THE ISLAMIC (HIJRI) CALENDAR

1.  HISTORY AND MOTIVATION
The Islamic Calendar, which is based purely on lunar cycles, was first introduced in 638 C.E. by the close companion of the Prophet and the second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-KHaTTab (592-644 C.E.). He did it in an attempt to rationalize the various, at times conflicting, dating systems used during his time. `Umar consulted with his advisors on the starting date of the new Muslim chronology. It was finally agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the _Hijrah_. The actual starting date for the Calendar was chosen (on the basis of purely lunar years, counting backwards) to be the first day of the first month (1 MuHarram) of the year of the Hijrah. The Islamic (Hijri) calendar (with dates that fall within the Muslim Era) is usually abbreviated A.H. in Western languages from the latinized _Anno Hegirae_. MuHarram 1, 1 A.H. corresponds to July 16, 622 C.E.
The Hijrah, which chronicles the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah in September 622 C.E., is the central historical event of early Islam. It led to the foundation of the first Muslim city-state, a turning point in Islamic and world history.
To Muslims, the Hijri calendar is not just a sentimental system of time reckoning and dating important religious events (e.g., Siyaam (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah)). It has a much deeper religious and historical significance.
 
 
Muhammad Ilyes [Ilyes84] quotes Nadvi who wrote:
“It (the advent of the 15th century) is indeed, a unique
occasion to ponder that the Islamic Era did not start
with the victories of Islamic wars, nor with the birth
or death of the prophet (PBUH), nor with the Revelation
itself. It starts with Hijra, or the sacrifice for the
cause of Truth and for the preservation of the Revelation.
It was a divinely inspired selection. God wanted to teach man that struggle between Truth and Evil is eternal. The Islamic year reminds Muslims every year not of the pomp and glory of Islam but of its sacrifice and prepares them to do the same.”
From a historical angle, Ilyes quotes Samiullah who writes:
“All the events of Islamic history, especially those which took place during the life of the Holy Prophet and afterwards are quoted in the Hijra calendar era. But our calculations in the Gregorian calendar keep us away from those events and happenings, which are pregnant of admonitory lessons and guiding instructions.
…And this chronological study is possible only by adopting the Hijri calendar to indicate the year and the lunar month in line with our cherished traditions.”
 
2.  SPECIFICATION AND METHOD
 
The Islamic (Hijri) year consists of twelve (purely lunar) months.
They are:
 
 
(1) MuHarram
(2) Safar
(3) Raby` al-awal
(4) Raby` al-THaany
(5) Jumaada al-awal
(6) Jumaada al-THaany
(7) Rajab
(8) SHa`baan
(9) RamaDHaan
(10) SHawwal
(11) Dhw al-Qi`dah
(12) Dhw al-Hijjah
 
 
The most important dates in the Islamic (Hijri) year are:
 
1 MuHarram (Islamic new year);
27 Rajab (Isra & Miraj);
1 RamaDHaan (first day of fasting);
17 RamaDHan (Nuzul Al-Qur’an);
Last 10days of RamaDHaan which include Laylatu al-Qadar;
1 SHawwal (`iyd al-FiTr);
8-10 Dhw al-Hijjah (the Hajj to Makkah); and 
10 Dhw al-Hijjah (`iyd al-‘aDHHae).
 
 
It is considered a divine command to use a (Hijra) calendar with 12 (purely)
lunar months without intercalation [Ilyes84], as evident from the following
verses of the Holy Qur’an:
 
 

They ask you concerning the new moon. Say: They are times appointed for (the benefit of) men, and (for) the pilgrimage; and it is not righteousness that you should enter the houses at their backs, but righteousness is this that one should guard (against evil); and go into the houses by their doors and be careful (of your duty) to Allah, that you may be successful. 
(  سورة البقرة  , Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #189)

 
 

Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months in Allah’s ordinance since the day when He created the heavens and the earth, of these four being sacred; that is the right reckoning; therefore be not unjust to yourselves regarding them, and fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil). 
(  سورة التوبة  , At-Taubah, Chapter #9, Verse #36)

 
 
Postponing (of the sacred month) is only an addition in unbelief, wherewith those who disbelieve are led astray, violating it one year and keeping it sacred another, that they may agree in the number (of months) that Allah has made sacred, and thus violate what Allah has made sacred; the evil of their doings is made fairseeming to them; and Allah does not guide the unbelieving people. 
(  سورة التوبة  , At-Taubah, Chapter #9, Verse #37)
 
Since the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, as apposed to solar or luni-solar,
the Muslim (Hijri) year is shorter than the Gregorian year by about 11 days,
and months in the Islamic (Hijri) year are not related to seasons, which
are fundamentally related to the solar cycle. This means that important
Muslim festivals, which always fall in the same Hijri month, may occur
in different seasons. For example, the Hajj and RamDHaan can take place in
the summer as well as the winter. It is only over a 33 year cycle that lunar
months take a complete turn and fall during the same season.For religious reasons, the beginning of a Hijri month is marked not by
the start of a new moon, but by a physical (i.e., an actual human) sighting
of the crescent moon at a given locale. From the Fiqhi standpoint, one may
begin the fast in RamDHaan, for example, based on “local” sighting (IKHTILAF
AL-MATALE’) or based on sighting anywhere in the Muslim World (ITTEHAD
AL-MATALE’). Although different, both of these positions are valid Fiqhi
positions.Astronomically, some data are definitive and conclusive (i.e. the time of the
BIRTH of a new moon). However, determining the VISIBILITY of the crescent
is not as definitive or conclusive; rather it is dependent upon several
factors, mostly optical in nature. This makes it difficult to produce
(in advance) Islamic calendars that are reliable (in the sense that they
are consistent with actual crescent visibility).

Efforts for obtaining an astronomical criterion for predicting the time of
first lunar visibility go back the the Babylonian era, with significant
improvements and work done later by Muslim and other scientists. These
efforts have resulted in the development in a number of criteria for
predicting first possible sighting of a crescent. However, there remains
a measure of uncertainty associated with all criteria developed thus far.
Moreover, there has been little work in the area of estimating crescent
visibility on global (as apposed to local) scale. Until this happens, no
Hijri calendar software can be 100% reliable, and actual crescent sighting
remains essential especially for fixing important dates such as the beginning
of RamaDHaan and the two `iyds.

The slight differences in printed Islamic calendars, worldwide, can therefore
be traced to two primary factors: (1) the absence of a global criterion for
first visibility; and (2) the use of different visibility criterion (or
method of calculation). Weather conditions and differences in the observer’s
location also explain why there are sometimes differences in the
observances of Islamic dates, worldwide.

Readers interested in further information should consult Muhammad
Ilyas’ excellent book “A Modern Guide to Astronomical Calculations of Islamic
Calendar, Times & Qibla,” Berita Publishing, 1984, (ISBN: 967-969-009-1).
The book contains a thorough discussion of the Islamic calendrical system
and related historical and scientific developments. It also presents a sound
proposal for a universal Islamic Calendar based on a global visibility
criterion and the concept of a Lunar Day (or International Lunar Date Line).

Waleed Muhanna
Tuesday 13 Jumaada al-THaany 1413 A.H.
December 8, 1992

http://www.islamicfinder.org/hijri_intro.php

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