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Understanding The Islamic Calendar: Years, Months, Days And More

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Also referred to as the Hijri calendar, the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar that comprises 12 months and 354-355 days. The Islamic calendar is useful in determining the accurate days of Islamic rituals and holidays such as the right time for Hajj, Eid and Ramadan. Listed amongst the four major calendars used currently worldwide, this calendar uses the Hijri era which was established as the Islamic New Year of 622 AD. This year is marked by Hijra, an event that commemorates the migration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah, where he established the first community of Muslims.

The Creation of Islamic Calendar

The credit of creating the Islamic calendar is given to Khalifa Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who served as a leading companion to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and became the second Muslim ruler after the Prophet’s death. Before the introduction of the Islamic calendar, Muslims kept track of time by using an array of significant events in Islamic history such as the Prophet’s year of birth. Instead of being numbered, the first 10 years of Hijra were named after the prominent events in the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Here is a list of the names of these 10 years, starting from the first year of the Hijra that is 622-23 CE.

  1. The year of permission
  2. The year of the order of fighting
  3. The year of the trial
  4. The year of congratulation on marriage
  5. The year of the earthquake
  6. The year of enquiring
  7. The year of gaining victory
  8. The year of equality
  9. The year of exemption
  10. The year of farewell (632-33 CE)

During the third or fourth year of the leadership of Khalifa Umar ibn al-Khattab, an official in Iraq (Basrah) named Abu Musa al-Ash’ari filed a complaint underlining the absence of a consistent dating system of the correspondence received by him. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari sent a letter requesting Khalifa Umar to establish a consistent way of keeping track of dates.

While the debate regarding this issue raged on between Khalifa Umar and his advisors, many suggestions were put on the table regarding the date that should mark the commencement of this new calendar. These suggestions included the date of birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the date of the Prophet’s death. In the end, the majority agreed on the date of the Prophet’s migration to Madinah. Once Khalifa Umar had consulted two of the Prophet’s most revered companions, Ali bin Abi Talib and Uthman ibn Affan, this date was finally agreed upon to mark the starting of the new calendar. So, 622 AD became the Islamic calendar’s first year.

Months in the Islamic Calendar

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A year consists of 12 months known as Hijri months. Each Hijri month commences at the beginning of the new moon cycle. In this calendar, the number of days in each month varies depending on the moon’s rotation around the earth. Each month consists of 29 to 30 days, with the exception of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah. Following are the names of the months in the Islamic calendar:

  1. Month of Muharram
  2. Safar
  3. Rabi al-Awwal
  4. Rabi al-Akhir
  5. Jumada al-Ula
  6. Jumada al-Akhirah
  7. Rajab
  8. Shaaban
  9. Ramadan Month
  10. Shawwal
  11. Dhu al-Qadah
  12. Dhu al-Ḥijjah

Days of the week in the Hijri Calendar

In the Islamic calendar, a week consists of seven days and each day starts at sunset. Muslims gather at a mosque to pray at noon on the gathering day, which corresponds with Thursday evening when the sun has completely set. Following are the seven days that constitutes a week:

  1. Ahad − Translated as ‘the one’, this day corresponds with Sunday
  2. Ithnayn − The term means ‘the second’ and corresponds with Monday
  3. Thulatha − Meaning ‘the third’ in English, this day corresponds with Tuesday
  4. Arbia − Translated as ‘the fourth’, this day corresponds with Wednesday
  5. Khamis − It means ‘the fifth’ and corresponds with Thursday
  6. Jummah − Meaning ‘the gathering’,  corresponds with Friday; Friday prayers are performed in a congregation in a mosque
  7. Sabt − Translated as ‘the rest’, this day corresponds with Saturday

How are the Hijri years numbered?

Similar to the Persian calendar, the Islamic calendar begins in 622 CE. However, everything else about the both these calendars is unrelated. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and its year count is significantly different from that of the Persian calendar, which is a solar calendar. For instance, 1st January 2021 in the Persian calendar fell in 1442 AH in the Islamic calendar. Instead of the letters AD in the Christian calendar, CE in the common calendar and AM in the Jewish calendar, the years in the Hijri calendar are denoted by either H, which stands for Hijra or AH, which stands for Anno Hegirae (Latin). In English, the years before Hijra are denoted by the letters BH, which stand for Before Hijra.

FAQs about the Hijri Calendar

How does the lunar cycle affect the Islamic calendar?

Being a lunar calendar, the Islamic calendar is significantly dependent on the movement of the moon around the Earth. The beginning of a new moon cycle marks the starting of a new month in the Islamic calendar whereas the disappearance of the moon marks the end of a month. Even the number of days in a month depends on the moon’s rotation cycle.

Is the Islamic calendar still used in Muslim countries?

Yes, the Islamic calendar serves as the official calendar of certain Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Also, there are some Muslim countries that use the Gregorian calendar for civic purposes and the Islamic one for religious purposes.

What is the difference between the Islamic calendar and the Gregorian calendar?

The Islamic calendar is substantially different from the Gregorian calendar. First of all, the former is a lunar calendar while the latter is a solar one. Secondly, a year in the Islamic calendar has 11 days less than a year in the Gregorian calendar. Also, as per the Islamic calendar, a new day begins at sunset of each day, on the other hand, according to the Gregorian calendar, a new day begins at 12:00 am each night.

Why is it difficult to predict the length of Islamic months?

Traditionally, an authorized committee or person needs to witness the crescent moon for determining the length of a month in the Islamic calendar. This reliance on astronomical observations is the major reason behind the difficulty in predicting the length of each Islamic month. For instance, an Islamic month may be extended by a day if clouds or other atmospheric conditions hamper the visibility of the crescent moon. For this reason, the dates of Muslim festivals and religious events often change unpredictably.

Why, according to the Islamic calendar, do sometimes dates vary in different countries on the same day?

Sometimes, a new month begins on different days in different countries as the time of the moonset at a particular place depends on its longitude.

Bhavna

My words find inspiration in the most mundane of the things — beads of a rosary, a rehal by the window, rings of incense smoke, and fallen tree leaves. When not dreaming, I crochet them into stories of times, places, & people.

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