The inner meaning of Hijrah in Islamic history – By Prof. Afis Oladosu
The new Islamic lunar calendar-1444 years after the migration of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) from Makkah to Madinah begins tomorrow as 1443 A.H ends today being Dhul Hijjah 30.
This event is usually celebrated all over the Muslim world the same way it was celebrated by the second Caliph in Islamic history, Umar bn Khattab (r.a). It was the latter who began to date the undated in Muslim reality; it was Bn al-Khattab who first started the usage of the date of emigration of the Muslims from Makkah to Madinah while presiding over the affairs of the Islamic state.
The successful arrival of the Prophet of Islam from Makkah to Madinah after 13 years of persecution in the hands of the Makkan unbelievers known as Hijrah has since then been commemorated on a yearly basis by the Muslim world. Welcome to Hijrah 1444!
But the question becomes pertinent: since the Hijrah was an event in history; a ‘door’ which was opened by the migration of the Prophet from Makkah and “closed” by his arrival to Madinah, of what value is its commemoration by the Muslims?
Why do we have to talk about and reengage the Hijrah?
The Muslim world usually “celebrates” the Hijrah partly in its attempt to ensure the dated becomes undated in Islamic history. We mark the Hijrah in order to prevent the Hijrah from being conclusive or teleological. We reread the Hijrah as a community and we endeavour to derive meaning of the event based on our conviction that such an important event should not be viewed in the past perfect but in the past-present. We do this based on the realisation that we are destined and confined into that space in world history where if we fail to read and reread the event, we might actually have failed in reading our lives through the prism of the Qur’an. An unexamined life, our teachers would counsel, is not worth living.
Where and how then do we begin our inquiry into the Hijrah of the Prophetic era? What could be the ‘grammar’ of the hijrah in Islamic history? How do we begin to read for the meaning of the meaning of the Hijrah in contemporary Muslim existential realities?
The starting point for this kind of exercise should probably be through the exploration of the Qur’an; in the pre-Hijrah era of the Hijrah. We have to grapple with history as it unfolded in space, in the rigid geographical terrain of Makkah in order to make sense of and derive the meaning of meaning of Hijrah in our world today. We might also have to put the Hijrah in an historical-theological perspective. Let us endeavour to begin with the latter.
In world’s written and unwritten histories, there have been emigrations and emigrations. For example, the touchstone of Prophet Musa (upon him be peace) was his migration with the Jewish nation for forty days in the geography of the unknown and one in which divine anger orbited over the horizon of the Jews like a gravity.
Prophet Isa’s prophetic enterprise (upon him be peace), was his constant migration from the recalcitrance and obduracy of the Jewish race to which he had been sent as a national prophet. Prophet Ibrahim (upon him be peace) was sui generis in this trajectory. He was an emigrant (muhajir) without a companion; he was an emigrant without a helper (nasir) except the Almighty.
He believed in Allah at a time humanity preferred to belief in divinity.
At the onset of the modern period, the French warrior, Napoleon Bonaparte, could equally be cited as an “emigrant”. In company of his soldiers, he, in 1798, emigrated from Paris and eventually landed in Cairo. His arrival to Cairo marked the beginning of an era in which Arab-Africans were forced to discard the robe of the enslaved so that they might be colonized.
The ‘hijrah’ of the modern period in which Europeans left the metropolis for the continents of Asia and Africa was that of individuals and corporate agencies that believed in the primordial supremacy of the “White” race over the “inferior”, the “black” and coloured races of the world.