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10 August 2021

The Islamic Calendar: Everything You NEED to Know about the History of the Hijri Calendar

Ranya Shirbini
The Islamic Calendar: Everything You NEED to Know about the History of the Hijri Calendar

As Muslims, we are accustomed to following the Islamic Hijri Calendar to mark important religious events and rituals like fasting Ramadan, celebrating Eid and going to Hajj. But did you know that the Hijri calendar holds a much deeper religious and historical meaning?

Here is everything you NEED to know about the Hijri Calendar and why it’s important for you to connect with it…

When was the Islamic calendar introduced?

In the 17th year of the Hijra, two incidents occurred that highlighted the problem the Ummah was facing by not counting the years.

The first was a disagreement about a loan repayment schedule presented in a court case to Umar Ibn Al Khattab (ra). One of the men said, ‘O Leader of the Believers, this person was supposed to pay me my money back by Sha’ban and it's already Ramadan’, and the other person said, ‘well when I said Sha’ban I meant Sha’ban of the next year.’

The second, was a letter sent to Umar Ibn Al Khattab (ra) by one of his governors, Abu Musa Al Ashari saying, ‘O leader of the Believers, sometimes it happens that you ask us to do something by a particular month, but we don’t know if you mean the month of this year or the coming year.’

These two incidents led Umar Ibn Al Khattab (ra) to call for a gathering with his Shura Council to decide on how to solve the problem. In the meeting, it was agreed that the solution was to introduce a calendar for the Ummah to follow. The next question was which calendar?

Why does the Islamic calendar start with the Hijra?

During the meeting, there was much deliberation on which calendar should be adopted by the Ummah. Some of the Sahaba suggested they follow the calendar of the Romans or the Persians, but these ideas were immediately rejected.

They realised that they were at the pinnacle of success in establishing a Muslim society, they were now their own civilisation and they should have a calendar of their own, one that reflects their own history and should therefore start from an event that is significant to the Ummah.

One Sahabi suggested the calendar should start from the death of the Prophet (saw)., However, this idea was rejected because it was a time of sorrow. Another proposed the birth of the Prophet (saw), but that too was not suitable because there wasn’t a fixed opinion on which year the Prophet (saw) was born.

Other suggestions were made like the Battle of Badr or the year of Revelation, but then Ali Ibn Talib said, ‘The year of the Hijra should be the first year of our calendar,’ because this was the year when the situation of the Muslims changed from persecution to honour. The Shura council unanimously agreed that the Hijra would be the event to mark the beginning of the Islamic calendar and Umar (ra) said, ‘This is the Ra’ya As Sadeed’ (the wise opinion).

Why does the Islamic calendar start with Muharram?

After deciding on which year the calendar should start from, the next decision to be made was which month should be the first month of the Islamic year?

Again, the companions proposed different months for different reasons, like Ramadan because it’s the holiest month or Dhul-Hijjah because it’s the month of Hajj, but then Usman ibn Affan (ra) said, ‘It shall be Muharram!’ and the rest of the companions agreed.

Classical scholars agree that this decision was made for two reasons. Firstly, because Muharram was when the Hijra was first announced after the Ansar took the Oath of Allegiance (Bay’atul Aqabah) in the month of Dhul-Hijjah - to protect the Muslims in Madinah after migrating from Makkah.

Secondly, as most Muslims during that time would go to Hajj every year in Dhul-Hijjah, the month of Muharram depicted a new beginning after having their sins erased. So, it made perfect sense to start the Islamic year with Muharram, signifying rebirth in the new year.

Why is the Islamic calendar important?

The Islamic calendar is not only important for us to commemorate significant Islamic events but the fact that it starts from the Hijra serves as an important reminder of the sacrifice for the cause of truth and for the preservation of the Revelation. As the Muslims sacrificed everything, from their wealth to familial ties, to migrate from Makkah to Madinah to preserve their religion.

Through the Hijri calendar, Allah (swt) teaches us that the struggle between truth and evil is eternal. As Muslims, we are constantly fighting this battle as we sacrifice our pleasures and desires for the path to righteousness and Jannah.

How should we commemorate the new Islamic Year?

As Muslims, we should welcome the new Islamic year with self-reflection and resolution to draw closer to Allah (swt).

This year, you can connect with the Islamic calendar by joining our Bright Days Challenge and make a resolution to fast the 13th, 14th and 15th of every Islamic month or strive in the way of Allah (swt) by giving sadaqah monthly to our Yemen Water Fund to provide water for life in Yemen. These small but regular acts of worship will help you strengthen your iman and draw closer to Allah (swt) every year in sha Allah.

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