The Islamic Calendar
Use of the Lunar Calendar
The Islamic Calendar is based on the Lunar Calendar consisting of 354-355 days annually and is 10-11 days shorter than the western Solar Calendar. The Lunar month is based on the time it takes the moon to complete a single orbit around the earth and it is just over 29½ days. There are many advantages to the Lunar calendar. For example, the various dates in the Islamic Calendar such as Ramadan and Hajj rotate every year and are not fixed like the Solar Year. People, therefore, will perform acts of worship in various climatic conditions and in different length of hours in submission to the will of Allah where human imagination plays no part.
The new moon marks the beginning of each new lunar month and it is easy for people to see the new moon and know that a new month has begun. This probably explains why most ancient civilizations such as the Babylonians, the Jews, the Greeks and the Egyptians in the Middle East, the Aztecs and the Incas of the West, and the Hindus and the Chinese of the East used this system  . Interestingly, the English word ‘month’ is derived from the word ‘moon’.
Origin and Significance of the Hijri Calendar
The Islamic Calendar was started by the second Caliph Umar in 16 AH/ 637 CE  . The event of the Hijrah, the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) from Makkah to Madinah in 622 CE, was chosen to begin the Islamic Calendar because it was the first major sacrifice made by the whole Ummah for the preservation of Islam in its formative period. The Caliph Umar is reported to have remarked: “The Hijrah has separated truth from falsehood, therefore, let it become the Epoch of the Era"  . The Hijrah year reminds Muslims every year of the sacrifices made by the first Muslims and should prepare them to do the same. The constant use of the Hijri Calendar for acts of worship and as a frame of reference to major historical events will help Muslims keep links with their roots and further enhance their knowledge of their religion and history.
Months of the Islamic Calendar
There are twelve months in the Islamic Calendar. As the Qur’an says: “Surely the number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve, in accordance with His decree from the day He created the heavens and the earth, out of which four are sacred” (9:36)  . The four Sacred Months (al-Ashhur al-Hurum) are Rajab, Dhul Qa‘dah, Dhul Hijjah and Muharram  . The sanctity of these months was also accepted in the Pre-Islamic era when fighting was forbidden and there were cease-fires where battle was ongoing. Because Rajab is a sacred month, it was customary for people in pre-Islamic times to perform ‘Umrah during it as they were guaranteed safety and security  . Dhul Hijjah is the month when people from far away places go to perform the Pilgrimage (Hajj). The two other Sacred Months come before (Dhul Qa‘dah) and after (Muharram) this month, so that people’s journeys to and from the Ka‘bah to distant places are safe.
The twelve months of the Islamic Calendar are as follows:
Determining Islamic Dates
Islamic dates are determined by the actual visibility of the moon as the Prophet (SAW) said: “Fast by seeing it (the moon) and end the fast by seeing it”  . Muslim scholars have interpreted this Prophetic saying in two different ways. Some scholars have held the view that each location has its own sighting of the moon (Ikhtilaf al-Mutali‘)  . But most scholars have taken the words “fast by seeing it” (sumu li ru’yatihi) as a general command to all Muslims and not individual sectors of the community. Hence they regard the sighting of the moon in one region as valid for people of another region, provided the news of sighting the moon reaches them through authentic means  . In this regard, Ibn Taymiyyah says: “A person who learns about the sighting of the moon in good time to be able to utilize it for fasting, for ending the fast or for sacrifice, must definitely do so. The texts and the reports from the Pious Predecessors point to this. To limit this to a certain distance or country would contradict both reason and the Shari‘ah” .
The Islamic Months
By Hafiz Abdullah Muhammad
Extract taken from the authors’ first book entitled “The Best of Times: Virtues and Significance of important Days, Nights, Months and Festivals in Islam” available free on request from the publisher: IPCI, 434 Coventry Road, Small Heath, Birmingham B10 0UG.
 See Encyclopeadia Britannica 15/460-477 (15th Edition-1988) under “Calendar”
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