The Islamic concept of Hijrah

Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah's cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah: they are the people who will achieve. – The Quran, Surah Al-Tawbah (9:20)


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Every Muslim has heard of the word Hijrah. Probably many non-Muslims as well are familiar with the word. To the layman, however, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, Hijrah is the Muslim ‘new year’ and denotes the beginning of the Islamic calendar, the Hijrah calendar, just like the Gregorian calendar starts from the year Christ was born although there are some who dispute this and argue that Christ was actually born six years before ‘year zero’.

But there is more to Hijrah than just to mark the beginning of the Islamic calendar. And it is also more than just to mark Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mekah to Medina. While Hijrah can be loosely translated to mean migration, it is not merely a physical migration or migration of the body but the migration of the mind or migration of character, values, lifestyle, and so on.

The Quran, Surah Al-Tawbah (9:20) says as follows: Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah's cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah: they are the people who will achieve.

In case you did not notice, this verse in the Quran is from Surah (chapter) Al-Tawbah. Tawbah (or taubat in Malay) means repent. In other words, migration (Hijrah) can also mean repent (Tawbah). You migrate from a life of sin to a life of piety. You give up your evil ways for a life of virtue. You end your life of transgressions for a life of submission, submitting to the code of conduct as laid down by God.

The English simply call this ‘turning over a new leaf’. If you used to be greedy, envious, full of lust, arrogant, corrupted, egoistical, stingy, uncaring, self-centred, vain, and whatnot (the seven deadly sins they talk about), you now strife to be no longer all that. Hijrah can be summed up in one word: change.

Another word for change is reform. You reform yourself. But it is very difficult to reform when society itself has not reformed. Most times you are a victim of the society you live in. How can you be opposite to what your society is?

If there is corruption all around you, you too need to go with the flow and involve yourself in corruption. For example, if you want to drive a car, you need a driving licence. And if the only way you can get a driving licence is to pay a bribe (under the table or ‘kopi money’), then you will pay a bribe. If you stand firm and uphold your principle of refusing to condone corruption by refusing to pay a bribe, then you do not get your driving licence and will have to be contented with taking a bus to go to work.

So how can you be pious or virtuous and expect to be ‘clean’ when the society you live in is not clean? Police officers face this problem. A police officer can’t refuse to isolate himself/herself from corruption. The Chinese crime syndicates put money into a ‘pool’ just like some restaurants have a tip box so that everyone in the restaurant gets to share the tips. So even clean police officers have a share of the bribe from the crime syndicate.

Of course, the police officer can refuse to take his or her share of the bribe. But then he or she would be treated with suspicion and life for him or her would be very unpleasant. The only recourse would be to accept your share and be regarded as ‘one of the boys’ rather than be treated as an outcast or leper for trying to be clean.

Peer pressure plays a big part in how you live your life. If you try to be different and refuse to participate in corruption you will find they can and will make life very difficult for you. Sometimes ‘uncooperative’ police officers are transferred out because they refuse to ‘join the gang’. So you take the money and keep your mouth shut.

So, reforms or changes can’t happen in isolation. You can’t just think of yourself and strive to be a good person if society itself is bad and the people around you will not allow you to lead the life you want to lead. You must also strive to change society.

And this is where the physical aspect of Hijrah comes into play. You try your best to change the system so that the system is conducive to those who want to lead a pious life. But if society refuses to leave you alone and ‘sucks you in’, then you migrate. You Hijrah. You abandon that society for another more conducive to the life you wish to lead.

Therefore, when we scream and shout about Reformasi or Reformation, we are actually talking about Hijrah. And Hijrah is a very crucial element of Islam. It is so crucial that the Islamic calendar is called the Hijrah calendar. And Hijrah is part and parcel of Jihad, another very important element of Islam.

Jihad means struggle. It is the struggle between you and temptation. You struggle against your lust, your vanity, your greed, your arrogance, your feelings of jealously, your ego, and much more. These are all within us. We all suffer from this ‘sickness’. And we struggle to overcome them as far as possible. And when we win that Jihad, the struggle against our own heart and mind, then we will be able to migrate or Hijrah to a new level.

The life of Buddha was all about this. Maybe they do not use words like Jihad and Hijrah. But the concept remains the same whatever words you may choose to use.
So, welcome to the Reformasi Movement. No, the Reformasi Movement is not about helping Anwar Ibrahim become the Prime Minister. This is too narrow a struggle. It is a meaningless struggle. The struggle of the Reformasi Movement is to change society. Only when society changes will we be allowed to change. And only when we are allowed to change will we achieve true Jihad and proper Hijrah as stipulated by Islam. Until then, Hijrah is merely a day we wake up late because we need not go to work that day. Other than that it is an absolutely meaningless day.


Understand the meaning of Hijrah
The Brunei Times

Dr Shayuthy Abdul Manas, a lecturer of Usuludin at Unissa, said that Hijrah is all about a change from bad to good and good to better. "Hijrah is a continuous process and occur throughout our lives therefore one should not focus to improve themselves on the first day of the 1st Muharram only."


What is the Hijrah?

Hijrah means migration. The Hijrah refers specifically to Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina, which occurred in 622 CE. What is rarely mentioned is that the First Hijrah was to Abyssinia (Ethopia). The Muslims who were being prosecuted in Mecca were given permission by Prophet Muhammad to migrate to Abyssinia. Those Muslims who migrated were pursued and it was asked of the Negus to force the return of the Muslims. After questioning the Muslims, the Negus gave protection to the Muslims for as long as they stayed.


History of Hijrah

After Muhammad had preached publicly for more than a decade, the opposition to him reached such a high pitch that, fearful for their safety, he sent some of his adherents to Ethiopia, where the Christian ruler extended protection to them, the memory of which has been cherished by Muslims ever since. But in Mecca the persecution worsened. Muhammad's followers were harassed, abused, and even tortured. At last, therefore, Muhammad sent seventy of his followers off to the northern town of Yathrib, which was later to be renamed Medina ("The City"). Later, in the early fall of 622, he learned of a plot to murder him and, with his closest friend, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, set off to join the emigrants.


Hijrah, the turning point in Islamic history
Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D., President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.

Hijrah, no doubt, kindled the light of hope in the hearts of the early Muslims who set a shinning example for all Muslims, in every generation, to emulate.

Hijrah, in essence, is a process of transfer to a better situation. It is not meant to find a comfortable place where one would relax and stop endeavour (attempt). Rather, it is a search for an environment more favourable to continuous and constructive effort. Immediately after reaching Madinah, the Prophet undertook an all-embracing process to establish a faithful and strong society. This is a significant aspect and important lesson to learn from Hijrah.

Hijrah is obligatory on Muslims if they are unable to practice their religion in the country they are living in or if they are facing serious persecution and find themselves unable to overcome them.