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The Strategic Importance of the Islamic Calendar

Khalil Abdul-Rahman


O People, the deniers of Allah’s power indulge in tampering with the calendar in order to make permissible that which Allah forbade, and to forbid that which Allah has made permissible. The time has now returned to the position as it was when Allah created the heavens and the earth with a year of twelve months. Four of them are sacred: Dhul Qi’dah, Dhul Hijjah, and Muharram; and Rajab, which lies between Jumada and Sha’aban. (Farewell Khutbah)

What if you knew there has been only one calendar in the entire history of the world that correctly represents how time should be counted in units of days, months, and years? What if you knew that with the exception of this calendar, every other calendar used by humanity at any time either adds or subtracts time from the calendar (a practice called intercalation), or pays tribute to false gods or some portion of Allah’s creation?

Would you use this distinctive calendar on a regular basis, or only for preparing for “religious events” and use some other calendar for day-to-day activities? It is, indeed, an interesting situation.

As you may know, this distinctive calendar is the one that Allah has given humanity. It is the Islamic calendar. The names given to the days of the week, and the months of the year, do not refer in any way to the worship of false gods or to some portion of Allah’s creation. Since the beginning of each month of this calendar is confirmed by the sighting of the new crescent, this makes each month last 29 or 30 days. One major outcome of this fact is that there is no fixed relationship between the months of this calendar and the seasons of the year.

There are years when Muharram, for example, occurs in the spring, then in following years Muharram will occur in winter, then fall, then summer, and then back in spring. All months in the Islamic calendar travel through the seasons without staying fixed in any one season.

Attempts to Stay in Step with the Seasons

Developing a calendar that stays in step with the seasons has been a challenge for humanity for quite some time, extending all the way to the present. Studies of these attempts show that for more than 5000 years, humanity has developed a number of different calendars of varying degrees of accuracy that try to fit neatly together the days and months into a year that matches the time for the earth to make one complete trip around the sun.

Keep in mind the roles that seasons have played in the lives of people. To anticipate the season’s arrival helped people gain food, told them when to hunt animals and when to plant crops. It also determined migration patterns for some humans and animals in search for food or better living conditions. Today, many industries depend on seasonal movement of goods and the provision of services. Selling and providing clothes, air conditioners, tax consulting, etc. all depend to some extent on seasonal trends.

Among other reasons, calendars have been developed as a means to keep track of the passage of time in such a way that the seasons can be anticipated accurately. They are designed to count the days and organize them into units of weeks, months, and years. These units are generally derived from recurrent astronomical cycles, which are the most regular and are among the most conspicuous changes in the creation.

As examples, the month and probably the week, come from the phases of the moon, while the solar year stems from the tilted earth’s rotation about the sun. Though, at first thought, it might seem that observing these cycles and measuring them would be an easy matter, it turns out that it is not. Even today, there does not exist -- and cannot exist -- a completely accurate solar calendar that stays in step with the seasons.

False Worship

While making the observations needed to develop these calendars, humanity has shown a strong tendency to also worship these heavenly objects. In part, their thinking was that somehow these objects controlled peoples’ existence on earth, since the seasons seemed to come and go according to their movement. The Sumerians, a society that formed along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers about 5000 years ago, had specialists who kept records of their observations. Since the economy of the Sumerians depended on plowing, sowing, tending and harvesting irrigated fields of plants at definite times of the year, the role of the record keepers became very important. They were thought to be liaisons with the gods, on whose goodwill the prosperity of the society relied.

Years later the Babylonians made adjustments to the calendar used by the Sumerians. After lengthy observations, it was noted that every 19 years the solar and lunar cycles matched. With this information, they worked out a system of calendar correction that increased the accuracy of the solar calendar in staying in step with the seasons.

A major incentive for this work, however, was to appease the actions of the gods whom they thought were in control. The idea was that certain extra days were needed to be added to the calendar to keep it in harmony with the seasons, and therefore with the gods. By knowing when to add these “holy days” in honor of the gods, and spending the days in feasting and religious services, the Babylonians thought they were celebrating the gifts given to them by the gods.

Centuries later, Julius Caesar came to power in a different part of the world and presided over the next major reform to solar calendar making. He kept the major features of the Egyptian calendar that was based on a 365 day cycle, but incorporated the practice of adding an extra day to the month of February on every fourth year. The particular year on which he authorized this practice is called “the year of confusion,” because in order to bring the calendar in step with these seasons, that year had to contain 445 days instead of the regular 365 days.

Though the Julian calendar lasted for over 1500 years, it contained a built-in error -- a gain of one day every 128 years -- that kept piling up. By the time Pope Gregory 13th came to power, it was determined that an error of 10 days had occurred. In the year 1582 according to the solar calendar, Gregory shortened the year by 10 days and revised the leap year rule. The Gregorian calendar, as it is now called, is accurate to within one day in every 3,323 years. Throughout this historical summary of solar calendars, several common threads are evident. They include dominant elements of worship of false gods or some portions of Allah’s creation, and an ongoing effort to add or subtract time in order to keep the days and months fixed in relation to the seasons.

The most popular calendar in use today, the Gregorian calendar, retains large amounts of these elements. Many of the months of the year and all the days of the week are named in honor of false gods or pay tribute to portions of Allah’s creation. Sunday or the “Sun’s day” and Monday or the “Moon’s day” honor the sun and the moon. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are all named after false gods inherited from Teutonic tribes. Friday in particular, means Fria’s day. Fria was the Teutonic goddess of love. Can you imagine going to “Friday prayer?”

What's in a day's name?
English Arabic
Sunday: Day of the Sun al-A'had: the first (day of the week)
Monday: Day of the Moon al-Ith'nain: the second (day of the week)
Tuesday: Day of Tiw, a god of war ath-Thulatha'aa: the third (day of the week)
Wednesday: Day of Woden, a chief god al-Arba'aa: the fourth (day of the week)
Thursday: Day of Thonar, a god of the sky al-Khamees: the fifth (day of the week)
Friday: Day of Fria, a goddess of love al-Jum'ah: the sixth (day of the week)
Saturday: Day of Saturn as-Sabt: the seventh (day of the week)

All of the “holy days” that are featured in the Gregorian calendar are tied to pagan traditions. And the majority of the months are named after a false god. Yet, it is this calendar that most of the world turns to, including Muslims. Each year Muslims struggle through Ramadan, trying to determine whether we should sight the crescent or calculate its appearance or do both, while we conduct our affairs using a calendar whose origins and current emphasis is centered on association of false gods with Allah. Would it be fair to say that we might have missed something here?

What's in a month's name?
January: from Janus, a god of beginnings
February: from Februss, an Italian god
March: from Mars, a god of war and agriculture
April: from Aphro, a goddess of love
May: from Maiesta, a goddess of honor
June: from Juno, an Italian goddess
July: after Julius Caesar
August: after Augustus Caesar
September: from Septern (seven)
October: from octo (eight)
November: from novern (nine)
December: from decern (ten)

Allah’s Mercy

During the farewell message of Allah’s last Messenger and Prophet, Muhammad, peace be with him, two revelations were given to humanity. In one of them he formally abolished the practice of intercalation. This means that it is unlawful to add or subtract time from the calendar. In the other, he stated that now Allah has returned time to the shape that He gave it at the moment of creation.

The significance of these revelations is far reaching. Through them Allah had defined time in an absolute way that no human could ever achieve. By abolishing intercalation, the impact is to define the characteristic of time known as interval or duration in time in a distinct way. This means that months cannot be lengthened or shortened by adding or subtracting days or part of a day, and defines each month as a unique description of time. Consequently, Muharram, Safar, ... all represent distinct blocks of time by name.

Through the other revelation, Allah has defined the characteristic of time known as epoch or location in time. With this, Allah fixes the order of the months to a fixed point in creation, that point being the moment that He began creation. From this we now know that when we arrive at Ramadan each year, we have truly arrived at Ramadan. Of course, this is true for all the other months of the year, which is no trivial matter, as they represent those blocks of time that account for eleven-twelfths of our lives each year.

In light of this information, it is clear that the method of assigning names to the months of the year and giving the months a certain number of days, cannot be arbitrary. Or in other words, there are “right answers” to the questions, “What day is today?” and “What month are we in now?” These right answers are provided by Allah through the use of the calendar He has given humanity.

Just as we have the responsibility for striving for the targets and implementing the objectives given to us by Allah in the other areas of our daily lives, this also applies to the method that we choose to keep time. In fact, the process of setting targets and trying to implement objectives is the underlying reason for us to understand and use the Islamic calendar.

Allah has given humanity the special gift of being able to manipulate time. Because of this gift, we can recapture the past through recorded events, whether on video tape, digital media, etc. We can also summon up things to come, displaying imagination and foresight along with memory. Our unique ability to employ past, present, and planned events to manipulate time, plays a vital role in our striving to fulfill our responsibilities and prepare for the future.

If we come to the conclusion that we cannot develop our understanding and use of the Islamic calendar to support planning for the future, then the only choices that we have left are to use calendars that violate the revelations given to humanity as a mercy from Allah. Such a conclusion will result in our continuing to use the Islamic calendar for “religious events,” and calendars based on false worship for “civil events.”

This means that as we schedule our community activities, we must use one of these other calendars because we either don’t know or don’t agree on what day it is on the Islamic calendar. It also means that our organizations, as they try to develop strategic plans, must use some alternative calendar. Can you imagine Allah giving us a calendar we can’t use for planning? Can you imagine an Islamic organization preparing strategically for the future using a calendar based on false worship? It is, indeed, an interesting situation.


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