Dubai joins January 1 celebration

Despite cultural and religious differences, Dubai joined much of the Western world in celebrating the new year on January 1, and both private and government entities treated it as an official holiday.

This might come as a surprise, since Muslims observe a different calendar from the Gregorian solar calendar, on which days like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day are based. Theirs is a lunar calendar, and is 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian year. It also dates from much further back, having been used for more than 14 centuries.

In the Islamic calendar, Muharram is the first month of the year. It is considered a holy month by many Muslims, and in stark contrast to the Western tradition of festive celebration, is often observed by fasting and other prohibitive practices. One major event during Muharram is the mourning of a patriarch of the Islamic lineage, Hussein ibn Ali.

To gain some insight into why Muslims would also celebrate January 1, the Gulf News Journal spoke with Fuad al-Zubeiry of the United Islamic Association of Lancaster County in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Al-Zubeiry said that some Muslim countries and communities celebrate Western holidays because of commercial influence or a large Christian presence.  Ultimately, though, the new year of the Roman calendar has nothing to do with Islam.

He pointed out that that dates such as Christmas are fixed in the Western calendar, a Muslim festival or holy day will not always occur on the same day of the year. He said Muslims adopt a philosophy that corresponds to this more fluid calendar because it is based on an idea, not a date or time.

“We say that we can pray all the year round to give every day its portion of worship,” he said.

Other Islamic sources say observing the Western new year might be counter to Islamic principles.

“Any celebration by Muslims needs to be put into context of the local and global situation of our fellow human beings,” writes Muhammad Wajid Akhter on “The two Eids (official holidays) amply do so by encouraging prayers, duaa for those suffering, and alms to the needy. However, celebrating the New Year does no such thing. It is a celebration that is cut off from the reality of the rest of the Ummah … celebrating the New Year is pretty much exactly the opposite of the ‘fever and wakefulness’ that the Prophet spoke about when he said we were like one body.”