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17 September 2021

Safar: Month of Beginnings and Endings

Safa Faruqui
Safar: Month of Beginnings and Endings

On Friday the 18th of August 2023 we welcomed in Safar, the second month of the Islamic year. Following right after Al-Muharram, the Sacred Month of Allah (swt), we rarely speak about Safar because it is not a sacred or a blessed month. But there are many interesting facts and events to relate about Safar - and we've put together an article to share these with you!

Without further ado, here is everything you need to know about Safar:

1. The meaning of Safar

The word Safar can linguistically mean 'empty'. Scholars have therefore said that the month is named Safar because:

  • It was first named when it fell during the winter season and provisions in Makkah were scarce. So pilgrims and the inhabitants of Makkah left their houses 'empty' when they went out to gather food.
  • After the sacred month of Muharram, the Makkans would go out on expeditions which would leave their enemies' homes 'empty'.

Many Islamic months are named after weather conditions, but since we have a lunar calendar these do not apply to the actual month.

For example, Rabi al-Awwal means 'the first spring', but it can take place in any of the seasons, since it follows the phases of the moon rather than how the earth's position relates to the sun.

Similarly, Safar is no longer necessarily during winter or a food-gathering time - this was merely its historical meaning.

2. Its history before Islam

Before Islam, the Arabs used to speak of 'Safaran', meaning 'the two Safars'. They connected Muharram and Safar in this way. Just as Muharram was a sacred month, a time when the pilgrims returned home from Hajj, the Arabs used to connect Safar with the time of pilgrimage.

It was the Prophet (saw) who separated Muharram as 'the sacred month of Allah', leaving Safar as an unrelated month:

Therefore, Safar is neither one of the four sacred months, nor is it connected with Hajj.

Ibn Abbas (ra) said, 'The people (of the pre-Islamic period) used to think that to perform 'Umrah during the months of Hajj was one of the major sins on earth. They also used to consider the month of Safar as a forbidden (i.e. sacred) month and they used to say, "When the wounds of the camel's back heal up (after they return from Hajj) and the signs of those wounds vanish, and the month of Safar passes away - then 'Umrah is permissible for the one who wishes to perform it". On the morning of 4th Dhul-Hijjah, the Prophet (saw) and his companions reached Makkah, assuming Ihram for Hajj, and he ordered his companions to make their intentions of the Ihram for 'Umrah only (instead of Hajj). So they considered his order as something great and they were puzzled. They said, "O Allah's Messenger (saw)! What kind (of finishing) of Ihram is allowed?" The Prophet (saw) replied, "Finish the Ihram completely like a non-Muhrim (you are allowed everything)"'. [Bukhari]

In another narration, Ibn Abbas (ra) said, 'Then the Prophet and his companions came on the morning of 4th Dhul-Hijjah, reciting the Talbiyah for Hajj. He told them to make it 'Umrah and they found it too difficult to do that. They said, "O Messenger of Allah, to what degree should we exit Ihram?" He said, "Completely"'. [Nasa'i]

The above hadith shows us that the Prophet (saw) not only reminded the Sahabah (ra) about the original months Allah (swt) had created, he also ensured that they cut off pre-Islamic customs which were not from Islam. For example, they did not want to perform 'Umrah during the sacred months - which they believed included Safar - because they believed they were solely for Hajj. However, the Prophet (saw) performed 'Umrah with them in Dhul-Hijjah to reassure them that this was a permissible action. He also reminded them that Safar was not a sacred month.

3. The beginning of the Hijri calendar

You may know that the Islamic calendar began in the year of the Hijrah, when the Prophet (saw) and his followers emigrated to Madinah to establish the message of Islam. So, the first year they spent in Madinah was 1 AH, the second year was 2 AH and so on.

Many people associate Rabi al-Awwal with the Prophet's Hijrah, since this is when he (saw) and Abu Bakr (ra) left the cave of Thawr and began travelling to Madinah, arriving on 12th Rabi al-Awwal. However, they actually left their homes in Makkah during Safar!

On 27th Safar, a group of the Quraish stood outside the Prophet's house at night, intending to assassinate him to prevent him from leaving Makkah and spreading the message of Islam further. The Prophet (saw) told his cousin, Ali (ra), to sleep in his bed and cover himself with the Prophet's green garment, reassuring Ali (ra) that he would not be killed.

Then, Allah's Messenger (saw) came out of the house and cast a handful of dust at the assassins, moving through them while reciting, 'And We have put a barrier before them, and a barrier behind them, and We have covered them up, so that they cannot see'. [The Noble Qur'an, 36:9]

Miraculously, none of the assassins saw the Prophet (saw). He went to the house of Abu Bakr (ra) and they left hastily before the beginning of Fajr. Knowing the Quraish would expect them to take the road to Madinah from the north of Makkah, the Prophet (saw) decided to walk south towards Yemen instead. Then, he and Abu Bakr (ra) hid in the cave of Thawr for three nights while the Quraish searched for them.

They left the cave and began their journey to Madinah in Rabi al-Awwal, leaving the cave with a guide named Abdullah ibn Uraiqit. He had not yet embraced Islam, but Abu Bakr (ra) trusted him, and he led them through rarely used ways along the coastal route, taking them towards the city which would become the new home of Islam.

4. The beginning of the Prophet's illness

Many Muslims also associate Rabi al-Awwal with the Prophet's return to Allah, since he (saw) passed away on 12th Rabi al-Awwal. However, he was saying farewell to the Muslims for at least three months before this, beginning with the Farewell Sermon he made during Hajj in 10 AH. And he (saw) first fell ill during the month of Safar.

During the early days of Safar in 11 AH, the Prophet (saw) went out to Uhud and prayed for the martyrs. This was around two months after the Farewell Pilgrimage - it seemed like the Prophet (saw) was saying farewell to both the dead and the living.

After his prayer for the martyrs, he ascended the pulpit and said, 'I am to precede you and I have been made witness upon you. By Allah, you will meet me at the Haud (Basin) very soon. I have been given the keys of the treasures of the earth, or they keys of the earth. By Allah, I do not fear for you that you will turn polytheists after me. But I do fear that you will compete with each other in acquiring worldly riches'. [Bukhari]

Later that month, the Prophet (saw) visited the Al-Baqi cemetery at night and made du'a that Allah would forgive the martyrs of Islam. He said, 'Peace be upon you, O inhabitants of the grave! The morning that dawns upon you is more relieving than that which dawns upon the living…' He comforted them by saying, 'We are also coming to you'. [The Sealed Nectar]

On Monday 29th Safar in 11 AH, the Prophet (saw) fell ill. He was coming back from funeral rites in Al-Baqi when his temperature rose so high that its heat could be felt over his headband. Despite his sickness, he continued to lead the Muslims in prayer for eleven days.

The Prophet (saw) returned to Allah on 12th Rabi al-Awwal.

5. Month of beginnings and endings

As we can see, despite Safar not being blessed or sacred, there are many events in this month worthy of reflection and commemoration.

Firstly, it is the month in which Allah protected the Prophet (saw) from assassination, so we can reflect upon His incomparable power and care.

Secondly, it is when the Prophet (saw) left his beloved city to begin an incredible community in Madinah, so we can reflect upon his own dedication to Islam and affection for his Ummah.

Finally, Safar is when Allah's Messenger (saw) and the best of creation first experienced the illness which would eventually take him to Allah. So it is a time for us to revisit the last days of the Seerah and, once again, remember his many blessed farewells to the Ummah.

This Safar, let us remember to thank Allah for His favour upon us. Let us re-visit the significant 'beginnings and endings' of the Seerah by learning more about these events and reflecting upon them. Finally, let us take the opportunity to increase our salawat upon the Prophet (saw), the best of creation, who steadfastly carried the message of Islam despite all hardships.

May Allah send countless blessings upon him and his family, amin!


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