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Islamic Calendar: Observance of Ramadan Fasting and Hajj

Lunar Calendar

The lunar calendar, first known about 5, 000 years ago devised by the ancient Sumerians based on a year of 12 months adding up to 354.37 days. Each lunar month begins at the time of the monthly “conjunction”, when the Moon is located on a straight line between the Earth and the Sun. The month is defined as the average duration of a revolution of the Moon around the Earth is 29.53 days. By convention, months of 30 days and 29 days succeed each other, adding up over two successive months to 59 full days. This leaves only a small monthly variation of 44 minutes to account for, which adds up to a total of 24 hours (i.e. the equivalent of one full day) in 2.73 years. To settle accounts, it is sufficient to add one day every three years to the lunar calendar, in the same way one day is added to the Gregorian calendar every four years.

Islamic Calendar

he Islamic calendar, Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar (AH) is a lunar calendar beginning (first year) in 622 AD based on the emigration of prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijra. Each numbered year is designated either “H” for Hijra or “AH” for the Latin, anno Hegirae (“in the year of the Hijra”). Hence, Muslims typically call their calendar the Hijri calendar. The first day of the first month of the Islamic calendar (1 Muharram 1 AH) was set to the first new moon after the day the Prophet moved from Quba’ to Medina (originally 26 Rabi’ I on the pre-Islamic calendar) i.e. Friday, 19 July 622 in the Gregorian calendar or 16 July AD 622, the equivalent civil tabular date (same daylight period) in the Julian calendar:


Note: The 12 months in the Islamic calendar are: 1. Muharram, 2. Safar, 3. Rabi I, 4. Rabi II, 5. Jumada I, 6. Jumada II, 7. Rajab, 8. Sha’ban, 9. Ramadan, 10. Shawwal, 11. Dhu al-Qa’da and 12. Dhu al-Hijja from the right to the left as we read the Arabic text.

Number of Days in Islamic Month

Each month of the Islamic calendar commences on the birth of the new lunar cycle. Traditionally, this is based on actual witnessing of the crescent marking the end of the previous lunar cycle and hence the previous month thereby beginning the new month. Consequently, each month can have 29 or 30 days depending on the visibility of the moon, astronomical positioning of the earth and weather conditions. However, certain sects and groups of Muslims use a tabular Islamic calendar in which odd months have 30 days while even months have 29 days with the twelfth month in a leap year.

Variation in Islamic Calendar

The Islamic calendar, however, is based on a different set of conventions. Each month has either 29 or 30 days, but usually in no discernible order. Traditionally, the first day of each month is the day (beginning at sunset) of the first sighting of the hilal (crescent moon) shortly after sunset. If the hilal is not observed immediately after the 29th day of a month (either because clouds block its view or because the western sky is still too bright when the moon sets), then the day that begins at that sunset is the 30th. Such a sighting has to be made by one or more trustworthy men testifying before a committee of Muslim leaders. Determining the most likely day that the hilal could be observed was a motivation for Muslim interest in astronomy, which put Islam in the forefront of that science for many centuries. Although some jurists endorsed the use of calculations to determine the beginning of all months of the Islamic calendar but there are still divergent views on whether it is licit to do so.

  • Tabular Islamic Calendar

The Tabular Islamic calendar is a rule-based variation of the Islamic calendar. It has the same numbering of years and months, but the months are determined by arithmetic rules rather than by observation or astronomical calculations. It was developed by early Muslim astronomers of the second hijra century (the 8th century of the Common Era) to provide a predictable time base for calculating the positions of the moon, sun, and planets. It is now used by historians to convert an Islamic date into a Western calendar when no other information (like the day of the week) is available. It is used by some Muslims in everyday life, particularly in the Dawoodi Bohra Ismaili community and they believe that this calendar was developed by Ali.

  • Turkish Islamic Calendar

Turkish Muslims also use an Islamic calendar which is calculated several years in advance (currently up to 1444 AH/2022 CE) by the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs. From 1 Muharrem 1400 AH (21 November 1979) until 29 Zilhicce 1435 (24 October 2014) the computed Turkish lunar calendar was based on the following rule: “The lunar month is assumed to begin on the evening when, within some region of the terrestrial globe, the computed centre of the lunar crescent at local sunset is more than 5° above the local horizon and (geocentrically) more than 8° from the Sun.” In the current rule the (computed) lunar crescent has to be above the local horizon of Ankara at sunset.

  • Umm al-Qura Calendar

Saudi Arabia uses the sighting method to determine the beginning of each month of the Hijri calendar. Since AH 1419 (1998/99) several official hilal sighting committees have been set up by the government to determine the first visual sighting of the lunar crescent at the beginning of each lunar month. Nevertheless, the religious authorities also allow the testimony of less experienced observers and thus often announce the sighting of the lunar crescent on a date when none of the official committees could see it. The country also uses the Umm al-Qura calendar, based on astronomical calculations, but this is restricted to administrative purposes. The parameters used in the establishment of this calendar underwent significant changes over the past decade.

Before AH 1420 (before 18 April 1999), if the moon’s age at sunset in Riyadh was at least 12 hours, then the day ending at that sunset was the first day of the month. This often caused the Saudis to celebrate holy days one or even two days before other predominantly Muslim countries, including the dates for the Hajj, which can only be dated using Saudi dates because it is performed in Mecca.

For AH 1420–22, if moonset occurred after sunset at Mecca, then the day beginning at that sunset was the first day of a Saudi month, essentially the same rule used by Malaysia, Indonesia, and others (except for the location from which the hilal was observed).

Since the beginning of AH 1423 (16 March 2002), the rule has been clarified a little by requiring the geocentric conjunction of the sun and moon to occur before sunset, in addition to requiring moonset to occur after sunset at Mecca. This ensures that the moon has moved past the sun by sunset, even though the sky may still be too bright immediately before moonset to actually see the crescent.

However, the major Muslim associations of the world announced that they would henceforth use a calendar based on calculations using the same parameters as the Umm al-Qura calendar to determine (well in advance) the beginning of all lunar months (and therefore the days associated with all religious observances). This was intended as a first step on the way to unify, at some future time, Muslims’ calendars throughout the world.

Ramadan

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic Calendar and Muslims all over the world fast therein to remember God as well as to express their appreciation to Him for giving them the Quran in this month as guidance, clear proofs of the guidance and the statute book. But there is dispute to start and end of fasting as well as to celebrate the Night of Destiny (laylat al-Qadr) as an annual recurrent event. Here are some facts that may help us avoid such dispute even knowing the exact date of the Night of Destiny (laylat al-Qadr), the night the entire Quran was placed in prophet’s soul in 610 AD (13 BH) about 1408 years ago.

Beginning and ending of Ramadan

To determine when Ramadan (or any lunar month) begins, we need to know mainly two facts. The first is the time of the “new moon,” and the second is the time of sunset of the same day as this new moon. Even though the lunar month theoretically begins with the new moon, in practice the month begins on the first sunset following this new moon. If the new moon time for the month of Ramadan is before the sunset, one starts fasting the next day at dawn (fajr). However, if the new moon time is actually past the sunset, then that particular night is considered to belong to the last day of the previous month (Sha’ban). Therefore, even if the new moon time may fall before the dawn, the first day of Ramadan does not start until the next sunset. Thus one starts fasting at dawn following this sunset.

One has to use the same system to determine the ending of the month to be consistent. If the new moon time for the month following Ramadan (the month of Shawwal) is before the sunset, one ends fasting at that sunset because the next day will be the first day of Shawwal. If the new moon time is past the sunset one must fast the next day also since that day will belong to Ramadan.

The Sighting of Moon

God has informed us in the Quran to use the sun and the moon as calculation devices (6:96), and He has given us scientific knowledge to determine exactly when a lunar month will begin and end as astronomers have this knowledge to precisely calculate the information for each lunar month in advance. What we need to start fasting is compare the time the new lunar month begins with the time of sunset to the beginning of a day in the Islamic calendar, and if we use this information for our area, there is no need to sight the crescent of the moon to start and end fasting, like most traditional Muslims do:

[6:96] He causes the daybreak and has made the night for rest in; and the sun and the moon for reckoning. Such is the design of the Almighty, the Omniscient.

The Night of Destiny

The Night of Power or the Night of Destiny (Laylat al-Qadr) is the special night in which the Quran was revealed about 1408 years ago. The exact date for this night has become a long-standing bone of contention within the Muslim communities, just as they argue about when Ramadan starts and ends. They also disagree on the date of this night. To some, this night is so elusive that they try to stay up all nights during the last ten days of Ramadan so as not to “miss out” any chances of experiencing it, and others hold the opinion that the exact date of this night is the 27th of Ramadan. However, we are blessed to derive the exact date to be on the night of 27th Ramadan from the Quran, from the very sura that deals with this subject, namely Sura Al-Qadr (Sura # 97):


Sura Al-Qadr contains three occurrences of the phrase “laylat al-qadr” (the Night of Destiny). The Arabic phrase “laylat al-qadr” (لَيلَةِ القَدرِ ) itself consists of nine letters. Therefore, within this sura, there are 27 (3 x 9) letters that participate in the proper name of this very special night while the position of the Arabic word, “hiya” (هِىَ) referring to the night in question is the 27th out of 30 total words that comprise the sura while 30 is the universally accepted number of days in a month. Hence, the exact time of “laylat al-qadr” is hinted at within the text of the Quranic chapter that deals with this very subject, and the Night of Destiny (laylat al-qadr) is confirmed on the night of 27th Ramadan of 13 BH (610 AD). However, God has decreed Ramadan fasting every Islamic (lunar) year while the annual observance of the Night of Destiny (laylat al-qadr) is not from Him except introduced by tradition.

It is noteworthy that the plural forms of the Arabic word (YAWMAYN and AYYAM) for “days” mentioned in the Quran 30 times is an indication of the number of days in a month while the singular form (YAWM) for “day” is mentioned in the Quran 365 times for the number of days in a year.

Hajj

God has decreed Hajj for the believers who can afford it (3:97) during the four sacred months of the Islamic Calendar (2:197, 9:36). But the names of these four sacred months have been altered, which is an increase in disbelief (9:37) and the Hajj has been limited to only a few days of Dhu al-Hijja as well depriving many Muslims around the world from performing Hajj every year:

[3:97] In it are clear signs, the station of Abraham, and whoever enters it is safe. And the people are to perform Hajj to the House for God, whoever is able to make a journey to it. But whoever has disbelieved, then God does not need any of the people.
[2:197] Hajj shall be observed in the specified months. Whoever sets out to observe Hajj shall refrain from sexual intercourse, misconduct, and arguments throughout Hajj. Whatever good you do, God is fully aware thereof. As you prepare your provisions for the journey, the best provision is righteousness. You shall observe Me, O you who possess intelligence.
[9:36] Indeed, the number of the months with God is twelve months in God’s law the day He created the heavens and the earth; four of them are sacred. That is the right religion; so do not wrong yourselves in them, and fight the idol worshippers all together as they fight you all together. And know that God is with the righteous.
[9:37] Indeed, the postponing (of the sacred months) is an increase in disbelief, by which those who disbelieve are led astray. They make it lawful one year and make it unlawful another year to adjust the number, which God has made unlawful. Thus, making unlawful what Allah has made lawful is their evil works made fair seeming to them. And God does not guide the disbelieving people.

Four sacred months connected to Hajj

There are four sacred months in the Islamic calendar (9:36) but these sacred months are adjusted despite the warning in the Quran, which are Rajab, Dhu al-Qa`da, Dhu al-Hijjah, and Muharram (7th, 11th, 12th and 1st months) as claimed by the traditional Muslim scholars. But the evidences from the Quran indicate that the four sacred months are Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram, Safar, & Rabi` I (12th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd months). The sacred months are continuous and Dhu al-Hijjah is the first of the four sacred months, which signals the time of Hajj while its name implies the connection with Hajj as well. There are 2 months in the Islamic calendar with the name Rabi`; the third month is Rabi` I and the fourth month is Rabi` II. Rabi` is derived from the root word Araba which means 4. Use of the word Rabi` (implying 4) for the fourth calendar month is understandable, but why the third month also has the word Rabi` in it, which clearly indicates that it is the fourth of the four sacred months beginning with Dhu al-Hijjah is the first of the four sacred months. Hence, the four sacred months are Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram, Safar, & Rabi` I (12th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd months).

In addition, the sacred months are continuous (9:2) wherein fighting is sacrilege (2:217) with an exception of taking equivalent retaliation on the event of aggression and oppression by the enemies of God (2:194, 9:5) are also indirect evidences in the Quran that the four sacred months are Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram, Safar, & Rabi` I (12th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd months):

[9:2] Therefore, roam the earth freely for four months, and know that you cannot escape from God, and that God humiliates the disbelievers.

[2:217] They ask you about the sacred month whether there is fighting in it. Say: “Fighting is sacrilege in it, but repelling from the path of God and disbelieving in Him and the Sacred Masjid, and driving out its people is a greater sin with God while oppression is worse than killing.” And they will fight with you until they turn you away from your religion if they are able. And whoever among you turns away from his religion, then he dies while a disbeliever, then these has nullified their works in the worldly life and the Hereafter, and these are the people of the Fire, they will abide in it forever.
[2:194] During the Sacred Months, aggression may be met by an equivalent response. If they attack you, you may retaliate by inflicting an equitable retribution. You shall observe God and know that God is with the righteous.
[9:5] Therefore, when the sacred months are past, then you may kill the idol worshipers wherever you encounter them, seize and punish them, and resist every move they make. But if they repent and observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), you shall let them go. God is Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Mathematical Confirmation

The gematrical values of the letters in the names of the four sacred months and the verse connected with the commandment of observing Hajj in the specified months (2:197) confirm the four sacred months in the Islamic calendar as shown below:


If we add the gematrical values of the names of 4 months from the above table with the sura no. and its verse no. connected with the commandment of observing Hajj in the specified months, the total is a multiple of 19 => 7006130835 + 40820040 + 9080200 + 200210701630 + 2 + 197 = 207266732904 = 19x10908775416, which is an explicit proof of the four sacred months in the Islamic calendar.

Conclusion

The lunar calendar is known about 5, 000 years devised by the ancient Sumerians while the Islamic calendar, Muslim calendar or Hijri calendar (AH) is a lunar calendar beginning (first year) in 622 AD based on the emigration of prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, known as the Hijra. However, the Islamic calendar should not to be confused with a lunar calendar that is based on astronomical calculations.

A majority of theologians uses the sighting method to determine the beginning of each month of the Hijri calendar and opposes the use of astronomical calculations (beyond the constraint that each month must be not less than 29 nor more than 30 days) on the grounds that the latter would not conform with Muhammad’s recommendation to observe the new moon of Ramadan and Shawal in order to determine the beginning of these months. However, some jurists see no contradiction between Muhammad’s teachings and the use of calculations to determine the beginnings of lunar months. They consider that Muhammad’s recommendation was adapted to the culture of the times, and should not be confused with the acts of worship. Since Islam is a progressive religion of God and there is always room for improvement of our beliefs and practices befitting to the time period we are living instead of confining to a particular time of era and place.

The traditional practice is still followed in the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries. Each Islamic state proceeds with its own monthly observation of the new moon (or, failing that, awaits the completion of 30 days) before declaring the beginning of a new month on its territory. However, the major Muslim associations of the world announced that they would henceforth use a calendar based on calculations using the same parameters as the Umm al-Qura calendar to determine (well in advance) the beginning of all lunar months (and therefore the days associated with all religious observances). This was intended as a first step on the way to unify, at some future time, Muslims’ calendars throughout the world.

Ramadan fasting and Hajj are two practices of Islam directly related to the Islamic calendar. Ramadan fasting is an annual recurrent event to glorify God to be grateful to Him for what He has given us to guide us but NOT the observance of Laylat al-Qadr being a historical night occurred about 1408 years ago. Instead, we can reflect to this special night and give the topmost priority to the Quran to study, understand and follow to seek and stay in the straight path defined by God.

However, we must need this calendar to be prepared based on the astronomical calculations to fulfill our obligations avoiding all disputes around these practices. The drawbacks related to the Ramadan starting and ending as well as the extended time period of Hajj during the four sacred months are to be eliminated to open the door for millions of Muslims around the world to fulfill their obligations and observances with ease. If the Islamic (lunar) calendar were prepared using astronomical calculations disregarding traditions, what we all expect to happen in the Information Age NOT to confine the practice into time and place, the Muslims throughout the Muslim world could use it to meet all their needs, the way they use the Gregorian (solar) calendar today.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless. Tafazzal (6/8/2018).