Islamic Lunar Calendar

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Prophet Muhammad's hijra ("flight" or "migration") from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD marks the beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar (also known as the Hijri or Arabic Calendar). Thus, the Islamic calendar dates have the suffix AH (After Hijra). The Islamic lunar year (354 or 355 days) is between 10 and 12 days shorter than the "Western" or "Christian" Gregorian solar year (365 or 366 days)[1], and so cycles through the seasons.[2][3][4] The Islamic calendar is used in conjunction with the Gregorian calendar in some parts of the Muslim world, and is almost always referenced in relation to Islamic rituals (like the Hajj) and festivals (like Eid al-Adha), as it is with the Islamic calendar that these event correlate.

Calendar

Islamic Lunar Months
No. Name Arabic Meaning Note
1 Muḥarram ٱلْمُحَرَّم forbidden This is the first "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar
2 Ṣafar صَفَر void
3 Rabī‘ al-awwal رَبِيع ٱلْأَوَّل the first spring
4 Rabī‘ ath-ākhar رَبِيع ٱلْآخَر the second spring
5 Jumādá al-ūlá جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْأُولَىٰ the first of parched land
6 Jumādá al-ākhirah جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْآخِرَة the second of parched land
7 Rajab رَجَب respect, honour This is the second "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar
8 Sha‘bān شَعْبَان scattered
9 Ramaḍān رَمَضَان burning heat This is the month in which the ritual of fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, is carried out
10 Shawwāl شَوَّال raised
11 Dhū al-Qa‘dah ذُو ٱلْقَعْدَة the one of truce/sitting This is the third "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar
12 Dhū al-Ḥijjah ذُو ٱلْحِجَّة the one of pilgrimage This is the month in which the ritual of Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is carried out


This is the fourth "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar


Islamic Week Days
No. Name Arabic Meaning Gregorian Equivilant Note
1 al-ʾAḥad ٱلْأَحَد‎ the one Sunday
2 al-ʾIthnayn ٱلْإِثْنَيْن‎ the second Monday Muslims are encouraged to fast on Mondays, as it is the day that Muhammad is said to have been born on
3 ath-Thulāthāʾ ٱلثُّلَاثَاء‎ the third Tuesday
4 al-ʾArbiʿāʾ ٱلْخَمِيس‎ the fourth Wednesday
5 al-Khamīs ٱلْخَمِيس‎ the fifth Thursday
6 al-Jumʿah ٱلْجُمْعَة‎ the gathering Friday This is the day on which Muslim men are required (fard) to participate in a congregational prayer, generally referred to as the Jumu'ah prayer
7 as-Sabt ٱلسَّبْت‎ the rest Saturday This is the equivalent of the Hebrew Sabbath, though hosts none of the accompanying rituals or practices

Origins

The Islamic lunar calendar is the same calendar that was used by the pre-Islamic pagan Arabs, as it refers to the lunar months by the same names and sanctifies the very four of the twelve months that were considered sacred by Arabs in the pre-Islamic period.

However, there were some changes made: whereas the pre-Islamic Arabs allowed a practice Nasi' whereby they would either choose a different set of four months to deem sacred or move about holy festivals to a more appropriate seasons (since the lunar calendar cycles through the seasons), the Islamic calendar system prohibited this practice.[5][6] Some scholars suggest that Nasi' was in fact a practice where the pre-Islamic Arabs used to occasionally add an "intercalary" month in order to move religious festivals into more lucrative business seasons, rather than simply shifting the date of these festivals, though this is uncertain.[7][8] Whatever the case, this too was prohibited by the Islamic lunar calendar.

Challenges

Moon sighting

One of the greatest sources of consternation among the international Muslim community is the lack of clarity in Islamic scriptures on how the new moon, indicating the start of the new lunar month, is to be sighted. With as many as eleven different ways to evidence the "birth" of the new moon (ranging from visual, local sighting-with-the-naked-eye to astronomical calculations), the various Islamic committees and Muslim-majority nations worldwide are essentially never able to agree on a single method.

While this is otherwise innocuous, since effectively all Muslim institutions schedule events using the standardized Gregorian calendar, the ambiguity of the Islamic calendar results in immense tension when it comes to the dating of religious festivals and calendar-based ritual activity. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see Muslim communities celebrate Eid or begin Ramadan prayers and fasting on as many as three separate days.

One breakdown of the various methods of sighting the moon to determine the start of an Islamic month is as follows:

  1. Use astronomical calculations exclusively:
    1. calculate the birth of the moon that lasts for any period whatsoever, no matter how brief
    2. calculate the birth of the moon that lasts for at least two minutes after sunset
    3. calculate the birth of the moon that lasts for at least thirty minutes after sunset
  2. Site the moon visually all over the globe (that is, with the agreement of a majority worldwide) while allowing calculations to dis-confirm these sightings if the calculations suggest the moon has not been born yet
  3. Site the moon visually all over the globe (that is, with the agreement of a majority worldwide) while disregarding calculations that disagree with these sightings
  4. Site the moon visually all over the globe while disregarding calculations that disagree with these sightings, while referencing only those global sightings that occur to one's east and in one's immediate vicinity (that is, not considering the sightings - or lack thereof - of communities westward of one's locale)
  5. Site the moon only locally using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's time zone
  6. Site the moon only locally using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's country
  7. Site the moon only locally without using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's time zone
  8. Site the moon only locally without using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's country
  9. Rely on the moon sighting using any of the above techniques from Mecca and Medina, or (taking a practical turn) just comply with the judgement of the Saudi Arabian government in general (so as to avoid global contestation)

Relevant quotations

Qur'an

The Qur'an refers to the month of Ramadan:

The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.

The Qur'an states that there are twelve months, four of them are sacred:

Lo! the number of the months with Allah is twelve months by Allah's ordinance in the day that He created the heavens and the earth. Four of them are sacred: that is the right religion. So wrong not yourselves in them. And wage war on all of the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you. And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).

The Qur'an describes the "sacred" months (shar al-haram, sometimes translated as the "holy" or "prohibited" - that is, sanctified - months):

A sacred month is for a sacred month; these sacrednesses are in retaliation. Whosoever then offereth violence unto you, Offer violence unto him the like of his violence unto you, and fear Allah, and know that Allah is with the God-fearing.
They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso becometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter. Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide therein.
O ye who believe! Profane not Allah's monuments nor the Sacred Month nor the offerings nor the garlands, nor those repairing to the Sacred House, seeking the grace and pleasure of their Lord. But when ye have left the sacred territory, then go hunting (if ye will). And let not your hatred of a folk who (once) stopped your going to the inviolable place of worship seduce you to transgress; but help ye one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression, but keep your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is severe in punishment.
Allah hath appointed the Ka'bah, the Sacred House, a standard for mankind, and the Sacred Month and the offerings and the garlands. That is so that ye may know that Allah knoweth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and that Allah is Knower of all things.

The Qur'an references the day of al-Jumu'ah (Friday) as it mentions the Friday Prayer:

O ye who believe! When the call is heard for the prayer of the day of congregation, haste unto remembrance of Allah and leave your trading. That is better for you if ye did but know.

Hadith

This hadith identifies the four months which are "sacred":

Narrated Abu Bakr: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Time has come back to its original state which it had when Allah created the Heavens and the Earth; the year is twelve months, four of which are sacred. Three of them are in succession; Dhul-Qa'da, Dhul-Hijja and Al-Muharram, and (the fourth being) Rajab Mudar (named after the tribe of Mudar as they used to respect this month) which stands between Jumad (ath-thani) and Sha'ban."

This hadith identifies Monday as the day of Muhammad's birth and prophet-hood, all in the context of why it is important to fast on Mondays

Abu Qatada al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was asked about his fasting. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) felt annoyed. Thereupon 'Umar (Allah be pleased with him) said: We are pleased with Allah as the Lord, with Islam as our Code of Life, with Muhammad as the Messenger and with our pledge (to you for willing and cheerful submission) as a (sacred) commitment. He was then asked about perpetual fasting, whereupon he said: He neither fasted nor did he break it, or he did not fast and he did not break it. He was then asked about fasting for two days and breaking one day. He (the Holy Prophet) said: And who has strength enough to do it? He was asked about fasting for a day and breaking for two days, whereupon he said: May Allah bestow upon us strength to do it. He was then asked about fasting for a day and breaking on the other, whereupon he said: That is the fasting of my brother David (peace be upon him). He was then asked about fasting on Monday, whereupon he said: It was the day on which I was born. on which I was commissioned with prophethood or revelation was sent to me, (and he further) said: Three days' fasting every month and of the whole of Ramadan every year is a perpetual fast. He was asked about fasting on the day of 'Arafa (9th of Dhu'I-Hijja), whereupon he said: It expiates the sins of the preceding year and the coming year. He was asked about fasting on the day of 'Ashura (10th of Muharram), whereupon be said: It expiates the sins of the preceding year. (Imam Muslim said that in this hadith there is a) narration of Imam Shu'ba that he was asked about fasting on Monday and Thursday, but we (Imam Muslim) did not mention Thursday for we found it as an error (in reporting).

Related to moon-sighting:

Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with both of them) reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying in connection with Ramadan: Do not fast till you see the new moon, and do not break fast till you see it; but if the weather is cloudy calculate about it.
Ibn Umar reported that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) made a mention of Ramadan and he with the gesture of his hand said: The month is thus and thus. (He then withdrew his thumb at the third time). He then said: Fast when you see it, and break your fast when you see it, and if the weather is cloudy calculate it (the months of Sha'ban and Shawwal) as thirty days.
This hadith is narrated on the authority of 'Ubaidullah with the same chain of transmitters, and he said: If (the sky) is cloudy for you, then calculate thirty days (for the month of Ramadan).
'Ubaidullah narrated on the authority of the same chain of transmitters that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) made a mention of Ramadan and said: The month may consist of twenty-nine days, and it may be thus, thus and thus, and (he further) said: Calculate it, but he did not say thirty.
Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with both of them) reported Allah's Apostle as saying: We are an unlettered people who can neither write nor count. The month is thus, and thus. folding his thumb when he said it the third time.
Kuraib reported that Umm Fadl, daughter of Harith, sent him (Fadl, i.e. her son) to Mu'awiya in Syria. I (Fadl) arrived in Syria, and did the needful for her. It was there in Syria that the month of Ramadan commenced. I saw the new moon (of Ramadan) on Friday. I then came back to Medina at the end of the month. Abdullah b. 'Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) asked me (about the new moon of Ramadan) and said: When did you see it? I said: We saw it on the night of Friday. He said: (Did) you see it yourself? I said: Yes, and the people also saw it and they fasted and Mu'awiya also fasted, whereupon he said: But we saw it on Saturday night. So we will continue to fast till we complete thirty (fasts) or we see it (the new moon of Shawwal). I said: Is the sighting of the moon by Mu'awiya not valid for you? He said: No; this is how the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has commanded us. Yahya b. Yahya was in doubt (whether the word used in the narration by Kuraib) was Naktafi or Taktafi.
Abu'l-Bakhtari reported: We went out to perform Umra and when we encamped in the valley of Nakhla, we tried to see the new moon. Some of the people said: It was three nights old, and others (said) that it was two nights old. We then met Ibn 'Abbas and told him we had seen the new moon, but that some of the people said it was three nights old and others that it was two nights old. He asked on which night we had seen it; and when we told him we had seen it on such and such night, he said the Prophet of Allah (ﷺ) had said: Verily Allah deferred it till the time it is seen, so it is to be reckoned from the night you saw it.
Hakam b. al-'Araj reported: I went to Ibn 'Abbas (Allah be Pleased with both of them) and he was reclining using his mantle as a pillow near the fountain of Zamzam. I said to him: Tell me about fasting on Ashura. He said: When you see the new moon of Muharram then count the (days) and observe fast on the 9th. I said to him: Is it how the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) observed the fast? He said: Yes.
Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported: We were talking about Lailat-ul-Qadr in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and he said: He who amongst you remembers (the night) when the moon arose and it was like a piece of plate (at the fag end of the month in a state of waning).
Anas b. Malik reported: We were along with Umar between Mecca and Medina that we began to look for the new moon. And I was a man with sharp eye- sight, so I could see it, but none except me saw it. I began to say to 'Umar: Don't you see it? But he would not see it. Thereupon Umar said: I would soon be able to see it (when it will shine more brightly). I lay upon bed. He then made a mention of the people of Badr to us and said: Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) showed us one day before (the actual battle) the place of death of the people (participating) in (the Battle) of Badr and he was saying: This would be the place of death of so and so tomorrow, if Allah wills. Umar said: By Him Who sent him with truth, they did not miss the places (of their death) which Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) had pointed for them. Then they were all thrown in a well one after another. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) then went to them and said: O, so and so, the son of so and so; O so and so, the son of so and so, have you found correct what Allah and His Messenger had promised you? I have, however, found absolutely true what Allah had promised with me. Umar said: Allah's Messenger, how are you talking with the bodies without soul in them. Thereupon he said: You cannot hear more distinctly than (their hearing) of what I say, but with this exception that they have not power to make any reply.

See Also

References

  1. Syed Khalid Shaukat - What is Islamic Calendar - MissionIslam
  2. Introduction to Calendars. United States Naval Observatory. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  3. Calendars by L. E. Doggett. Section 2.
  4. The international standard for the representation of dates and times, ISO 8601, uses the Gregorian calendar. Section 3.2.1.
  5. The Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, Index, p. 441.
  6. Muḥammad al-Khuḍarī Bayk (1935). Muḥāḍarāt tārīkh al-Umam al-Islāmiyya. 2 (4th ed.). Al-maktaba al-tijāriyya. pp. 59–60.
  7. al-Biruni (tr. C. Edward Sachau (1879). "Intercalation of the Ancient Arabs", The Chronology of Ancient Nations. London: William H. Allen, 1000/1879. pp. 13–14, 73–74.
  8. Bonner 2011, page 21.