Various World Calendars

A calendar to most is just a tool used on a daily basis to distinguish the day, month and the year.
A calendar to most is just a tool used on a daily basis to distinguish the day, month and the year.

A calendar to most is just a tool used on a daily basis to distinguish the day, month, and year. The vast majority do not think twice as to how this immaculate system came into motion and how many various calendars are actually used in the world.

So, what is a calendar? Well, a calendar is a system for fixing the beginning, length, and divisions of the civil year and arranging days and longer divisions of time (such as weeks and months) in a definite order. Currently, there are over 40 calendars actively used globally varying from the Gregorian calendar to the Chinese calendar.

The Hijri Calendar

Approximately 6 years after the passing of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" in 638AD, the second caliph of Islam, Hazrat Umar raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" recognised the requirement of a calendar in order to assist Muslim affairs. This was first of all a practical matter. Correspondence with military and civilian officials in the newly conquered lands had to be dated, however, the issue was that Persia and Egypt used a different calendar from Syria; where the Islamic headquarters were based at the time. Each of these calendars had a different starting point. The Sasanids, the ruling dynasty of Persia, used June 16, 632AD, the date of the accession of the last Sasanid monarch, Yazdagird III. Syria, which until the Muslim conquest was part of the Byzantine Empire, used a form of the Roman “Julian” calendar, with the starting point of October 1, 312BC. Egypt used the Coptic calendar which began on August 29, 284AD. All of these calendars were solar.

To overcome the conflicting time systems Hazrat Umar raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" consulted his advisers on the starting date of the new Muslim chronology. They came to the conclusion that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was of Hijra, which marks the migration of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" and his Companions from Makkah to Medina on September 20, 622AD. For this reason, the Islamic calendar is known as the Hijri calendar. However, the actual starting date for the Hijra calendar was chosen purely on the basis of lunar years, counting backwards to be the first day of the first month of the year of Hijrah, being the first of Muharram which corresponds to July 15, 622CE.

The migration from Makkah to Madinah arguably is the most pivotal and historical event in early Islam. It led to the foundation of the first Muslim city-state, which was a turning point in Islamic and world history. To Muslims, the Hijra calendar is not just a sentimental system of time reckoning and dating important religious events, such as fasting, and the pilgrimage known as Hajj. Therefore, the foundation of the Hijri calendar has a very deep and sentimental meaning. It is a unique aspect of the Islamic Era that it did not start with the victories of Islamic wars, or with the birth or death of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", or the Revelation of the Holy Qur’an. It starts with Hijra or the sacrifice for the cause of Truth and for the preservation of the Revelation. It was a divinely inspired selection. Allah wanted to teach man that struggle between Truth and Evil is eternal. The Islamic year reminds Muslims every year not of the pomp and glory of Islam but of its sacrifice and prepares them to do the same.

The fifth caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad abaabbreviation for "May Allah be his helper" reminded Muslims of their duties at the beginning of a new year on December 30th, 2016, in which he stated:

‘The worldly people, either they are from Muslims or non-Muslims; the start of the New Year is celebrated with full enthusiasm. In the western developed world, the New Year’s Eve is celebrated with a lot of activities. The people stay awake for the entire night and spend their time partying and consuming alcohol…. Thus, if we spend the last night of the previous year and the new day of the New Year pondering over our spiritual conditions and by spending time supplicating towards Allah then we will be the ones who will be working towards a good life hereafter. And if we also indulge in worldly wishes and affairs, then we will lose a lot and gain nothing. If the weaknesses still prevail and the selfevaluation does not give us peace then we should pray to Allah that the coming year may not be the one that would show us a reduction in spiritual enhancement. Instead, our every step should be to gain the pleasure of Allah. Our everyday should be reflective of the good model of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him".’

As most things in Islam comes back to the word of Allah, therefore Hazrat Umar raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" referred to several passages of the Holy Qur’an in aid in establishing the Islamic calendar:

‘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; of them four are sacred: that is the straight usage. So wrong not yourselves therein and fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves. Verily the transposing (of a prohibited month) is an addition to Unbelief: the unbelievers are led to wrong thereby: for they make it lawful one year, and forbidden another year, in order to adjust the number of months forbidden by Allah and make such forbidden ones lawful.’

The Holy Quran [9:36-37]

‘It is He who made the sun to be shining glory and the moon to be alight (of beauty), and measured out stages for her; that you might know the number of years and the count (of time).’

The Holy Quran [10:5]

The Islamic year consists of twelve lunar months:

  • Muharram
  • Safar
  • Rabee’ al-Awwal
  • Rabee’ ath-Thaanee also known as al-Aakhir
  • Jumaada al-Oolaa
  • Jumaada ath-Thaaniyah or al-Aakhirah
  • Rajab
  • Sha’baanRamadhan
  • Shawwaal
  • Dhul-Qi’dah
  • Dhul-Hijjah

Some of the most important dates in an Islamic year are as follows:

  • 1 Muharram (first day of the year)
  • 27 Rajab (Isra and Mi’raj)
  • 1 Ramadhan (first day of fasting)
  • 17 Ramadhan (Battle of Badr) last 10 days of Ramadhan (which include Lailatul Qadar when the Holy Qur’an was revealed)
  • 1 Shawwal (Eid Al-Fitr)
  • 10 Dhul-Hijjah (Eid ul Adha).

The Islamic world runs on lunar time; therefore, the calendar slips back 11 days for every year, and special days are important in the life of every Muslim travel all around the year. Thus, the months have no permanent relation to the seasons. For instance, the fasting month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar may occur in the winter, summer, spring, or autumn. The Islamic calendar takes 33 Gregorian years to complete a full cycle.

As the year in the Islamic calendar, as previously mentioned are 11 days shorter than the year in the Christian calendar, the Islamic years are slowly gaining in on the Christian years. But it will be many years before the two coincide. The 1st day of the 5th month of 20874 AD in the Gregorian calendar will also be (approximately) the 1st day of the 5th month of AH 20874 of the Islamic calendar.

The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in countries around the Gulf. Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and only turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes or events such as Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia is a unique case it follows a different set of rules it uses the Islamic calendar for civil but not religious purposes, Saudi Arabia doesn’t rely on a visual sighting of the crescent moon to fix the start of a new month. Instead, they base their calendar on a calculated astronomical moon.

Since 2002 the rule has been as follows:

‘If on the 29th day of an Islamic month, the geocentric conjunction (that is, the new moon as seen from the centre of the earth) occurs before sunset, and the moon sets after the sun, then the next day will be the first of a new month; otherwise, the next day will be the last (30th) of the current month. The times for the setting of the sun and the moon are calculated for the coordinates of Makkah.’

Due to this very distinctive case, many Muslims worldwide follow the dates of Saudi Arabia assuming they are correct during the blessed month of Ramadan. Consequently, the month of Ramadan and the Joyce day of Eid is celebrated on the incorrect dates. To avoid such a grievous error the Ahmadiyya Muslim community uses the medium of satellites to calculate the exact dates of important religious events especially the month of Ramadan.

The Julian Calender

In 45 BC, a Roman emperor introduced his own calendar which came to be known as the Julian calendar. It consisted of 12 months, many of which were shorter than the months in comparison to the modern-day calendar.

Resultantly, one Julian year only consisted of 355 days. Before Julius Caesar’s reforms, the year began on the 31st of March. The Julian calendar also had a leap month consisting of either 23 or 24 days, which was also created to ensure the calendar was properly aligned with the cycle of seasons.

The Roman calendar also had a recurring cycle of weeks that is similar to the modern cycle, however, the one Julian week comprised of eight days. Julius Caesar brought in a number of reforms to the old Roman calendar. One of them was the addition of days to February to make it a 28-day month.

The week was also reduced by one day to make it a 7-day week. Additionally, Caesar introduced the leap year rule, which stated that all leap years can be evenly divided by four.

The Gregorian Calendar

Up until the year 1582, the Julian calendar was the widely used and accepted calendar. However, in the year in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decreed that there should be a change in the Julian calendar. The Gregorian calendar was a theoretical calendar, and it was created from very precise calculations of vernal equinoxes. An equinox is an astronomical term and is commonly regarded as the instant of time when the plane of the Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun. This occurs twice each year. On 20th March and 23rd of September. In other words, it is the moment at which the centre of the visible Sun is directly above the Equator. The equinox in March is called the Vernal or Spring Equinox.

The Julian calendar was based on the assumption that the duration between vernal equinoxes is 365 ¼ days, but in reality, it is approximately 11 minutes less. Therefore, the Gregorian calendar had three leap days removed from it every four hundred years. Changes to the lunar cycle were also made, which helped in the calculation of Easter which was the main reason that the Pope even suggested an amendment to the system. Due to the 11-minute miscalculation by Julius Caesar, the calendar had fallen out of sync with the season which jeopardised the date of Easter. Therefore, in the Pope’s eyes, a change was imminently required.

To resolve such an error the Pope had an Italian scientist reconstruct the system and resynchronise the seasons. The issue with the Julian calendar was that it had an extra day in the month of February every fourth year. Aloysius Lilius, the scientist who eventually developed the system for Pope Gregory in 1582, realized that the addition of so many days made the calendar slightly too long. He devised a variation that adds leap days in years divisible by four unless the year is also divisible by 100. If the year is also divisible by 400, a leap day is added regardless. The solution sounds extremely confusing, but it did resolve the issue. However, the system had one glaring flaw which was later observed. The system proposed by Aloysius Lilius was off by 26 seconds, which may not sound like a lot but since the algorithm has been being used, a discrepancy of several hours has arisen. It is estimated that by the year 4909AD the Gregorian calendar will be a full day ahead of the solar year. Consequently, it can be said that the Pope’s system was only a temporary solution and at some point down the line, the same issue will have to be rectified.

When this new system was introduced many European countries did not adopt the Gregorian calendar, mainly because of the Protestant Reformation that was taking place at that time. Nevertheless, by the 20th century, the calendar became the standard calendar in Europe despite its flaws, it is still the most widely used and accepted calendar in the world today.


This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

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