Getting to Know Allah
The Islamic calendar is based on a lunar cycle of twelve months (29 or 30 days) making the Islamic year 354 days long. Islam (610 - 632 AD) is a product of the Dark Ages (400 - 900 AD) when most of the science of the Greeks and Romans was temporality lost.
Lost to humanity perhaps but not to God I am sure.
Why Allah chose the primitive inaccurate lunar calendar over the more accurate scientific solar calendar such as the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC remains a mystery? Unlike the lunar calendar, it neatly divided a 365 day year into 12 months and added a leap day to February every four years.
The first solar calendar was probably developed by the Egyptians who, as a settled agrarian civilization, needed an accurate way of determining the end of one season and the beginning of another.
It is true, that being able to accurately determine the best time to plant your crops would not have been an issue for the desert dwellers of the arid Arab peninsula whose main occupation was trade and the raising of livestock, mainly sheep, goats and camels.
But what about the rest of the world who would be forced to adopt the lunar calendar as Islam spreads across the globe.
Allah had to know better; so why choose such an inaccurate way of measuring the macro passage of time, and saddling humanity with it till the end-of-times?
As a businessman who led caravans as far north as modern day Syria, God’s Messenger would have travelled these long distances mainly at night because of the desert heat. On these night journeys the moon was more of a friend than the blistering desert sun, and therefore a natural candidate for measuring the passage of time.
Could the Prophet have just chosen the lunar calendar for the same reason he chose Friday as Islam's day of worship i.e. to further differentiate the believers from the unbelievers?
For the believers there is only one reason why God’s Messenger adopted the lunar calendar and that is because Allah told him so. And if Allah chose it, then the traverse of the moon must be a better way of measuring the passage of the days, the months and the years than the sun as was done when the Moon was a god worshipped by most of the inhabitants of the Peninsula.
2:189 They ask you about the crescents (the new moons), say: “They are times fixed for mankind and for the pilgrimage.” It is not righteousness to enter houses from the back; but the righteous is he who fears Allah. Enter then the houses by their front doors; and fear Allah that you may prosper.
The moon’s brightness is a reflections of the sun’s light. Allah has reverse these in selecting the moon to measure the passage of time. Can His fondness for a former competitor in the pantheon of Arab gods be any more evident.
10:5 It is He Who made the sun a bright radiance and the moon a light, and determined phases for it so that you may know the number of years and the reckoning. Allah did not create that except in truth, expounding the Signs to a people who know.
10:6 Indeed, in the alternation of night and day and in what Allah has created in the heavens and the earth are real signs for people who are God-fearing.
In a forlorn revelation, it is the sun that Allah suggest you use to mark the passage of the years and do your “reckoning”.
17:12 We have made the night and the day two signs; then We blotted out the sign of the night and made the sign of the day luminous, that you may seek bounty from your Lord, and learn the number of years and the reckoning, and everything We have expounded clearly.
The lunar calendar need not have been a calendar that needlessly complicated things by moving through the seasons if Allah had not banned the practice of adding a thirteenth month every third year or so.
It was the custom of some of the tribes that shared the Peninsula, before the Muslim conquest, to add a thirteenth month when it became obvious that the lunar calendar had lost all connection with the seasons and needed to be re-synchronized with the solar calendar.
This, Allah claimed, was an attempt by the polytheists i.e. unbelievers to interfere with his sacred months and He forbade it.
9:36 The number of months, with Allah, is twelve months by Allah’s Ordinance from the day He created the heavens and the earth. Four of these are Sacred. This is the right religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them; but fight the polytheists all together just as they fight you all together; and know that Allah is on the side of the righteous.
9:37 Postponing the [Sacred Month] is an added disbelief by which the unbelievers seek to mislead, allowing it one year and prohibiting it another year, so as to equal the number [of months] Allah has made sacred. Their evil deeds are made attractive to them; and Allah does not guide the unbelieving people.
The Names of the Months
The name of the months of the Islamic calendar are said to predate Islam and many reflect weather conditions on the Arabian Peninsula.
Allah and His Messenger's adoption of a primitive calendar based on local weather conditions where each month begins eleven days (365 - 354) earlier every year (not counting leap years) makes for some interesting juxtapositions.
Somewhere in the world people are freezing during The Month of Great Heat or seeking shelter from torrential rains during The First Dry Month and perhaps The Second Dry Month.
1 The Sacred Month
2 The Month of Travelling
3 The First Spring
4 The Second Spring
5 The First Dry Month
6 The Second Dry Month
7 The Month of Respect
8 The Dividing Month
9 The Month of Great Heat
10 The Month of Hunting
11 The Month of Rest
12 The Month of Pilgrimage
In 637, Caliph Umar made the year 622, the year the Prophet fled Mecca and settled with his followers in Medina, year zero of the Islamic calendar. The year of this exodus is known as the Hijra or Hegira and is represented as 1 AH or 1 al-Hijra. The Hegira marks the alleged transition from ignorance to enlightenment.
A hadith where the usefulness of having a 29 day month is self-evident:
Narrated Um Salama:
The Prophet vowed to keep aloof from his wives for a period of one month, and after the completion of 29 days he went either in the morning or in the afternoon to his wives.
Someone said to him "You vowed that you would not go to your wives for one month."
He replied, "The month is of 29 days."