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Islamic New Year

Islamic New Year 2017 and 2018

In UAE, as in many Muslim countries, Islamic New Year is a public holiday.

YearDateDayHoliday
201721 SepThuIslamic New Year *
201811 SepTueIslamic New Year *

* Subject to changes.

It falls on the first day of the month Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and is also known as “Al Hijra” (“flight”) because of the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina on this day. The flight followed the initial rejection of Meccans of the Islamic religion, which Muhammad had brought to them, and is a major event in the history of Islam.

Islamic New Year varies in date from the perspective of the Gregorian Calendar used by Westerners. It moves about 11 days per year. The exact date is never certain, since each country announces it based on moon sightings, but it can generally be predicted with great accuracy. Also note that Islamic New Year begins around 6pm, for the Islamic day always starts after sunset.

The first month of year, Muharram, is considered a time for remembrance of important events of the past and a time of mourning and reflecting on the wrongs of the past. The whole month is considered holy, so no one is permitted to fight during Muharram. However, in 680 A.D., Muhammad’s grandson Husayn ibn Ali did engage in war on the first of Muharram. He fought and won the Battle of Karbala on the day, but on the 7th of Muharram, his water supply was cut off. Three days later, on the 10th of Muharram (“the Day of Ashura”), he died of thirst. Some Muslims fast and mourn for him on the 10th of Muharram, even though he clearly violated the “rules of the month”.

As to Islamic New Year’s Day itself, it is an off-work day for UAE public sector employees, and in some parts of UAE, alcoholic beverages may not be legally sold for the duration of the day. There really aren’t the grand fireworks displays and massive festivities during Islamic New Year that you see on Western New Year’s Eve and Day. In fact, there are often more fireworks going off in Dubai on December 31st than on the first of Muharram. Instead, Muslims go to mosque and take time to relax, reflect, and even mourn on their New Year’s Day.

Should you be in UAE for Islamic New Year, you might see a few small festivals here and there, but you will likely need to create your own “to-do list.” Five ways you can start the (Islamic) New Year right in UAE are:

  • Explore UAE history at Ras al Khaimah. Ras al Khaimah is one of the seven emirates that form the UAE, and is located in the extreme north of the country. It has many interesting historical sites, including: al Jazirah al Hamra, an Islamic ghost town of a a once-great pearling port; Sheba’s Palace, a Medieval palace that did not belong to the Queen of Sheba but is interesting nonetheless; and the National Museum of Ras al Khaimah, where archaeological, natural history, and artistic displays are housed in a palace from the al Qasimi dynasty.
  • Get back in touch with nature, in the most relaxing and healthy way imaginable. Visit Khatt, a mountain village in northeastern UAE, where you can bath in the natural sulphuric springs that bubble up at the base of the Hajar Mountains. There are also hot stone treatments, special “medicines” for sale, a desert oasis, and a resort with full amenities. When finished soaking yourself in the mineral waters of any of the three springs or their pools, you can follow the local tradition of sitting down for a family picnic amid the beautiful scenery.
  • Go shopping like you never have before. In Dubai alone, there are nearly 100 malls, many of them “megamalls,” which offer you an immense array of shopping options, an incredible food court, amazing architecture, and special draws like giant saltwater aquariums and unique pieces of artwork. In Dubai, look for The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Mercato Mall, City Walk, Dubai Festival City Mall, Burjuman Centre, Dubai Marina Mall, Wafi Mall, Ibn Battuta, and many more. In Abu Dhabi the biggest mall is Yas Mall, which is only smaller than Dubai Mall and about the same size as Mall of the Emirates. Also in Abuh Dhabi, look for Abu Dhabi Mall and Al Wahda Mall.
  • Escape to the beach and enjoy the sand, the water, and the numerous activities available. While it varies from beach to beach, you can often do such things as beach volleyball, snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, wind surfing, sail boating, paragliding, and deep sea fishing. The single most famous beach in UAE is easily Jumeirah Beach in Dubai, and in Abu Dhabi, look for Abu Dhabi Beach on the coast and Saadiyat Beach on Saadiyat Island. On the Gulf of Oman, Khor Fakkan and Dibba have beautiful beaches, and on the Gulf, Ajman has a good beach, but it also draws many tourists to see the the Ajman National Museum housed in the historically important Ajman Fort.
  • Escape to Hatta, where you can trek and camp in the mountains. Hatta is located high in the Hajar Mountains right next to Oman. It has long been a place for the people of Dubai to retreat to from the hot and humid coast, and tourists have been doing the same since the 1980’s. You can trek across highland wadis from village to village, see the reconstructed, old-style mountain huts, the Juma mosque, the two watch towers, and the rebuilt falaj (water supply) system. If it sounds a bit too adventurous, you can stay at the Hatta Fort Hotel so you can “retreat from your rugged retreat” whenever you so desire.

Islamic New Year is important because it marks the historic flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina and because it gives Muslims in UAE a time to stop and reflect on the past. While there are not many official events, there is still plenty to do in UAE this time of year that will help you start the new year in a truly memorable manner.