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Please explain how the Islamic Calendar came into existence. What did the earlier Muslims follow? How were the months named, and what is the significance of each name?

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Answer

ISLAMIC CALENDAR – HISTORY AND MOTIVATION

The Islamic Calendar, which is based purely on lunar cycles, was first
introduced in 638 CE by the companions of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi
wasallam, and the second Khalifah, Umar ibnul Khattab (592-644 CE).

He did it in an attempt to rationalize the various, at times conflicting,
dating systems used during his time. Umar consulted with his advisors from
the companions on the starting date of the new Muslim calendar. It was
finally agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic
calendar was the Hijrah the incident of the immigration of the Muslims from
Makkah to Madinah. It is a central historical event of early Islam that 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) came to be abbreviated
by some as AH in Western languages from the latinized Anno Hegirae, “in the
year of the Hegira”. Muharram 1, 1 AH therefore corresponds to July 16, 622
CE.

The Islamic year consists of twelve (purely lunar) months. They are:
Muharram; Safar; Rabi’ul Awwal; Rabi’uth Thani; Jumada al-Awwal; Jumada
ath-Thani; Rajab; Sha’ban; Ramadhan; Shawwal; Thul Qi’dah; and THUL HIJJAH.
Some of the most important dates in the Islamic year are: 1 Muharram
(Islamic new year); 1 Ramadhan (first day of fasting); 1 Shawwal (Eidul
Fitr); 8-10 Thul Hijjah (the Hajj to Makkah); and 10 Thul Hijjah (Eidul
Adh-ha).

To Muslims, the Hijri calendar is more than a sentimental system of time
reckoning, and dating important religious events. Many of the marital and
spousal relationship rulings of the women are directly connected to the
lunar (Islamic) months. The Hijri calendar, therefore, has a much deeper
religious and historical significance in the Muslim life. Muhammad Ilyas in
his book, “A Modem Guide to Astronomical Calculations of Islamic Calendar,
Times & Qiblah,” quoted Abul Hassan an-Nadwi who wrote, “It (the advent of
the 15th Islamic century) 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, sallallahu alayhi wasallam, 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. Allah wanted to teach Man that the struggle between Truth and
Evil is eternal. The Islamic year reminds Muslims not of the pomp and glory
of Islam but of its sacrifice, and prepares them to do the same.” From a
historical angle, Ilyas quoted Samiullah who wrote, “All the events of
Islamic history, especially those that took place during the life of the
Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wasallam, and afterwards are quoted in the Hijra
calendar era. But our calculations in the Gregorian calendar keep us away
from those events and happenings, which are pregnant of admonitory lessons
and guiding instructions. …And this chronological study is possible only
by adopting the Hijri calendar to indicate the year and the lunar month in
line with our cherished traditions.”

WHY USE THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR?
Muslims are obliged to use the Islamic calendar because all of the rulings
needing time tracking are related to it. They should use a calendar with 12
lunar months without intercalation as evident from the following verses of
the Qur’an, “They ask you about the New Moons, say they are but signs to
mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men and for Hajj.” [11:189]

“The number of months in the sight of Allah 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 so wrong not yourselves therein, and
fight the pagans.” [9:36]

“Verily the transposing (of a prohibited month) is an addition to unbelief:
the non-believers are led to wrong thereby: for they make it lawful one
year, and forbidden another year, of months forbidden by Allah and make such
forbidden ones lawful. The evil of their course seems pleasing to them. But
Allah guides not those who reject Faith.” [9:37]

Since the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, the Muslim year is shorter than
the Gregorian year by about 11 days. Also, the months of the Islamic year
are not related to seasons which are fundamentally determined by the solar
cycle. This means that important Muslim festivals, which always fall in the
same lunar month, will occur in different seasons. For example, the Hajj and
Ramadhan’s fasting 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.

For religious reasons, the beginning of a lunar month is marked not by the
birth of a new moon, but by a physical (i.e. an actual human) sighting of
the crescent moon at a given locale. From the Fiqh standpoint, one may begin
the fast in Ramadhan, for example, based on a “local” sighting. This also
known as Ikhtilaful Matali’ (separate horizons) or the recognition that
different part of the world may have different (unrelated) sightings of the
moon as in the case when the two places do not share days or nights. Or
based on a “global” sighting anywhere in the world. This is the case known
as Ittihadul Matali’ (single horizon) where one sighting of the new moon is
considered to be valid for beginning the month for all parts of the world.
Although different, both of these positions are valid Fiqh positions.

Astronomically, some data are definitive and conclusive (i.e., the birth of
the new moon). However, determining the visibility of the crescent is not as
definitive or as conclusive; rather it is dependent upon several factors,
mostly optical in nature. Therefore, all Islamic calendars are to be updated
every month to insure the exact beginning of each month. This should not
present difficulties in using the calendar as a planning tool. Muslims have
devised some methods to calculate the approximate beginning of the months
(i.e., predicting the sightability of the new moon at the different parts of
the world) and in turn used them to produce calendars.

Al-Jumu’ah Vol.11 Issue1

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