TRANSLATED BY MOHAMMAD ANWAR KHAN
Muharram Al-Haram is the first month of the Islamic Calendar as January is the first month of the English Calendar. Most of us are aware about the dates of the English (Gregorian) calendar- when it starts and ends. On the contrary, we do not know anything about the dates of the Islamic calendar, which begins from the year when the Holy Prophet Muhammad migrated to Madinah. We only refer to the dates of the Hijri Calendar at the beginning of the Month of Ramadan or the Month of Dhul-Hijjah. As far as the other days of the year are concerned, we usually take the dates of the Islamic calendar lightly, and they almost pass by unnoticed.
At the start of every New Year of the Muslim calendar, the month of Muharram al-Haram dawns on us, and then the days glide past us without being noticed. On the other hand, when the month of January starts, many of the Muslims in our society join other people in celebrating it enthusiastically, greeting each other, wishing a “Happy New Year” with all warmth and sincerity. Some of them hold parties, cut cakes, eat pastries, and mark that day for an outing for a picnic. They look forward to its arrival every year eagerly to become one among the people celebrating this joyous occasion, with the bursting of firecrackers at the midnight of December 31st, and cheering loudly with others to usher in the New Year. The next day, many of our Muslim brothers in their ignorance, go through the newspapers looking at the astrological section for what the stars predict for them for the whole year. Some of them unfortunately believe in what is printed in them with their heart and soul modifying their lifestyles accordingly! If the astrological charts in the newspaper predict a bad news about their health and financial affairs in any given month, the superstitious ones in their ignorance take extra precautions to ward off the evil omens of those months. As a result, they do businesses and other transactions on those months, which have been predicted by the astrologers for them as lucky. If they strike a windfall in their fortunes on those months, then they place all their trust in those astrological predictions completely forgetting the fact that it is the Qadr that has been destined to them by Allah (swt), and not the planetary stars, or the effects of the constellations for all their fortunes and misfortunes!
Everyone knows that the celebration of the commencement of the first day of January spreads among the nations of the world like wildfire. All the communities, irrespective of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews have taken to the Gregorian calendar and have adopted its ways in their lives with all enthusiasm. They write letters to their loved ones among their relatives and friends wishing them all health, wealth, and prosperity, whereas, the awareness of Islamic dates, and its significance, which is compulsory for all Muslims, are completely brushed aside with contempt even if some person who is knowledgeable about the event informs others about it. The Muslim theologians declare that following the Hijri Calendar is made binding on all Muslims as (Farz-e-Kifayah) i.e. a general obligation whose observance by a majority of Muslim in an adequate number absolves all the other Muslims who are ignorant of it.
The Significance of the Islamic Calendar
The Holy Qur’an says, “They ask you concerning the new moons. Say, they are but the signs to mark fixed periods of time, in the affairs of men and for pilgrimage.” (2:189)
It is narrated that the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (saws) asked him about the moon of the first days of the month, whereupon, this Qur’anic verse was revealed to the Prophet (saws) in order to make it clear for them that the appearance of the moon can be used for measuring of the time in the affairs of men and for performing other acts of religious worships. Consequently, when the month begins, it indicates the beginning of the month by the crescent shaped figure of the moon, then it keeps growing bigger with each passing day. In this way, Muslims feel it convenient in fixing the time for all their worldly purposes as well as performing the religious acts of worship like the Pilgrimage, Zakah, fasting, and for celebrating the two Eids and marking the period of iddat etc. In the Holy Qur’an, it is only the Pilgrimage (Hajj) that has been mentioned in this verse to mark its beginning, which states that the moon is a measure of time for it. However, all the other forms of worship are also included under it, which are to be performed in a particular month or time in an Islamic Hijri year like fasting, which is performed in the month of Ramadan. Therefore, it is necessary to know the time of Ramadan, to fulfill this obligation and it depends completely on the beginning of the sighting of moon and ends with the sighting of the new moon in the month of Shawwal. In the same manner, the annual Pilgrimage, the Hajj, the Eid-ul-Adha, and the timing of paying out the Zakah to the poor etc. are also performed with the help of the Hijri calendar, which measures out the time according to the lunar months.
In brief, the Qur’anic verse that has been mentioned above gives a clear indication about the fact that the moon is to be used in regulating the affairs of the daily life of men and should be taken to calculate all the religious months as a measure of time in and for fixing periods.
The Importance of Lunar Month in Shariah
The Muslim theologians, therefore, have stated that it is compulsory in performing religious obligations and acts of worship to follow the Lunar Calendar. Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi writes under the commentary of this verse, “The Islamic Shariah has made it compulsory to act according to lunar calendar and the same is preferable in other matters as well. This is a kind of worship and an Islamic character of the Muslim Ummah throughout the world.
However, the Solar Calendar is not prohibited at all provided the Muslims do not forget the Hijri Calendar, because of its popularity and its hold on the minds of masses, for, such an act causes a disorder in religious affairs, like fasting in the month of Ramadan and for performing the Pilgrimage etc. Nowadays, it is common to see that all people date their businesses according to the Solar System, which exists in our offices and business institutions and in the personal letters written by people and for other matters relating to official correspondence. A great number of Muslims who work in these offices do not remember the Islamic dates. This proves to be a sign of our intellectual and religious bankruptcy concerning all matters relating to Islam. If we use the English dates in official matters, which are related to Non-Muslims, and use Islamic dates in personal and private affairs and the other necessities of our daily lives, we will obtain the reward of fulfilling Farz-e-Kifayah and, in this way maintain our Islamic character and Muslim identity.” (Maariful Qur’an, 1:468)
We should learn a lesson from the Christians in this regard. They have imposed their values and their way of life all over the world and we Muslims, not speak of spreading our culture, even do not practice it for our personal and communal laws and traditions!
The system of the calendar in the past nations
However, it is important to use and remember the dates of the Islamic calendar as an Islamic act, which identifies us as a Muslim community with our own set of values, and in turn, it will help us keep in close touch with our Islamic identity. Here, we should know when the Hijri year, which has been determined for the Islamic Calendar, began and what the reasons were behind it. But, at first we must understand that different things were adopted to fix a time and decide a period in the ancient nations.
Imam Sha‘abi says: “When the number of the descendents of Adam (as) increased and spread to different parts of the earth, people fixed their dates in history from the time of Adam’s arrival on earth, which continued until the Flood occurred during the time of Nuh (as). Thereafter, a date was determined from the time of the Great Deluge or Flood, which continued until the time of Ibrahim (as) being thrown in the fire acting on the orders of Nimrod. Then, from the time of Ibrahim’s incident until the period of Prophet Yusuf (as), different periods in the history of man were counted based on this event.
From thereafter, to the time of Musa’s (as) migration from Egypt and then from there, to the period of Prophet Dawood, and then, to the time of Prophet Sulaiman (as) and from there, to the arrival of the period of Isa (as) as a Prophet and Messenger of God on earth, dates were fixed respectively. (Umdah Al-Qari 17: 66)
Ibn Al-Kalabi says: “The people of Himyar tribe used to date their events in history from the time of Yemen’s kings and the people of Ghassan from the time of the breaking of the Ma‘arib Dam in Yemen, and the people of Sana‘a counted their dates in history from the time of domination of Ethiopians, and then followed from the time of the domination by the Persians. And the Arabs dated their days in history by the famous days like Boos, Dahis, Ghabra etc.” (Umdah Al-Qari 17:66)
Ibn Hisham narrates, “The dates of history fixed by the Roman Empire continued from the murder of Dara Ibn Dara until the Persians conquered them. As far as the Qift (the Copts) are concerned, they determined their dates in history from the time of Bukht-e-Nassar (Nebuchadnezzar) to Falabetrah who was the Queen of Egypt. And, the Jews fixed their dates in history from the time the temple of Solomon at Baitul-Maqdis was destroyed on the order of Emperor Titus of Rome. And, the Christians decided their dates in history from the time of the birth of Prophet Isa (as) who was raised among them as a Prophet and a Messenger of God.” (Umdah Al-Qari, 17:66)
Allama Ibn Katheer has narrated, “The Persians (Iranians) dated their events in history from the birth of a king and his death. When he was replaced by another king, they would fix their dates from the time of the new king. They continued to do that from one king to another and left the old events of the past, consigned to the dustbins of history. (Al-Bidayah Wa An-Nihayah 3:206)
Now, it has become quite clear from the details, which we have mentioned above that usually people used to fix their dates from well-known and famous events and incidents. Though some of them did it from the point of the decline, and fall of their empires and kingdoms. The Jews decided their dates from time of the destruction of their temple at Baitul-Maqdis at the hands of the Roan General Titus. On the other hand, the Christians started their calendar after Isa (saws) was raised to Allah. The Arabs started their date from the time when Abraha of Yemen attacked the house of Allah (the Ka‘bah in Makkah) with giant elephants and a large number of soldiers, which is remembered in Islamic history as the Incident of Elephant.
The Starting Point of Hijri Year
The Islamic Calendar, which is called Hijri, is based on the glorious event of Hijrah (migration) of the Holy Prophet to Madinah. Hijrah means migration and that is the reason it is called as the Hijri Calendar. It is narrated that for the first time the Hijri year was declared as the Islamic Calendar during the glorious and successful Caliphate of Umar, the Great. This was decided with the advice of the Companions of the Prophet (saws). Let us have a brief glance through the traditions, which are mentioned about the events that led to the start of the Hijri Calendar.
Abu Musa Ash ‘ari (ra) wrote a letter to Umar (ra) wherein he explained: “We receive many letters from you without a date put on them i.e. it becomes very difficult to know when the letter was written, whereupon Umar (ra) collected the Companions and consulted them about their views on this matter. For the affairs of his administration over the Islamic Empire needed a marking of events. Some of them advised him to fix the time from the time When Allah (swt) commissioned Prophet Muhammad (saws) to be the last Apostle of Allah, to deliver the Last Testament of God to human beings. Whereas others disagreed about this matter and opined that some of them were of the opinion that the date must be fixed from the time of Hijrah (Migration of the Holy Prophet from Makkah to Madinah), and a few of them were inclined to mark the events of Islamic history after the death of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saws).
But, the majority of the Companions were of the opinion that the Islamic Calendar should commence from the year of Hijrah. Umar (ra) – after hearing all their views - declared his final judgment in the favor of this opinion. (Fath Al-Bari 7:268, Thiqat-e-Ibn Hibban 2:206)
From the above narration it becomes clear that Umar (ra) consulted the Companions owing to the initiation of this point on the part of Abu Musa Ash‘ari to proclaim that the Islamic date should be started from the event of Hijrah of Prophet Muhammad from Makkah to Madinah, which was an important event that led to the establishment of the Islamic Empire.
However, another narration states: ‘A person came from Yemen to Umar and told him that he had seen in Yemen a thing which they call as “date “ to mark the daily events in their life. They write about everything using it as a measure of time, and declare that such an event happened in such and such a year and the month or a day. On hearing this, Umar (ra) declared: “This is a good practice to fix a date to mark events in history and to regulate the daily lives of people and religious events according to it. When he collected the people, they advised him to fix it from Prophet Muhammad’s (saws) birth, and some of them were of the mind to start the Islamic calendar from the date when he first received a revelation from Archangel Jibrail (as) in the Cave of Hira. Some others were of the opinion to mark this event from his Hijrah from Makkah to Madinah and a few others from his death. Umar said, “Let us fix the date from the time of Hijrah.” (Fath Al-Bari 7:269, Al-Bidayah Wa An-Nihayah, 3:206)
From this narration, we come to the conclusion that the movement of fixing the date started from Yemen. Here is another narration that Umar (ra) determine this as he felt a necessity to do this to mark the dates in Islamic history and for the records of his correspondence and administration. Ibn Hajar, Aini and Ibn Katheer have mentioned the narration on the authority of Maimoon Ibn Mehran, ‘Once a document was handed over to Umar, which was dated with the month of Sha‘aban. Upon this he said, ‘Which Sha‘aban is meant, the past or the future? Later, he collected the Companions and consulted them and fixed the calendar.” (Fath Al-Bari 7:268, Umdah Al-Qari 17:66, Al-Bidayah Wa An-Nihayah 3:206).
From these recorded events, we can draw a conclusion that Umar (ra), acting by himself felt the necessity to decide the date, later other Companions were also united on the same idea. Therefore, Umar consulted the Companions in a special meeting and declared that the date of the Islamic calendar would start from the Hijrah of Prophet Muhammad (saws) from Makkah to Madinah.
The Hijrah Calendar and its Founder Umar
We now come to the conclusion that Umar founded the Islamic calendar for which he will be remembered for good in the History of Islam. Allama Suyuti has included this in the list of Umar’s outstanding achievements and virtues, which he performed first time in the Islamic history and added, “He is the person who, for the first time, fixed the dates in Islamic History from the time of Hijrah.” (Tareekh-ul -Khulafa: 108)
In another narration of Musnad-e-Ahmed it is mentioned that Yala Ibn Umayya is the first person, who wrote the date, but this narration is weak. (Fath Al-Bari).
So, the right thing in this regard is to recognize the role of Umar (ra) who was the person who fixed the date and the Companions, who were his main advisors, Ali and Usman (ra) who supported him in this decision.
Why do we start the Islamic Calendar from Hijrah?
Here is an important thing, which holds our attention and our thoughts. The matter is that the event, on which the Companions have based the starting point of Islamic dates, is the event of the Hijrah, while there are many other different events of great importance in the Islamic history, which could have been made as a landmark and a starting point of the Islamic calendar. The event of his (i.e. Prophet’s) birth was one of the greatest events. Due to this a few Companions had advised Umar (ra) about their opinion, which they held in this matter.
In the same way, the event of being told for the first time in the Mount of Hira by Archangel Jibrail that he was the Last prophet of Allah (swt) who was being sent to all human beings with His Last Testament was also an important event in the Islamic History. The start of the Islamic Calendar could also have been made from this point of time in Islamic History. The event of Meraj could also not be neglected in this regard. But the Companions, especially, Ali and Umar made the event of Hijrah as the starting point for it.
Let them explain it by themselves as the scribes in their own words have recorded it. They justified, “The Hijrah (migration) separated the right from the wrong.” (Fath Al-Bari, 7:268, Umdah Al-Qari, 17:66)
The meaning is that Hijrah was thought to be an important highlight in Islamic history because the event of Hijrah has differentiated completely between the right and the wrong.
Anybody can read the Islamic history books and know how the act of Hijrah separates the right from the wrong.
The disbelievers had hatched a conspiracy to assassinate Prophet Muhammad (saws) as he slept in his house that night. They besieged his house throughout the night. They thought with the passage of this night he will be murdered, and with his murder, Islam will also be finished and completely uprooted.
But in the same night, the divine commandment for Hijrah (migration) came from Allah, and he escaped from the devilish plot of the pagans safe and intact. He reached to Madinah in a miraculous way. Thus the pagans were left surprised, disappointed and frustrated. They kept regretting that all the careful plans they had hatched for his assassination had failed them. The Disbelievers felt humiliated and defeated. On the other hand, when Prophet Muhammad (saws) reached Madinah, Islam began to rise and gather strength, and the Muslims kept marching on the path of success and glory from that day onwards. There the Muslims formed their own assembly and an Islamic state of sorts. They established an Islamic government.
The Companions have taught a great lesson to all of us by selecting this event as the starting point of the Islamic calendar, and the generations to come by considering the year of Hijrah as the starting point of the Islamic date. The great lesson is that the uplift and advancement of Islam and its grandeur and splendor depended on the fact that the other Muslims had made valuable sacrifices like the Prophet Muhammad (saws) had done, forsaking the land of their birth, their wealth, and positions, by joining him in Madinah, and became his Companions in the way of Allah.
The Second Reason
One reason has been mentioned why the Islamic Calendar started from the year of Hijrah. The second reason is that there was a difference of opinion about the date of his birth as well as the exact day when Allah (swt) commissioned the Holy Prophet as His Apostle in the Mount of Hira through the agency of Archangel Jibril (Gabriel). The Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saws), who were alive after him viewed that starting the calendar from the year of his death would have been a regrettable act, which they did not like. And in fixing the year of Hijrah, no objections were raised from the general body of Muslims who had gathered under the leadership of Umar (ra) to debate this issue.
Muharram Al-Haram -the First Month of the Islamic Calendar
And, by consensus, when it was decided by the Companions of Holy Prophet Muhammad (saws) that the Islamic date should be fixed from the event of Hijrah, another problem arose as which month should be regarded as the first month of the year. After consulting the Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saws), some of them remarked, “Rajab should be declared as the first month of Ramadan.” Abdul Rahman Ibn Awf (ra) was inclined to this opinion. And some of them said, “Ramadan should be the first month.” This was chosen by Talha (ra). Usman (ra) remarked, “We must begin the year by Muharram, because this is a respected month and the beginning of the year and time of returning of the Hajj Pilgrims.” (Fath Al-Bari 7:269, Umdah Al-Qari 17:66)
Ibn Hajar says, “The narrations and traditions as a whole indicate that the Companions who were in the favor of Muharram are Umar, Usman and Ali.” (Fath Al-Bari, 7:269)
In brief, it was agreed upon by all the Companions that Muharram Al-Haram must be declared as the first month of the Hijri year.
A Complication and its Solution
A complication may occur in one’s mind, as the Companions must have regarded the month in which the event of Hijrah took place as the first month of the Islamic year because they attached a lot of importance to the Hijrah. And the month in which Hijrah took place was Rabi Al-Awwal. Then why did they not agree to make Rabi Al-Awwal as the first month of the Hijri year?
The solution for this question is that no doubt, the event of Hijrah took place in the month of Ramadan. But the prophet Muhammad (saws) had determined to leave for Madinah in Muharram Al-Haram. The Muslims, while returning from Madinah after performing their Pilgrimage, invited Prophet Muhammad (saws) to Madinah. He accepted their invitation. When the month of Muharram came, he determined to migrate. From this viewpoint, Muharram is the month of Hijrah although it was practically done in the month of Rabi Al-Awwal.
Ibn Hajar says commenting about this, “This is the strongest reason for starting the Islamic year from the Month of Muharram.” (Fath Al-Bari, 7:269)
A Critical Analysis
After making known to our readers in complete details all the facts that led to the start of the Islamic calendar, we should examine ourselves in a critical way. The actions and practices of the Companions indicate to some important things, which, in fact, are a message and guidance for us. We should examine ourselves in the mirror of their achievements:
The first message is that when the Companions felt a necessity to fix a date, they invented the Islamic year and it gained currency among the Islamic Empire from then onwards. At that time, there were many other different dates, which were followed in different nations of the world. But the Companions did not follow the other nations or communities of the world blindly by imitating their dates in Islamic history. On the contrary, they founded a new Islamic year by consulting one another. This incident indicates that Islam is a complete and an independent religion, which has its own set of codes, beliefs, and practices that set it apart from the other non-Muslim nations of the world. It has its own values, traits, and special characteristics. Islam always wants its followers to maintain these values and traits. Hence, the question arises, “Is it permissible to act upon other dates?” The fact is that it is permissible to use and write other dates but the Islamic date must be given the first priority and care in all our writings and correspondence with one another. The practices of Companions give us an excellent lesson of Islamic Morals, which they followed to this effect. Their Islamic actions appeal to uphold and maintain Islamic values and characteristics. The Companions wanted to display the success and glory of the Muslims and the defeat and ruin of the pagans by fixing the date from the time of Hijrah with the Month of Muharram. Muharram Al-Haram is the month in which the disbelievers were defeated and ruined. On the other hand, the Muslims achieved great success and glory for Islam.
The Companions wanted that we must remember this month as it comes and lead our life successfully. But it is a pity that a large number of Muslims regard this month as an unhappy and unlucky month. Hence, many Muslims avoid this month and they do not hold marriage ceremonies and other functions during this month. This month was highly sacred and respected to them. On the other hand, some misguided Muslims nowadays regard it as an unlucky month. While the fact remains that the best fasting days after the month of Ramadan are the days of Muharram as Imam Muslim narrates in a hadith.
In this Hadith, this month has been declared as to be the month of Allah, which indicates its sacredness and glory. It has been considered as the best month after the month of Ramadan. But because of Shiite’s distorted interpretation of the events, which took place in this month, many Muslims think this month as unlucky, influenced by the Shiite School of Thought, which has no basis in the Islamic Shariah of the mainstream Sunni Islamic Ummah. This is a wrong belief, which must be corrected.
The Companions attracted our attention to the fact that we must sacrifice in the way of Allah by fixing the Islamic date in order to improve and develop Islam as the Prophet Muhammad and his other Companions showed us by their examples and sacrifices by strengthening Islam. If the Companions had not sacrificed all that they had and had not abandoned their comforts and amenities, which they enjoyed in the comforts of their homes in Makkah, it was possible that Islam would have been obliterated from this world.
So, when the Islamic date comes to us, we must have the same feelings of sacrifice as they did, and think of ways and means by which we can strengthen Islam both at an individual and collective level. Now let us think for ourselves, what sacrifices have we presented for the sake of strengthening Islam from its present position to take it to more glorious heights. What services have we rendered to it for the sake of Allah for its improvement? Think, have we not become a source to strengthen disbelief and paganism consciously or unconsciously weakening Islam and its values by following the un-Islamic practices of the non-Muslims blindly in this month, or have we not invested our whole time into improving the assets of our worldly life and developed in us a love and hankering for its material wealth?
After imprinting the above knowledge in our minds, and imbibing its spirit into our souls, everyone must lead his life in the way of developing and raising Islam to reach the zenith of its glory from the present state in which we find ourselves. By working for it selflessly for the sake of the religion and the Muslim community, we can make the Ummah the most distinguished, and respected people on the face of this earth.