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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), and so cycles through the seasons. 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.
|This is the first "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar
|the first spring
|the last spring
|the first of parched land
|the last of parched land
|This is the second "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar
|This is the month in which the ritual of fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, is carried out
|the one of truce/sitting
|This is the third "sacred" month in the Islamic lunar calendar
|the one of pilgrimage
|This is the month in which the ritual of Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is carried out
|Muslims are encouraged to fast on Mondays, as it is the day that Muhammad is said to have been born on
|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
|This is the equivalent of the Hebrew Sabbath, though hosts none of the accompanying rituals or practices
There is some academic debate regarding the exact nature of the calendars used by the pre-Islamic pagan Arabs and there is a lack of epigraphic (inscription) evidence for central Arabia in particular, but it is known that they used a number of calendars in parallel, both lunar and lunisolar (in the latter, a leap month is inserted every few years). The Quran itself refers to 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. Some scholars suggest that Nasi' refers to the practice whereby 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. Whatever the case, this too was prohibited by the Islamic lunar calendar.
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:
- Use astronomical calculations exclusively:
- calculate the birth of the moon that lasts for any period whatsoever, no matter how brief
- calculate the birth of the moon that lasts for at least two minutes after sunset
- calculate the birth of the moon that lasts for at least thirty minutes after sunset
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- Site the moon only locally using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's time zone
- Site the moon only locally using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's country
- Site the moon only locally without using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's time zone
- Site the moon only locally without using optical aids while viewing the sky from anywhere within one's country
- 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)
The Qur'an refers to the month of Ramadan:
The Qur'an states that there are twelve months, four of them are sacred:
The Qur'an describes the "sacred" months (shar al-haram, sometimes translated as the "holy" or "prohibited" - that is, sanctified - months):
The Qur'an references the day of al-Jumu'ah (Friday) as it mentions the Friday Prayer:
This hadith identifies the four months which are "sacred":
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
Related to moon-sighting:
- Syed Khalid Shaukat - What is Islamic Calendar - MissionIslam
- Introduction to Calendars. United States Naval Observatory. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
- Calendars by L. E. Doggett. Section 2.
- The international standard for the representation of dates and times, ISO 8601, uses the Gregorian calendar. Section 3.2.1.
- Ibrahim Zein and Ahmwed el-Wakil (2021) On the Origins of the Hijrī Calendar: A Multi-Faceted Perspective Based on the Covenants of the Prophet and Specific Date Verification, Religions, 12(1), 42, doi:10.3390/rel12010042
- The Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd edition, Index, p. 441.
- Muḥammad al-Khuḍarī Bayk (1935). Muḥāḍarāt tārīkh al-Umam al-Islāmiyya. 2 (4th ed.). Al-maktaba al-tijāriyya. pp. 59–60.
- Hideyuki Ioh The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca Brill.com, 2014
- 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.
- Bonner, Michael (2011). "Time has come full circle": Markets, fairs, and the calendar in Arabia before Islam" in Cook, Ahmed, Sadeghi, Behnam, Bonner, et al. The Islamic scholarly tradition : studies in history, law, and thought in honor of Professor Michael Allan Cook. Leiden; Boston: Brill