THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR
"They ask thee concerning the
New Moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs
of) men and for pilgrimage..."
<Qur'an, The Cow 2:189>
Muslims measure their year by the cycles of the moon rather than the sun making the Muslim lunar year eleven days shorter than the Christian solar (Gregorian) year. Muslims do not adjust their year by adding an extra month, as the Jews do to keep their lunar calendar in synch with the seasons. Hence the months of the Muslim year do not relate to the seasons which are fundamentally related to the solar cycle. This means that important Muslim festivals, which always fall in the same Hijri month, may occur in different seasons. For example, the Hajj and Ramadan can take place in the summer as well as the winter. It is only over a 33-year cycle that lunar months take a complete turn and fall during the same season.
The Islamic Calendar was first introduced in 638 CE by the close companion of the Prophet and the second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (592-644 CE) (RA), in an attempt to rationalise the various, and at times conflicting, dating systems used during his time. `Umar (R.A) consulted with his advisors on the starting date of the new Muslim chronology. It was finally agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the Hijrah. The Hijrah, which chronicles the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah in September 622 CE, is the central historical event of early Islam, and led to the foundation of the first Muslim city-state, a turning point in Islamic and world history. The actual starting date for the Calendar was chosen (on the basis of purely lunar years, counting backwards) to be the first day of the first month (1 Muharram) of the year of the Hijrah. The Islamic (Hijri) calendar (with dates that fall within the Muslim Era) is usually abbreviated A.H. in Western languages from the latinized _Anno Hegirae_. Muharram 1, 1 A.H. corresponds to July 16, 622 CE.
The significance of the Hijrah as the starting of the Islamic calendar is particurlarly noteworthy as was pointed out, through quoting Nadvi, in Mohammad Ilyas' book ``A Modern Guide to Astronomical Calculations of Islamic Calendar, Times & Qibla,'' who wrote:
``It is indeed, a unique occasion to ponder that the Islamic Era did not start with the victories of Islamic wars, nor with the birth or death of the prophet (PBUH), nor with the Revelation itself. It starts with Hijra, or the sacrifice for the cause of Truth and for the preservation of the Revelation. It was a divinely inspired selection. God wanted to teach man that struggle between Truth and Evil is eternal. The Islamic year reminds Muslims every year not of the pomp and glory of Islam but of its sacrifice and prepares them to do the same.''
"The number of months in the
sight of God is twelve (in a year) - so ordained by Him the day He created the
heavens and the earth; of them four are sacred: that is the straight usage....
<Qur'an, Repentance 9:36>
The Islamic (Hijri) year consists of twelve (purely lunar) months:
(3) Rabi al-Awwal
(4) Rabi al-Thani
(5) Jumada al-Awal
(6) Jumada al-Thani
(11) Dhu al-Qa`dah
(12) Dhu al-Hijjah
For religious reasons, the beginning of a Hijri month is marked not by the start of a new moon, but by a visual sighting of the crescent moon at a given locale with the Islamic months beginning at sunset on the day of sighting. Even though visual sighting is necessary to determine the start of a month, it is useful to accurately predict when a crescent is likely to be visible in order to produce lunar calendars in advance. Although it is possible to calculate the position of the moon in the sky with high precision, it is often difficult to predict if a crescent will be visible from a particular location. Visibility depends on a large number of factors such as weather conditions, the altitude of the moon at sunset and its closeness, atmospheric pollution, the quality of the eyesight of the observer etc. and there remains a measure of uncertainty associated with all criteria developed thus far. From the Fiqhi (Islamic jurisprudence) standpoint, one may begin the fast in Ramadan, for example, based on "local" sighting (IKHTILAF AL-MATALE') or based on sighting anywhere in the Muslim World (ITTEHAD AL-MATALE'). Although different, both of these positions are valid Fiqhi positions.
Ramadan is revered as the most blessed month of the year, the month in which the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad (pbuh), God's final Prophet on earth. It is a time of grace and spiritual energy, when the acts of worship practiced throughout the year suddenly take on new and urgent meaning. Towards the close of this month comes the Night of Power, Laylat al-Qadr, which, as the Quran relates, "is better than a thousand months." The Prophet stressed that it is a time for spiritual effort and breakthrough; and according to tradition, it was the night when God proclaimed man's status as Hid deputy on earth, thereby raising him above all other creatures: it is the moment when man can most easily become himself.
Because the Muslim calendar is derived from the phases of the moon, the Fasting month falls a little earlier each year. The effect of this is to balance out the discrepancy between Fasting in the northern and the southern hemispheres. It is often thought that in certain parts of the globe the fast will be easier than in others, for the length of the day, as well as its temperature, varies from season to season and from land to land. But Ramadan, creeping forward at a rate of about ten days in each solar year, ensures that wherever one may be on the planet, the fast will fall sometimes in winter and sometimes in summer. Similarly although in high latitudes the days can be long, there is no heat. A balance is thus obtained, so that Fasting is similarly efficacious all over the world. And where the sun rises and sets only once a year (there is an ancient Muslim community in Finland, for example), they simply adhere to the timetable of the nearest major town south of the Arctic Circle.
To learn about the significance of Fasting in the Muslim's life click here.
The most important dates in the Islamic (Hijri) year are:
New Year - first day of the first month of
the Islamic Calendar
al-Ashura: Muslims are recommended to fast
on this day, and a day, either directly before, or
after it. It commemorates the crossing of Moses
through the Red Sea, and thus is a day of fast for
Jews as well. It also commemorates the martyrdom
of Imam Hussein, the Grandson of the Prophet (PBUH).
|12 Rabi' al-Awal||Milad
al-Nabi: Signifies the Birth date of the Prophet
(PBUH), according to consensus, and is thus a day
of celebration for many Muslims
al Isra & Miraj: The night of the Ascent of the
Prophet (PBUH) and his journey to Jerusalem.
|15 Sha'ban||Lailat al Bara'a: The birth date of the 12th Shia Imam|
month of fasting where believers abstain from
food, drink, tobacco and sexual relations from
sunrise to sunset. Technically, the fast begins each
day at dawn, which for Muslims comes nearly two
hours before sunrise. Sunrise marks the end of the
first period of prayer. Dawn is reckoned as the time
when the sun's first light is seen on the horizon, or,
according to a Hadith, when a white cord may be
distinguished from a black cord. Traditionally, the
fast is broken with a date (according to the practice
of the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]), some milk and
water and then a bowl of soup etc. Ramadan is not
a holiday, but work schedules may be disrupted or
altered. It is known as Hari Rayah in Asia.
al-Qadr: The Night of Power generally
believed to be on the 27th of Ramadan or on one of
the odd nights in the last 10 days of Ramadan.
al-Fitr: signifies the end of Ramadan and usually
involves a feast
|8-10 Dhu al-Hijjah||Dhu
al-Hijjah denotes the last month of the Islamic
calendar, whereas the days noted signify the Hajj
Pilgrimage to Makkah
|10 Dhu al-Hijjah||Eid
al Adha: The festival of the sacrifice which
commemorates Prophet Ibrahim's obedience to God
in wanting to sacrifice his steadfast son.
To use a Gregorian Hijri Date converter click here.