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Asking the Clergy: How do people of your religion celebrate a new year?

From left, Ashok Vyas of Creative Hindu Alliance,

From left, Ashok Vyas of Creative Hindu Alliance, Faroque A. Khan of the Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island, and I.J. Singh..Bellmore author of six collections of essays on his journey as a Sikh in America. Credit: Ashok Vyas; Newsday/John Paraskevas; I.J. Singh

After the New Year’s Eve revelry ends, Roman Catholics will gather at churches across Long Island on New Year’s Day to celebrate the feast known as The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This week’s clergy discuss unique ways to mark a new year, which doesn’t necessarily begin on Jan. 1.

Faroque A. Khan

Board of trustees chairman, Interfaith Institute of Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury

In the year 638, six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's second caliph Umar recognized the necessity of a calendar to govern the affairs of the Muslims. The newly conquered lands of Persia, Syria and Egypt each used a different calendar with different starting points. Umar, therefore, created a calendar specifically for the Muslim community. It would be lunar and have 12 months, each with 29 or 30 days. This gives the lunar year 354 days, 11 days fewer than the solar year. Umar chose as the epoch for the new Muslim calendar the Hijrah, the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad and 70 Muslims from Mecca to Medina, where Muslims first attained religious and political autonomy.

The Hijrah thus occurred on 1 Muharram 1 according to the Islamic calendar, which was named "hijri" after its epoch. (This date corresponds to July 16, AD 622, on the Gregorian calendar.) Because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar, it is not synchronized to the seasons. Its festivals, which fall on the same days of the same lunar months each year, make the round of the seasons every 33 solar years. This 11-day difference between the lunar and the solar year accounts for the difficulty of converting dates from one system to the other.

On Aug. 20, 2020, the Islamic calendar will welcome the New Year of Muharram 1442. The new year is basically another day in the calendar during which we pray as usual and remember the past. 

I.J. Singh

Bellmore author of essays on his journey as a Sikh in America

Sikhism is a relatively new religion (just about 550 years old) that originated in northwest India. Early Sikh migrants worked on the construction of the Panama Canal from 1901 to 1903. Today there are almost a million of us in the United States.

A new year speaks only of the rotation of celestial bodies; hence the advent of a new year should remain free of controversy. But calendar systems are a human construct. Their variety, a tribute to human imagination reflecting cultural and religious diversity, determines mankind’s perspective of time. The commencement of a new year in Sikh reckoning varies, but it generally occurs on a day from mid-March to mid-April. In 2020, our new year, 551, starts March 14. Sikhism speaks of one creator, common to all creation, irrespective of differences in race, gender or nationality. Consequently, as a new year begins, Sikhs offer individual and/or congregational prayers for all -- not just for Sikhs but for all creation and humanity. Sikh religious services, regardless of the attendees' religious identities, or whether it is a special celebration, conclude with a simple vegetarian meal offered gratis to all attendees.  

Ashok Vyas

Hindu Priest, founder, Creative Hindu Alliance, Bellerose, Queens

The concept of newness plays an important role in Hindu practice. Indeed, Hindus accept, appreciate and celebrate Jan. 1 as the secular New Year. But Hindu religious calendars are vastly more complex than the western calendar, which is built around only two basic units of time: solar days and solar years.

For Hindus, time is considered cyclical and eternal. Thus, Hindus in different parts of world have created calendar systems to help celebrate life in an understandable manner. The most popularly known and followed two calendars are the Shaka Calendar, which begins around March, and the Vikram Samvat Calendar, which begins in October.

At the beginning of a new calendar, Hindus wish each other a happy new year with the greeting, “Saal Mubarak.” We visit each other’s homes, offer prayers at temples, eat sweets and plan the year ahead with hope and harmony. New Year is also considered an opportunity to forgive people that we feel have wronged us, to dispense with any ill feelings against others, and start afresh. Hindu new year festivals are designed as a launchpad to march ahead with fresh vigor and enthusiasm.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com. Find more LI Life stories at newsday.com/LILife.

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