This year, thanks to an unusual calender quirk we can wish Muslims and Jews a happy new year on the same day. Though they differ in many ways, both religions are ‘Abrahamic’ and share many similarities with recurring themes of repentance and renewal and practices of fasting and purification common to the two. Here is a look at what they are both about.
What is the Muharram?
Muslims the world over are commemorating the 1438th Islamic or ‘Hijri’ New Year. The Islamic calendar is lunar-based and is 11-12 days shorter than the solar-based Gregorian calendar. This is why the Islamic New Year falls on a different Gregorian calendar date each year.
Sunset on October 2 this year marked the beginning of the holy month of Muharram, which for Muslims, is second in importance only to Ramadan. Murharram is said to commemorate the Qur’an being given to Mohammed as well as Noah leaving the ark and God saving Moses and the Israelites from the Egyptians.
For Shi’a Muslims the 10th day of Murharram, known as ‘Ashura’, is a day of mourning for Husayn ibn Ali, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammed who was martyred at the battle of Karbala in 61AH. Some Shi’a Muslims self-flagellate as part of the mourning ritual.
For Sunni Muslims it represents a day of ‘respect and gratitude’ for the Prophet Moosa (Moses) and his nation.
Daily prayers and fasting build towards Ashura. To break the fast, a dish called ‘Ashure’ or ‘Noah’s pudding’ is often eaten. It consists of fruit, grains, and pulses garnished with honey, rose water and nuts.
What is Rosh Hashnanah?
Rosh Hashnanah or ‘Yom Teruah’ is a two-day-celebration of the Jewish New Year for people, animals and contracts. It translates as ‘Feast of Trumpets’ and is the first of the Jewish ‘High Holy Days’. Rosh Hashnanah is the first day of the month of Tishrei and is said to be the traditional anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. Like Muslim festivals the day begins at sunset the evening before.
The Jewish (Hebrew) Calendar is based on luni-solar cycles and can have anywhere from 353 to 385 days in a year. It marks ‘the creation’ which is believed to have happened around 3760 BC.
Worshipers believe that God judges everyone’s actions from the previous year and seals their fate for the year to come. In the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah which culminates with the holiday of Yom Kippur, Jewish people are supposed to begin a process of self-examination, reflection and repentance.
A ram’s horn known as a ‘shofar’ is traditionally blown each morning (except on the Sabbath) for one month preceding Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar is intended to awaken the listeners from their ‘slumbers’ and alert them to the coming judgment.
Special symbolic foods are prepared such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a ‘sweet new year.’
An Interfaith tradition
A harmonious interaction between Jews and Muslims could once be found in a tradition from Morocco. For hundreds of years, Jews would bring Muslims the ‘first bread’ with which to break their final Ramadan fast. Similarly, Muslims would bring their Jewish neighbours their first taste of bread when the Passover festival had ended.
It seems that thanks to the coinciding of the two events this year, similar interactions are taking place around the world.