontation with the other Arabs in the area who were in opposition. Eventually, your armies are successful, and a peace treaty allows the defeated opponents to save face and become part of one united Arab army committed to an invasion of neighboring realms, starting a period of warfare that would bring Arab-led armies within a century and a half to China, France, and the walls of Constantinople. These were heady times for the desert nomads.

When one thinks of the Islamic calendar, there are a few obvious observations one can make. One is that the Muslim calendar is a strictly lunar calendar, clearly a sign of defective mathematics, when compared with the accuracy of the Hebrew lunar-solar calendar with its intercalinary years. Although the Arabs later helped spread mathematics to Europe, at the time of their origin into world history [1] and for long afterward they were considered to be quite a primitive people, whose assimilation of the wisdom of the Greeks and Persians and Indians and Chinese gave them a few centuries of intellectual greatness before their present decline into backwardness again. Civilization is something that must be preserved, generation after generation, if it is to endure, and at times it can be easy to reject the difficulties of preserving knowledge because we cannot understand its purpose or worth.

When looking at the Muslim departure from Mecca to Medina, one is reminded of the flight of the Mormons from New York and then from Missouri to Deseret, or the land we know as Utah and its surrounding borderlands. Both the early Mormons and the early Muslims were religiously alien from their neighbors, there was violence, and an exile resulted from the cultural and religious conflicts. Also of note is the fact that both religious have at their heart dubious revelations that amount to a drastic reinterpretation of existing religious systems that involve a patriarchal family based model and also have a reputation for polygamy. Additionally, both are marked by founding “prophets” who were far better at preaching law than following it. These similarities are striking, and possibly not coincidental, but worthy to think about.

One striking contrast needs to be made between Islam and Christianity with regards to the Hijra. When Jesus Christ was brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, he explicitly said his kingdom was not of this world, or else his servants would fight (John 18:36). In the case of both the Mormons and the Muslims, their kingdom is clearly of this world, and so their servants fight. This is especially true of Muslims. What this sort of matter ought to teach us is that even a simple matter like what days start a calendar and what sort of behavior and what sort of memories are put on a calendar. Let us reflect on the fact that the Muslim calendar begins with a flight in conflict. What starts in conflict and trouble often finds it easy to remain in conflict and trouble, a lesson that is applicable far outside of Islamic history itself, to our own lives and situations.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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