October 2, 2016 was the first day of the new Hijri Year 1438, Grand Mufti, Othman Battikh announced on Saturday.
In a statement, the Mufti confirmed that under Decree No. 727 of 1988 on fixing of lunar months through moon sighting, and based upon astronomical data showing the observation of the crescent moon, the first day of Muharram, (the first month of the year) 1438 began on Sunday, TAP reported.
Muharram is generally considered one of the holiest months of the year, after Ramadan, and is often used as a period for self-reflection and historical awareness. Prayers build up towards the tenth day of Muharram, known as Ashura, when the the massacre of the Prophet’s grandson, Husayn and a number of his family and followers is commemorated.
The Hijri calendar consists of 12 lunar months making up a year of 354 or 355 days and is used to date religious holidays and fasts. Each month is determined to have begun after the new lunar crescent becomes visible to the human eye.
Though new moons can be predicted in advance, actual sightings can prove more difficult; relying on factors such as weather, the optical properties of the atmosphere, and the location of the observer, meaning that many of the principal religious dates of the Islamic year, (such as Hajj) cannot be published in advance.
The first year of the Hijiri calendar marks the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, referred to as the Hijiri, which would be dated as 622 on the western, (Gregorian) calendar. As the Hijiri year is around 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year, Islamic years are gradually catching up with western ones. According to webexhibits, on the 1st day of May 20874 in the Gregorian calendar will also be (approximately) the 1st day of the 5th month of AH 20874 of the Islamic calendar.