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HIJRAH. The Qur’an identifies the use of the term hijrah (to migrate, abandon, or withdraw; exodus) in reference to the acts of migration of prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, Lot, and others (surahs 19.48-49, 6o.4, and 11.69-83). In Islam, the Hijrah refers to the migration/exodus of Muhammad and the muhajirun (his companions) from Mecca to the city of Yathrib. Muhammad departed from Mecca on Thursday, i Rabi` al-Awwal/13 September 622, arriving at Yathrib, actually Quba’, on Monday, 12 Rabi’ al-Awwal/24 September 622.

The commemoration of the Hijrah was instituted in 637 by the second caliph, `Umar ibn al-Khattab (r. 634-644), as the first year of the new Islamo-Arabic calendar. It is often treated as a motif in political, cultural, literary, and aesthetic expressions in the Islamic world. Religiously, the Hijrah connotes a journey of religious intent. It is undertaken to inaugurate a new era-a symbolic refusal to lose hope in the face of persecution. The moral of Hijrah is that religious persecution is a violation of religious freedom, thus withdrawal from an oppressive to a more conducive environment is a suitable option. Hijrah is undertaken by Muslims individually or as a group in response to a threat to survival and social security (Qur’an 2.228, 4.97). Hijrah is a testimony of devotion to Islam, indicating a willingness to endure all suffering caused by the movement to another locale for the sake of protecting one’s life and faith (Qur’an 3.195, 4.100, 9.20, 16.41, 22.58, and 29.56).

The Hijrah has been interpreted by Muslims in a variety of ways over the past fifteen centuries. It has been given different shades of meaning and imbued with symbolism to religiously validate various experiential dimensions of Islam.

In the Muslim political discourse of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, the paradigm of Hijrah has been employed by different Muslim politicoreligious movements: it was used by Shehu Usuman dan Fodio (1754-1817) of Nigeria to oppose religious syncretism in African Islam; by the Muslim Brotherhoods of North and West Africa to confront colonial rule; to justify the Muslim migrations of 1783-1914 from Russia and the Balkan states; and by the Khilafat movement (1920) to legitimize its call to Indian Muslims to migrate from British India to Afghanistan. During the 1910s and 1920s, Hijrah was employed as a politicotheological construct by the new tribal state of Saudi Arabia to settle bedouin tribes in order to accomplish the goals of territorial expansion and consolidation of power. [See the biography of Dan Fodio and Khilafat Movement.]

In the post-World War II era of Muslim nationstates, Muslim immigrants from India in the newly created state of Pakistan were called muhajir. Lately, because of ethnic tensions in Pakistan, the term muhdjir has acquired a class distinction.

Since the 1940s, Hijrah has been ideologized by such neofundamentalist thinkers as Sayyid Abu al-A’la Mawdudi (1903-1979) of the Jama’ at-i Islami of Pakistan and Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) in Egypt. Both described Hijrah as withdrawal from the new Jahiliyah, which they identified as the policies of secularism, capitalism, socialism, and modernization/westernization of the Muslim nation-states. [See the biographies of Mawdudi and Qutb]

In the late 1970s and the 1980s, the Egyptian extremist group Jama` at al-Muslimin (Community of Believers), popularly known as al-Takfir wa al-Hijrah, founded by Shukf Mustafa (1942-1978), stretched the concept of the new Jahiliyah further. In this group’s view, Arab socialists, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser (1 9 1 8-197o) and his successor Anwar el-Sadat (1 9 1 81981), represent modern pharaohs who are to be opposed for introducing non-Islamic political, legal, and socioeconomic institutions. For Mustafa and his followers, postcolonial Egypt represents evil, hence the obligation to withdraw from it. Emulating Muhammad’s Hijrah, Mustafa declared Egyptian society to be nonIslamic and established an isolated commune called Jama` at al-Muslimin at Mansura. It was to be the center of preparations for the overthrow of the Egyptian sociopolitical order. Thus, the Jama` at al-Muslimin called for an internalization of the attitude of Hijrah as separation from an urban economic setting with the politicoreligious aim of seizing power. [See Takfir wa alHijrah, al-; and the biography of Mustafa]

In Malaysia, the puritanical group Dar ul Arqam withdrew to an isolated commune as an expression of ethnic religiosity. [See Dar ul Arqam.]

Hence, in the modern, postcolonial period, the concept of Hijrah has acquired an intea-Muslim political signification leading to the emergence of different interpretations and the establishment of hujar (settlements) relevant to diverse Muslim geopolitical areas. As a political process, Hijrah contains a residue of the medieval Muslim political classification of the world into Dar alIslam, Dar al-Harb, and Dar al-Hijrah and its definition of jihad (war against nonbelievers) as response to domestic and international pressures of the postcolonial era. It also contains intea-Muslim polemics concerning the nineteenth-century Islamic modernist movement.

In modern Sufi literature, Muhammad’s Hijrah is considered an important stage in the inner spiritual journey of returning to Allah. Enduring the physical hardships of Hijrah is viewed as a process of self-purification for love of Allah.

More recently, in an age of Western dominance in areas of knowledge, technology, and material life, Muslim travel to the West for the purposes of acquiring an education, seeking economic betterment, and even political asylum is not unusual. This phenomenon of immigration to the West has added a new dimension to the discourse about Hijrah. It has stimulated reflections about the Muslim encounter with the non-Muslim West and also regarding the reception of Islam among Western citizens, such as the African-American Muslims, for whom Islam is the vehicle of a symbolic journey to Africa, and European converts to Islam, for whom Islam is a path of withdrawal from the excesses of Western materialism. Such Hijrah-related discussion has been the subject of various studies and novels about Muslim religious experience in recent times and has been featured in the writings of Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, Muhammad Asad, Malcolm X, al-Tayyib Salih, Gai (Hasan) Eaton, Salman Rushdie, and others.

In 1982, the Muslim world celebrated the beginning of the fifteenth century of Hijrah.


Ahmad, Aziz. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-1964. London, 1967. Important reference work about the interactions between Islam and modernity in the Indian subcontinent.

Asad, Muhammad. The Road to Mecca. Gibraltar, 1980. Account of a European’s journey to Islam.

Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Isma’il al-. Sahih al-Bukhan. Vol. 5. Translated by Muhammad Asad. Gibraltar, 198o. Chapter 51, section 21 of this volume contains hadiths relating to the Hijrah.

Eickelman, Dale F., and J. P. Piscatori, eds. Muslim Travellers. Berkeley, 1990. Comprehensive collection of essays on the theme of Hijrah and journey in the Muslim perspective.

Haddad, Yvonne Y. Islamic Values in the United States. New York, 1987. Excellent case study about the religious experience of immigrant Muslims in North America.

“Hegira, Year 1400.” Special issue of Cultures (UNESCO) 8 (198o). Collection of extensive articles about the Hijrah.

Kepel, Gilles. The Prophet and Pharaoh. London, 1985. Detailed study of Muslim extremism in Egypt.

Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). New York, 1992. Narrative of an African American’s journey to Africa through Islam.

Martin, B. G. Muslim Brotherhoods in Nineteenth-Century Africa. Cambridge. 1976. Classic study of the confrontation between the African Sufi brotherhoods and colonialism.

Mawdudi, Sayyid Abu al-A’la. Islam our jahiliyat. Translated into English as Islam and Ignorance. Lahore, 1976. Pakistani thinker’s perspective on Islam in modern times.

Newby, Gordon D. The Making of the Last Prophet. Columbia, S.C., 1989. Competent attempt by a historian to reconstruct an early biography of Muhammad.

Qutb, Sayyid. Ma’alim ft al-tariq. Translated into English as Milestones. Kuwait, 1978. Important attempt to construct an ideological vision of Islam by an Egyptian activist.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/hijrah/

  • writerPosted On: June 10, 2013
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