Every year, the Hijra Calendar is the subject of uncertainty and inconsistency despite having access to detailed astronomical data of upcoming and future dates of the new moon, phases of the moon, up to the exact date and time of each. Muslim countries from Indonesia to Morocco every year cannot agree on a consensus for religious celebrations due to the archaic ritual of moon sighting that had been shown to be unreliable compared to astronomical calculation, also known as the falaq.
Muslims countries made independent decisions to fix religious celebration dates, like Ramadhan and Eidul-Fitri according to their own religious clerics decisions, but later magically synchronize with Saudi Arabia decree for the Hajj celebration. This reveals a failure in the calendar that is lacking a regulating system that can be agreed on internationally by all Muslim countries.
Overseas or migrant Muslims, for example, are still divided and depend on religious decrees from their home countries to celebrate Eid or Ramadhan. On a deeper level, it shows a sectarian division and dismissal of modern sciences as a reliable tool in preference to archaic technique of celestial observations.
Unpacking the Hijra Calendar.
This article aims to unpack, analyze, and question the predicament imposed by this calendar for many centuries. There shall be questions pertaining the validity of the calendar that will be avoided by clerics, but will be a matter of concern for those who are conscious of Allah, and as prescribed by the Quran, shall use reasoning and rationality.
We shall see the problematic criteria associated with the calendar that had raised fundamental issues concerning our relationship with Allah. Associating objects with Allah is well known to be defined as shirk. But associating certain timings with Allah is actually no different and Muslims seem unaware that shirk can also happen beyond the physical dimensions. There shall be nothing associated between us and Allah, not even time that discriminates other days or months. This is where the topic of this paper will illustrate the fine line between tawheed and shirk within the aspect of man-made tools for timings.
The issues pertaining the Hijra currently are not just a matter of international synchronization, but has become impractical, as it has failed to deliver its main function of telling the time. Every time the Hijra month is mentioned, we have to refer to the Gregorian calendar to have a sense of when such month falls within the year. The months in the Hijra calendar have become arbitrary religious dates that bear no relation to everyday life events.
We need to understand the concept of time – not just within the present context, but since the beginning of time itself. Contemporary science had determined that the age of the universe must be at least 13 billion years, which makes the thousands of years of human civilization insignificant and irrelevant to determine a particular date or months as sacred or religious to the eyes of the Lord of the universe.
To put things in perspective, we may have night and day on earth, but this night or day has no relevance as far as the sun is concerned. Does the sun have a calendar? A day in Mars is called sol and it lasts 37 minutes longer than on Earth. A year will take 687 days on Mars and the count started in 1955 and in 2020, the count of years was year 35. When human settlement begins on Mars, will there be a religious calendar to mark blessed months or days? Will a holy site on Mars matter?
The Hijra Lunar calendar.
We have now come to address the arising issue with the lunar calendar. By now we should be able to realize the problem that the current Hijra calendar is no longer practical in telling the time of the year simply because the calendar fails to define its yearly cycle. A year is defined by earth full orbit around the sun completing all its seasons in 365 days. The Hijra calendar is the only calendar that is based on purely lunar and not intercalated to be lunisolar like the rest of other lunar calendar. Therefore, it has no fixed or observable point of annual cycle other than a continuous and arbitrary 12 lunar months.
The Hijra calendar year cycle had become arbitrary and random without any annual fixed reference point. We can almost say it was based on a random point in time and that random point that was selected was the Hijra event, over other event such as the birthdate of Muhammad. In essence, the Hijra calendar clearly was man-made. The question now is: Does God have to follow this man-made calendar to determine when to send blessings or barakah on a particular day or month?
Astronomical Data vs Sunnah.
Despite having access to future astronomical data and events, religious authorities insisted to continue with archaic methods of observation causing continuous divisions and confusions among the Islamic nations and communities. This is unfortunate, considering the fact that Muslims at the beginning of the era were the most advance nations in sciences and knowledge, especially in the subject of Astronomy. Clerics preferred to revert to earlier methods of observing the moon, which was usually without difficulty in the clear skies of the Arabian desert. But as Islam expanded to other continents, this method was ignored, for the sake of implementing the prophet’s Sunnah. This unfortunately has caused further discrepancies and contradicting results from one place to another, although the knowledge and method of astronomical calculations had been developed during the Abbasid period between the 8th and 13th centuries of the Common Era.
The importance of Scientific Knowledge
It is unclear why clerics were reluctant to embrace scientific solutions towards a standardized and rationalized calendar. Their religious knowledge had been their domain and this is where clerics wish to remain in control so that they are able to apply the practice of the prophet for the moon sighting. Perhaps the availability of scientific information had instilled fear of abandoning the sunnah over a rationalized system. In this way, the clerics are able to maintain their relevance in decisions or decrees to determine the dates of religious days.
Astronomical data had been available for decades in the past and also for decades in to the future. A standardized calendar could have been developed for the Muslim world in order to make it more practical. Every year Muslims have to wait at the moon sighting evening to decide whether Eid will fall on the next day so that they can prepare the necessary celebration that same night.
It is not difficult for any conscious person to realize the fallacy of the Hijra calendar, especially those conscious of Allah. But this is the problem with any religious followers. One might be of scientific background, but when it comes to religion, the scientific minds simply switched off when in the hands of religious scholars, as if science and religion don’t mix.
Origins of the Hijra Calendar
Although the pre-Islamic religions of the Arabs were generally paganism, the various idols around the Kaaba were probably the result of sectarianism evolving into different manner of rituals and worship of pagan gods. The Kaaba was still the focal point of their pilgrimage, with the Black Stone (Hajar Aswad) as the most venerated stone worshiped by all the pagans. This is almost similar to the current situation where Shia, Sunni and other Islamic sects having different form of worship but still having the Kaaba the Qibla and the Black Stone as the object of veneration. All Muslim still return or turn towards the Kaaba despite having different principles and ideological underpinnings.
Hubal, Dhu-Shara, Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, & Manat were the well known pagan gods and idols known to be worshipped in around the Kaaba by the pagan and polytheist Arabs. This is common in almost every culture that believes in unseen superior forces at work, evolved into an ideology of worship that attributed these forces into various gods or idols. Despite their differences, the pre-Islamic Arabs still congregate during the winter month of pilgrimage for all the various worshipping in Makkah. This is why this winter pilgrimage month was called Dhulhijjah.
Economic and agricultural activities of medieval Arabs were surely based on a practical calendar that relates to seasonal periods. Likewise, religious events need to be observed through a practical calendar that were normally fixed during a particular season. A lunisolar calendar was definitely being used during the times of Muhammad in Makkah, and the same calendar for the winter pilgrimage rituals by the pagan Arabs. Muhammad came from the same pagan Arab community and it was unlikely he was using a separate calendar for his daily activities.
The Conception of the Hijra Calendar by Umar (Islamic Era).
Let us assume Allah subscribes to the same calendar as Saudi Arabia which was the Hijra Calendar started by Khalifa Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, 6 years after the Prophet’s death. This also means Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had no knowledge of such calendar and the format adopted. According to Islamic traditions, the Hijra Calendar was establish by Umar long after the death of Prophet Muhammad.
n AH 17 (638 CE), Abu Musa Ashaari, one of the officials of the Caliph Umar in Basrah, complained about the absence of any years on the correspondence he received from Umar, making it difficult for him to determine which instructions were most recent. This report convinced Umar of the need to introduce an era for Muslims. After debating the issue with his counselors, he decided that the first year should be the year of Muhammad’s arrival at Medina (known as Yathrib, before Muhammad’s arrival).The History of al_Tabari Volume 6 – The Institution of the Islamic Era.
So Umar, sometime in 638CE, approximately six years after the Prophet’s death, after some deliberation and debate by his councilors, had made a decision to start a new calendar, to differentiate Islamic Era from the Christians, the Jews or perhaps departing from their own pre-Islamic (Jahili) calendar. So the determination of the new Islamic calendar had to depend on the outcome of the debate by Umar’s counselors. And so did Allah’s future decisions and timings to send blessings during Nisfu Syaaban, Ramadhan, Lailatul Qadar, Wukuf and Hajj, all rests on the outcome of this debate. Can we accept this?
Further adjustment to the calendar was later made by Uthman to determine the actual starting month of the Hijra calendar. During this time, it was still highly probable that the calendar was still lunisolar. It is still unclear when the calendar shifted from lunisolar to purely lunar.
Uthman ibn Affan then suggested that the months begin with Muharram, in line with the established custom of the Arabs at that time. The years of the Islamic calendar thus began with the month of Muharram in the year of Muhammad’s arrival at the city of Medina, even though the actual emigration took place in Safar and Rabi’ I of the intercalated calendar, two months before the commencement of Muharram in the new fixed calendar. Because of the Hijra, the calendar was named the Hijri calendar. – Watt, W. Montgomery. “Hidjra”. In P.J. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912
Calendar used by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Al-Biruni and Al-Mas’udi concluded that the pre-Islamic Quraisy had been using the same month names of the Hijra calendar for at least 200 years in the lunisolar format. This was logical as the Prophet did not start a new calendar or give names to the contemporary calendar he is using. The Prophet, just like any other member of his community, simply used the existing calendar to fix his schedules, plan his journeys and expedition, and religious rituals. For this reason, Muhammad was definitely following and using the practical lunisolar calendar instead of purely lunar.
Muhammad, being employed by the wealthy merchant, Khadija, should be well aware of the prevailing calendar commonly used by other merchants and use it to plan his trade journeys according to the appropriate season. Merchants transported their goods by camel train or caravans across deserts routes that connect Africa, Persia, The Levant, Europe and the Silk Road. Obviously the times for travel by land in the ancient times would have been determined by the seasonal weather. The availability of certain crops, farm products and goods, for example, were dependent on harvesting seasons or certain times of the year. Apart from the land routes, shipments by sea also played an important role and their schedule certainly were affected by the seasons and the tradewinds. Knowledge of annual calendar events was very important for Muhammad to keep abreast of trading activities and incoming goods. So it was impossible for Muhammad and his contemporaries to be using a purely lunar calendar as the present Hijra calendar
Winter Pilgrimage in Makkah
As concluded by Al-Biruni, the pagan Arabs were said to be using lunisolar calendar for at least 200 years before the arrival of Islam. Makkah being a trade hub city for caravan merchants had been hosting pilgrimage of pagan Arabs from the surrounding regions. The annual pilgrimage event had always been during the winter months which had cooler weather compared to other months which were generally still hot and warm. And for this reason, the Arabic month of Dhulhijjah, or the month of Hajj, had always been in winter.
The numerous idols around the Kaaba also reflected the multi-religious community of Makkah, as a result of being a merchant hub with traders setting up their idols and temples around the Kaaba during their settlement in Makkah. The annual pilgrimage was a major event among the pre-Islamic Arabs, where pagan Arabs performed their naked tawaf around the Kaaba, before it was forbidden by the Prophet after his return and conquest of Makkah.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
On the Day of Nahr (10th of Dhul-Hijja, in the year prior to the last Hajj of the Prophet (pbuh) when Abu Bakr was the leader of the pilgrims in that Hajj) Abu Bakr sent me along with other announcers to Mina to make a public announcement: “No pagan is allowed to perform Hajj after this year and no naked person is allowed to perform the tawaf around the Ka`ba. Then Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) sent `Ali to read out the Surat Bara’a (at-Tauba) to the people; so he made the announcement along with us on the day of Nahr in Mina: “No pagan is allowed to perform Hajj after this year and no naked person is allowed to perform the tawaf around the Ka’ba.
Sahih al-Bukhari 369
In-book reference : Sahih Bukhari Book 8, Hadith 21USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 1, Book 8, Hadith 365
Narrated Abu Huraira:
That during the Hajj in which the Prophet (pbuh) had made Abu Bakr As Siddiq as chief of the, Hajj before the Hajj-ul-Wida,’ on the day of Nahr, Abu Bakr sent him along with a group of persons to announce to the people. “No pagan is permitted to perform Hajj after this year, and nobody is permitted to perform the Tawaf of the Ka`ba naked.”
Sahih al-Bukhari 4363
In-book reference : Sahih Bukhari Book 64, Hadith 389
USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 5, Book 59, Hadith 649
The Hijra Months
We only just have to study the meanings of the Arabic months to know that it was originally a lunisolar calendar and not purely lunar. The meaning of the months clearly indicated the seasonal activities associated with the months. We can conclude that Muhammad was following a lunisolar calendar and not purely lunar as Muslims currently use. There is no evidence that Muhammad started a new calendar for Islam. There are clues in the names of the months themselves:
According to Islamic traditions, the removal of intercalation month was done after the final Khutbah of the Prophet;
He (i.e. Hudhaifa) had taken this system of intercalation from the Jews nearly 200 years before Islam; the Jews, however, intercalated 9 months in 24 lunar years. In consequence their months were fixed, and came always in at their proper times, wandering in a uniform course through the year without retrograding and without advancing. This state of things remained till the Prophet made his Farewell pilgrimage, and the following verse was revealed to him: ” Intercalation is only an increase of infidelity, by which the infidels lead astray (people), admitting it one year and prohibiting it in another.” (Sura 9:37.) The Prophet delivered an address to the people, and said : ” Time has come around as it was on the day of God’s creating the heavens and the earth” and, continuing, he recited to them the (just mentioned) verse of the Koran on the prohibition of the Nasi’, i.e. intercalation.
Ever since they have neglected intercalation, so that their months have receded from their original places, and the names of the months are no longer in conformity with their original meanings. As to the other nations, their opinions on this subject are well known. They are likely to have no other systems besides those we have mentioned, and each nation seems to follow the example of the system of their neighbours. – Al-Biruni : The Chronology of Ancient Nations ( Athar-Ul-Bakiya )Chapter II – On The Nature of that which is Composed of Days, viz, Months and Years
If we read the the quoted verse of the quran, this understanding or narrative appears to be innacurate to make allegations that it was the Prophet that ordered the abandonment of the intercalation month. It was unlikely for the Prophet to make a incorrect interpretation of the Quran, rather it was the people after him that probably made the incorrect interpretation of verse 9:37
Al-Nasee-u: Misinterpretation of Verse 9:37
As explained earlier, during the pre-Hijra period, Muhammad was clearly following a lunisolar calendar. It was unclear exactly when the shift towards purely lunar had taken place. Islamic traditions had pointed to the last khutbah of the Prophet on the issue of tampering of the calendar.
“O men! the unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calendar in order to make permissible that which Allah forbade, and to prohibit what Allah has made permissible. With Allah the months are twelve in number. Four of them are holy, there are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Shaban.”
If we read verse 9:37 carefully, the verse is clearly taking issue on those making permissible what Allah forbade and forbidding what Allah has made permissible from time to time. This is about changing the laws by those who conceals the scripture, in whatever year or time that suits them. This verse is not about intercalation of the calendar, because the verse itself is explaining what Al-Nasee means.
9:37 Indeed, Al-Nasee-u is an increase in concealment (al-Kuf’ri), are led astray by it those who conceal (kafaru). They make it lawful one year and make it unlawful another year, to accommodate reckonings which has made unlawful Allah and making lawful what has made unlawful Allah. Is made fair-seeming to them the evil of their deeds. And Allah does not guide the people – the concealers ( al-Kafirin).
Muhammad himself knew that the benefit of lunisolar calendar was to keep the months in season, which had proven to be practical by all communities. Muhammad should have known the impact of applying purely lunar calendar would render it as an impractical calendar.
The text from the last Khutbah which was said in reference to verse 37 from Surah At-Taubah was obviously delivered before the his death. But according to Islamic traditions, the Surah was revealed two years earlier. Why didn’t Muhammad made the change to the calendar two years earlier before his death? The answer was obvious.
Verse 9:37 has nothing to do with the calendar and the concern was to those in charge do not trust the laws of Allah and change their religious edict according to their own interest and purpose. This according to the Quran will cause them to go further astray. And it is very common to see this happening among the religions scholars issuing different fatwa’s or religious edict to suit their narrative or political leanings. And they will change them again when it does not suit them. And this will make them further astray from the straight path. It has nothing to do with intercalation of calendar.
Religious clerics were very important to the state and they were given a special place in the government, even during the times of the Firaun, whom were the Haman. Religion was an effective social tool to keep the people in order and constant fear of the Gods.
Names of Jahili and Hijra Months and its meanings.
Positioning the Hijra Months
Below are some of the historical accounts based on the weather or seasons recorded over the important events. Some of these events were recorded in the Julian Calendar by the Christians under the Byzantine rule.
Even if this repositioning of the calendar is done and corrected, it merely reinstate the pagan Arab calendar that was followed by Prophet Muhammad for his daily life activities. We do not know if there was another religious calendar followed privately by Muhammad.
Hijra Months Correlations with Julian Calendar
The timings of the Hajj pilgrimage is now no longer similar to the times of the Prophet when he returned to Makkah in December 629CE ( Ramadhan 8AH), 3 years before his death. From the diagram above, we know that there were at least three pilgrimage sessions during the last years of the Prophet in Makkah. And it was during the last pilgrimage attended by the Prophet, that was led by Abu Bakar, whereby on this year, the pagans Arab were prevented to perform naked tawaf around the Kaabah. There were two matters for us to ponder based on the time line shown above.
Firstly, the last khutbah that was presented by the prophet allegedly contained the order to remove the intercalation month, based on verse 9:37. We have already explained previously on Al-Nasee, that this was false and Muhammad did not order to remove the intercalation month. Whoever made the changes later to the Arabic calendar ( later known as Hijra ) by removing the intercalation month from the Arabic lunisolar calendar had made a mistake and misinterpretation of the text.
Secondly, this mean that in the previous years, the pagan Arabs were still performing their naked tawaf around the Kaabah ( not alongside the Muslims but separate session ). It was unclear for how many years the polytheist Arabs were still performing their rituals and pilgrimage, sharing the Kaabah and the Black Stone with the Muslims. We can also assume there were pagans Arabs living in Makkah and naturally it will take several years for the whole residents of Makkah to fully convert into Islam.
What Does a Religious Calendar Mean?
Muslims generally believe that based on the Hijra calendar, certain days or months are given special treatment or extra rewards for certain deeds, good works or rituals, compared to other days or months. Please be reminded that the Hijra calendar was simply a continuation of Jahili or pagan Arabs calendar that had been in use well in pre-Islamic Arabia.
Does it imply that the Lord of the Universe subscribes to manmade calendar? Does it mean Allah is following manmade calendar to provide His blessings in the month of Ramadhan and give extra rewards for all the good deeds done during the month, apart from fasting during this month over any other months? Similarly on Nisfu Syaaban, why would Allah prefer a particular manmade calendar month to raise our deeds to Him?
Shaaban is the month when deeds are raised to Allah. Our Prophet Muhammad s.a.w said:
“It is a month where people tend to neglect, between the months of Rajab and Ramadan. It is a month in which the deeds are raised to the Lord of the worlds, and I like my deeds to be raised while I am fasting.” (Sunan An-Nasa’i) –The Prophet s.a.w. increased his acts of worship by fasting more compared to other months (other than Ramadan).
Is the Calendar of Saudi Arabia the Calendar of God?
It seems that subconsciously, Muslims had the thinking that Allah had to follow the present calendar of Saudi Arabia. Every time the Saudi Government made adjustments to the calendar to determine the day of Hajj and the Day of Wukuf, Allah shall oblige and fulfill to answer the prayers of Muslims whom are present in a particular area and time over other places on earth. Muslims never had a slightest doubt whether the Lord of the Universe was agreeable to the Calendar of Saudi Arabia. This is where the consciousness of Muslims comes into question.
Again we need to remember that the large amount of money that are saved for this once in a life time trip (several times for the wealthy or those living nearby) which are believed to be for the path of Allah, but actually goes to airline companies, hotel operators, tour agents and other associated expenses for our own comfort. The pilgrims were spending it onto themselves, and maybe a smaller portion of charity.
How do we substantiate this to those who can’t afford such journey, or food on their table. Is this truly a priority requirement from Allah? That Allah really need this from us? That Allah need us to come to a particular place in a particular time to devote ourselves to Him? Aren’t we associating him enough with locality, time and stoning rituals?
To spend money for Allah is to spend it on charity. Not hotels or airlines for personal comfort. As explained in previous verse 2:177, as far as Allah is concerned, it is our actions that give tangible results that count. The reality on Hajj is both shocking and sad. Allah is very close to us (50:16) and Allah is free from any needs.
50:16 And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein
2:267 O you who have believed, spend from the good things which you have earned and from that which We have produced for you from the earth. And do not aim toward the defective therefrom, spending [from that] while you would not take it [yourself] except with closed eyes. And know that Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy.
End of year and Hijra new year prayers.
Every year end, Muslims are reminded to recite prayers to ask for a year end forgiveness and blessings for the new year. This is implying Allah is using the Hijra calendar to evaluate his servants year on year. Do the angels compile all our deeds and sins at the end of every Hijra year to be taken up to Allah, that we had to read special prayer (du’a) at the end of the Hijra as a final appeal to be in the good books of Allah? And we read another special prayer the next day as Allah opens a new record for our deeds at the beginning of Muharram, marking another new Islamic year. The issue here is not about our prayers or invocations to Allah, but its timings of subscribing to a manmade calendar. Do we not have direct communication with Allah all the time? Does he not listen to us all the time?
|Dua for the Start of Hijrah Year (1st Muharram)|
|In the name of Allah, the Universally Merciful, the Singularly Compassionate. And blessings and peace be upon our liege-lord Muhammad, his family and companions. O Allah, Thou are the First from All Eternity. By Thou great bounty and generosity, this is the dawn of another new year. (So) I beseech Thee at this hour to bestow upon me (a) an impregnable shield from the malevolent plots of the accursed Satan, his allies and his foot-soldiers and (b) succour over the evil-self that incites to deviation, disobedience, and sin and (c) to engage in that which brings proximity to Thee. O possessor of Supreme Majesty and Unrivalled Generosity. And blessings and peace be upon the unlettered Prophet, Muhammad, and upon his family and companions. |
|Dua for the End of Hijrah Year|
|In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most MercifulAll praises be to Allah, Lord of all Universe. Praises be to Prophet Muhammad saw, his family and his companions.Oh Allah, a year has passed in our life. You have bestowed on us the Greatness of Your nikmah in which we could never imagine and You have protected us from harm when we cannot detach ourselves from it. We have done deeds in which only You have knowledge of its good or bad.Oh Allah, if the deed that we have done is in accordance to Your Teachings, please accept those deeds as meaningful deeds in your eyes. However, if those deeds have been accompanied with boastfulness and envy or we have done ourselves wrong, or its intention had been tainted, we seek Your Forgiveness and we implore that You hide all these wrongdoings. Please bless us with goodness and Your bountiful provisions.Oh Allah, the New Year has crawled in and the current year will leave us shortly. However, we do not know what is in store for us in the coming year. We are ignorant as to where our life will head to. It is our hope that You allow us to begin this New Year with the door of Forgiveness so that we do not end this life in loss. Oh Allah, we plead that you shower Taufiq to us in this year for us to continue to do good deeds that receive Your pleasure and a harmonious life that you bless.Oh Allah, we seek your Might to safeguard our physical self so that we continue to worship you. Safe keep us so that our hearts are filled with love. Please open our hearts so that we seek you always just like how you open the hearts of those who are righteous. Please place us amongst those who keep to their promises and able to fulfill our responsibilities. Please make our life a witness to all deeds that you have enjoined us to do, Oh Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Giving.|