Minor Muslim Festivals
Muharram: New Year's Day
Muharram is the first month of the Muslim year. Its first day, accordingly, is celebrated as New Year's Day. It is also linked with Muhammed's "departure" (the Hijrah) from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622, which is regarded as the most important event in the establishment of Islam and the beginning, the Year One, of the Muslim era.
Rather than an occasion of exuberant festivities and joyous parties, it is a solemn day of introspection on which Muslims renew their resolve to come ever closer to God.
Ashurah means "ten." The festival of Ashurah occurs on the tenth day of Muharram and is a day of voluntary fasting. It is by tradition the anniversary of two important events: Noah's leaving the Ark, and Moses' freeing of the Israelites from Pharaoh's bondage.
Shiah Muslims mourn on this day, as it is also the anniversary of the martyrdom of Husein, Muhammed's grandson, at Karbala, Iraq, in A.D. 680.
The Prophet's Birthday
Muhammed was born on 20 April 570 which, according to the Muslim calendar, is the twelfth day of its third month, Rabi' al-Awal. The founder of Islam, he was, according to Muslim faith, the greatest and last of all prophets. He was "the seal of prophecy," to whom God revealed the entirety of the Quran - all of its 114 chapters, or Suras, as they are called. The day of his birth, therefore, was of paramount importance and its anniversary is an occasion for special celebration.
Gatherings and processions distinguish the day, with the participants sharing traditional sweets and pastries.
The Night of the Ascent
The night of Muhammed's ascent to heaven - on 27 Rajab, the seventh month of the calendar - is celebrated annually. On that night, so tradition has it, Muhammed, guided by the Archangel Gabriel, traveled from Mecca to Jerusalem where he ascended to heaven from a rock. The rock from which he alighted to celestial heights is now venerated in the Mosque of the Rock.