Why The Islamic Calendar Matters More Than You Think

Why The Islamic Calendar Matters More Than You Think

In the 1950s, the United Nations received a proposal for the adoption of a uniform World Calendar. The World Calendar would be a 12-month calendar with two x 24 hour-waiting days (called “World Days”) to ensure the calendar starts on the same day each year, and hence the days of the week would never shift on any particular calendar day. Supporters of the World Calendar argued that this calendar would be accurate, elegant and as their tag line said, “Shouldn’t our calendars be as simple as the clock?”

At the outset, this seemed like a harmless proposal that would improve coordination and planning in modern society. You won’t have to print new calendars each year. And the school year and other holidays can be fixed on the exact same date each year. However, a more critical review of the proposal would make you realize that the World Calendar (intentionally or unintentionally) would impose homogeneity across cultures feeding global commercial interests that wanted to align consumer behaviors to a single Western Christian calendar.

Thankfully, Muslim nations and other religious groups opposed this proposal, which saw that the 2 x 24-hour World Days would disrupt the 7-day week cycle, thus disrupting Jumuah and other weekly religious holidays. The U.N. dropped the proposal in 1955. 

The above is a cautionary tale of the power and importance of calendars in driving economic, political, and social interest. In this article, I want to share why calendars are important, why the Islamic lunar calendar matters (beyond calculating Ramadan, Eid, and Hajj), and how to align your personal and professional life to the Islamic calendar.

We stand to lose much when we neglect the powerful Hijri calendar that’s aligned with Divine Order. We need to take responsibility to revive it now

The Blessing of Calendars

For centuries, humans have observed the succession of days and nights, the waxing and waning of the moon, the movement of the sun, and the rhythm of seasons, and they used these cycles to measure time and organize their central activities around them (particularly for agriculture and trade). The Quran highlights this as a sign of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His Divine Order for people to ponder.

هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاءً وَالْقَمَرَ نُورًا وَقَدَّرَهُ مَنَازِلَ لِتَعْلَمُوا عَدَدَ السِّنِينَ وَالْحِسَابَ ۚ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ ذَٰلِكَ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ ۚ يُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ

“It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light and determined for it phases – that you may know the number of years and account [of time]. Allah has not created this except in truth. He details the signs for a people who know.” [Quran 10:5]

Beyond aligning with the natural Divine order, humans developed calendar systems mainly for economic, political, and religious reasons. It provides a rhythm and pattern for societies to follow in daily life.

Today, the Gregorian calendar is the predominant calendar used globally. However, we should not forget that for fifteen centuries, the Muslim world had an equal powerful time system that was the primary calendar for society from Indonesia to Spain.

Although Muslims worldwide still use the Islamic calendar, however, it’s been deregulated as a secondary calendar that we only refer to when we want to know when is Ramadan, Eid, and Hajj.

My argument in this article is that we stand to lose much when we don’t make the Islamic calendar the primary calendar to organize our lives, and we need to take responsibility for the revival of this calendar.

The Islamic Calendar: Restoring Divine Order

إِنَّ عِدَّةَ الشُّهُورِ عِندَ اللَّهِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا فِي كِتَابِ اللَّهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ ۚ فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا فِيهِنَّ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ وَقَاتِلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ كَافَّةً كَمَا يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ كَافَّةً ۚ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them. And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively. And know that Allah is with the righteous [who fear Him]. [Quran 9:36]

Before Islam, Pagan Arabs used a lunisolar calendar system to calculate their month and years. The months were calculated according to the lunar cycle; however, they would add 10-11 days to the lunar calendar to align with the solar calendar. Hence, the pre-Islamic Arabian calendar started and ended in the fall of each year.

The pre-Islamic Arabic months’ names are the same as the one we use in the Islamic calendar, and some scholars note that the Arabs inherited this calendar system from Prophet Abraham 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and his son Prophet Ismaeel 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) when they settled in Arabia. The proof for this is that the Arabs had the same four sacred months in their calendar as those in the Islamic calendar with very similar rituals, e.g., Hajj would be in Dhul-Hijja, and fighting was prohibited during the sacred months.

However, the Pagan Arabs manipulated these 12 months and each sacred month’s position to align with business and political interests. This manipulation of the months of the year was what Islam referred to as Al-Nasi’ (or in English intercalation) and was forbidden in the Quran. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Quran:

إِنَّمَا النَّسِيءُ زِيَادَةٌ فِي الْكُفْرِ ۖ يُضَلُّ بِهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يُحِلُّونَهُ عَامًا وَيُحَرِّمُونَهُ عَامًا لِّيُوَاطِئُوا عِدَّةَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ فَيُحِلُّوا مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ ۚ زُيِّنَ لَهُمْ سُوءُ أَعْمَالِهِمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ

“Indeed, the (nasi’) – postponing [of restriction within sacred months]- is an increase in disbelief by which those who have disbelieved are led [further] astray. They make it lawful one year and unlawful another year to correspond to the number made unlawful by Allah and [thus] make lawful what Allah has made unlawful. Made pleasing to them is the evil of their deeds, and Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.” [Quran 9: 37]

According to Tafseer Maududi:  “The pagan Arabs practiced nasi’ in two ways:

  1. Whenever it suited them, they would declare a sacred month to be an ordinary month in which fighting, robbery, and murder in retaliation were lawful for them. Then they would declare an ordinary month to be a sacred month in order to make up for the missed sacred month.
  2. The other way of nasi’ was the addition of a month in order to harmonize the lunar with the solar year so that the Hajj would always fall in the same season and they would be saved from the inconvenience of the shifting Hajj seasons that are experienced by its observance according to the lunar year.”

When Islam came, it inherited the Arabic calendar; however, it purified it from the above pagan practices. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in his final Hajj, announced the end of “playing” with time through (nasi’) intercalation and adopted a strictly lunar calendar (disconnected from the solar calendar) that we still use today. Through his sermon, it became clear that the dates of Hajj have occurred exactly at their natural and proper time after a long period of circulation, and that this will not change from that time onwards.

The practice of nasi’ was considered a rebellion against Divine Law and Order – trying to manipulate sacred months or shifting Hajj to suit economic interests. In essence, just like Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) restored the sanctity of the Ka’aba to its original purpose as a House of Worship for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), he restored the Islamic calendar to its Divine purpose reconnecting it to the lunar cycle and the perfect balance of the cosmic rhythm.

الشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ بِحُسْبَانٍ

“The sun and the moon [move] by precise calculation,” [Quran 55:5]

خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ بِالْحَقِّ ۖ يُكَوِّرُ اللَّيْلَ عَلَى النَّهَارِ وَيُكَوِّرُ النَّهَارَ عَلَى اللَّيْلِ ۖ وَسَخَّرَ الشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ ۖ كُلٌّ يَجْرِي لِأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ۗ أَلَا هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفَّارُ “

He created the heavens and earth for a true purpose; He wraps the night around the day and the day around the night; He has subjected the sun and moon to run their courses for an appointed time; He is truly the Mighty, the Forgiving.” [Quran 39: 5]

By removing human manipulation from the calendar system, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sending a powerful message to His community that we need to submit fully to the Will of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in all matters including how we organize our day, months, and years and not try to manipulate the calendar for political and economic interests.

This purification of the calendar from market interests is why the Islamic lunar calendar survived all these centuries without alterations (compared to the Roman/Christian calendar, which went through various adjustments and changes throughout the centuries).

A Civilizational Identity

After the death of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and specifically during the time of Caliph Umar Bin Al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), he assigned a calendar committee on how the new lunar calendar can be used as a unifying calendar for the growing Islamic empire. The committee chose Friday, July 16th, 622 CE, as the evening of the lunar crescent that marked the beginning of the lunar year in which Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) migrated from Mecca to Medina, hence the Hijri calendar began.

Although the calendar system was developed for practical reasons to conduct the Islamic caliphate’s affairs and correspondence, we cannot underestimate how much the institution of the Islamic calendar was essential in constructing a cultural and civilizational identity over unprecedented distances. One could travel from Morocco to India and find that everyone has Ramadan around the same time (plus or minus a day depending on moon sighting). People would come for Hajj from all over the Islamic lands and arrive in the same month (a miracle, given that this was before satellite communication and TVs).

Moreover, this was a low-maintenance calendar system. By adopting the strictly lunar calendar, any person living in Muslim lands could determine the start and end of each month by looking at the moon or visiting their local mosque. There was no need for complicated adjustments that plagued the solar calendars adopted by different religious and political authorities.

The Sacred Nature of the Islamic Calendar – Abdal Hakim Murad

In a powerful Friday Khutba, Sh. Abdul-Hakim Murad shares the critical importance of the Islamic calendar in today’s materialistic society. We live in a world where spirituality is removed from public space and hidden into private corners. Time is governed by clocks and a Gregorian calendar that’s devoid of spiritual meaning or significance. The Islamic calendar instead connects us to the spiritual realm through time and helps us organize our time into sacred and non-sacred days and months.

Consider the annual Islamic cycle (See Figure below): You start the year with a sacred month, and the blessed days of Ashura (sacred time), you then enter Safar (non-sacred time), then comes Rabi Al-Awwal which (leaving Mawlid debates aside) is considered a special time for many who commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), then comes three months of Rabi-II, Jumada I, and Jumada II (non-sacred time), then enters Rajab (sacred time),

then Sha’baan – which although is not a sacred month, but the Prophet Muhammad emphasized its importance, then comes the highlight of the year – Ramadan, followed by Eid in Shawwal, then we end the year with the two sacred months of Dhul-Qi’ da and Dhul-Hijja, before starting a new lunar year with the sacred month of Muharram

Moreover, within each month, there’s the rhythm of fasting created by the waxing and waning of the moon where we’re encouraged to fast on the White Days (the 13th, 14th, and 15th of each Islamic month) when the moon is full.

The Islamic calendar creates a spiritual rhythm to life through alternating between sacred time and non-sacred time. Moreover, the purpose of sacred time is to prepare us and purify us to be the best version of ourselves during the non-sacred time, just like the five daily prayers are meant to be daily purifiers to help us become better people outside of prayer times.

Compare the above rhythm with the flat, secular, Gregorian calendar of January, February, March, April, etc. which is devoid of any relevant meaning. Unfortunately, global corporations invest in creating special seasons around these months to drive consumer behaviors through seasonal gifts and exclusive’ deals.’ Hence we have the annual consumer cycle of New Year–> Valentine days–>Mothers day–>Fathers day–>Summer holidays–>Back to school–>Christmas etc.

Can you see how much we lose when we disregard and forget the Islamic calendar? We genuinely lose on a robust spiritual calendar that would align us to a fitra (natural disposition) lifestyle, one that is aligned with the Divine Order.

But isn’t it complicated to adopt the Islamic calendar?

Before I delve into the practical ways to align the Islamic calendar to your personal and professional life, I want to address a common argument against adopting the Islamic calendar as a primary calendar in one’s life. Mainly, that modern life is built around the Gregorian calendar. And with the challenges of accurately sighting the moon each Islamic month, it would be impractical to adopt the Islamic calendar in our personal and professional life.

There are a number of counter-arguments for this:

  1. Let us firstly accept and submit that this is the calendar that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) chose for humanity. Therefore it must be the best calendar system to organize our life around.
  2. Early Islamic societies had to deal with the same issues of figuring out how best to align moon sightings across regions, hence the powerful scientific renaissance in Muslim lands, especially in Mathematics, Astronomy, and Geometry. This led to the adoption of a ‘civil’ Islamic calendar that was calculated astronomically and distributed across the Muslim world and an Islamic religious calendar that remained dependent on local moon sighting. With advances in technology, these two calendar systems have pretty much aligned with each other for most months (minus the annual Ramadan/Eid moon sighting debates).
  3. If, as a community, we uphold the importance of the Islamic calendar in our lives, more serious efforts would be taken by Governments and technology companies to figure out a way to be able to use the Hijri calendar as a real alternative to the Gregorian calendar (already Apple, Google, and Microsoft allow adding the Islamic calendar to one’s digital calendar and smartphones).
  4. Although we think that the Gregorian solar calendar is accurate, it’s not. Read the history of the Gregorian calendar and how it shifted from the Roman calendar to the Julian calendar and finally to the Gregorian calendar and the scientific, political, and religious alterations it went through. Even today, the fact we have to add an “additional day” every four years, is evidence that the solar calendar is far from accurate.
  5. The Islamic calendar is perhaps the last institution we have as a global Muslim society that gives us a unique civilizational identity. It connects us at a deeper Ummah level – just see how the Ummah comes together during Ramadan and Hajj. This unity can be achieved outside Ramadan/Hajj by integrating our personal lives and institutions with the Islamic calendar.

My contention in this article is that we have much to lose – spiritually, psychologically, and socially – if we don’t accept the Divine calendar that Allah  chose. Moreover, the pressure for a globalized “World Calendar” is far from over. I won’t be surprised if there’ll be a renewed effort towards adopting a World Calendar in the not-so-distant future. We need to start taking the revival of the Islamic calendar seriously today.

Conclusion: How to align the Islamic calendar to your personal and professional life?

I want to be clear that I’m not asking you to abandon the Gregorian calendar overnight; this will not be practical nor feasible in our modern life. However, I’m asking you to set your intentions to please Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by aligning your life primarily to the Islamic calendar in whatever capacity you can. It’s about living a Hijri-first lifestyle. Below are a few examples of how you can do this:

  • If you’re a professional, try to organize your vacations around the Islamic calendar.
  • If you’re a stay-at-home parent, organize kids’ activities around the Islamic calendar.
  • If you’re a business owner, pay your employees according to the Islamic calendar (your staff would love you since they’ll get a bonus pay every two years!).
  • If you’re a school principal, organize your school events around the Islamic calendar.

We can all do our bit, and it starts by setting the right intentions, taking responsibility to revive the Islamic calendar in our lives, and living by example to show others how it can be done.

My challenge to you is for the upcoming year 1442H, try to make the Islamic calendar your primary calendar in as many areas of your life as possible.

Knowing What Lunar Calendar Is

Towards Unified Hijri Calendar

Scientific Pros of Lunar Calendar

References:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Calendar
  • “By Noon Prayer: The Rhythm of Islam” By Fadwa El Guindi
  • “The Day Begins at Sunset: Perceptions of Time in the Islamic World” by Barbara Freyer Stowasser
  • “The Sacred Nature of the Islamic Calendar” by Sh.AbdulHakim Murad.
  • Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Quran 9: 37.
  • Tafsir Maududi, Quran 9: 37.

Credit Br. Mohammed Faris from Productive Muslim