By Afshan Zahra
Introduced in 638 AD by Hazrat Umar bin al Khattab (R.A), a close comrade of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the second Caliph of Islam, the Islamic calendar, is based purely on lunar cycles. He did it, in order, to rationalize the various conflicting dating systems used during his time.
Hazrat Umar (R.A) consulted his counselors and it was agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the Hijrah, since it was the pivotal historical event of early Islam and an important edge for the Muslims that led to the foundation of the first pure Islamic state. For this reason, the Islamic calendar is also known as the “Hijrah Calendar.”
Allah says in the Qur’an Surah Tawbah Ayah 36:
“The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) – so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth….”
Thus, the Islamic year is composed of twelve lunar months. They are Muharram, Safar, Rabee’ al-Awwal, Rabee’ ath-Thaanee / al-Aakhir, Jumaada al-Oolaa, Jumaada ath-Thaaniyah / al-Aakhirah, Rajab, Sha’baan, Ramadhan, Shawwaal, Dhul-Qi’dah and Dhul-Hijjah.
A unique aspect of the Islamic Calendar is that it starts with Hijrah or the sacrifice for the cause of Truth. It was divine selection as Allah wanted to teach man that struggle between Truth and Evil is eternal. The beginning of the Islamic year recalls Muslims of the immense sacrifice and teaches them to do the same.
The calendar slips back 11 days for every year. Thus, the months have no permanent relation to the seasons. For instance, the fasting month of Ramadhan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) may occur in winter, summer, spring or autumn, making a complete cycle every 33 Gregorian years.
Islamic months begin at sunset of the first day, the day when the lunar crescent is visually sighted. The lunar year is approximately 354 days long, so the months rotate backward through the seasons.
Saudi Arabia follows the Islamic calendar as its official calendar .Other Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and only turns to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.