Wednesday, December 31, 2008

AN ISLAMIC NEW YEAR By: Mohamed Elmasry

It has not been a tradition among Muslims to make New Year's resolutions, but the practice does not do any harm; indeed, it can do a lot of good.

Muslims are taught by the Prophet (may God’s peace and mercy be upon him) that in the eyes of God, every deed is valued according to the intention behind it (Hadith: anima-allamal-bel-niat).

In the same Hadith, he says that every journeying in life; be it physical, mental or spiritual is valued according to the truth or righteousness of the cause behind it. Thus the nobler the intention and cause behind a given action, the higher God Almighty values that action, resulting in greater divine rewards in this life and the hereafter.

Take, for example, everyday acts such as eating, working for a living, going to school, or nurturing our loved ones. If we consciously perform these through a desire to fulfill God’s covenant in caring for the universe, their value is higher than if they were carried out automatically, without any thought for their spiritual dimensions.

Similarly, if my aim in life is only to be rich, period, then Insha'llah (if God wills) I might become rich. But if I am motivated to acquire wealth in order to help other fellow human beings, besides myself and my family, then Insha'allah, a greater universal value has been added to my efforts.

I came to Canada from Egypt more than 30 years ago to pursue graduate studies toward a Ph.D. Back then, I had no particular intention of contributing to the well-being of this country. Even when I decided to stay here in Canada, and turned down lucrative job offers from the United States, it was more for personal reasons than anything else, for my wife is a Canadian.

But now, with my white hair and feeble bones, I've come to know better. After deep reflection and meditation, I have made a commitment to carry out every deed in my life with a higher intention. And this is my Islamic New Year's resolution.

The Islamic New Year dates from the time when the Prophet and his companions migrated from Mecca to Medina. The lunar calendar followed by Muslims the world over is called the Hijri, or Hegirian, from the Arabic word Hijra, meaning "migration." This historic migration was not done for economic reasons, but in order to be free to worship the One God, the Creator of all.

The beginning of the Islamic era proper was set as July 16, 622 A.D., based on the first day of the Hijra. Early Muslims chose that day, rather than the Prophet's birthday, to mark the beginning of their calendar. It distinguished for them those events that happened before and after the Hijra.

Muhammad was called to Prophethood with the beginning of the Divine revelations that resulted in the Qur'an, in June 610 A.D., in Mecca. But during the next 12 years or so, he and the community of early Muslims were heavily persecuted by the citizens of Mecca. Therefore, during the first year A.H. (After Hijra) the Prophet established an Islamic fellowship in Medina as a new social order. He also built the first mosque (or masjid) there as a place of worship, a university, a social centre, a governing house, and a court of law.

The Hijra also marks the creation of humanity's first multireligious world order. In fact, the Covenant of Medina was the first written constitution in human history. It was also at this time that a new concept of the Ummah was born -- a universalist commonwealth based on faith, moral justice, family values, equity, social responsibility, peace, freedom, and human dignity.

So I wish all Muslims a truly blessed new year; 'am-mo-barak, as it is said in Arabic.

As for my non-Muslim friends I invite them to read the history of my people. For this, I highly recommend “The Cultural Atlas of Islam” (Macmillan, 1986) by Ismail al Faruqi and Lois al Faruqi, p. 511. It is an outstanding reference book with beautiful photos and maps, and an excellent read.

[Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He is author of Spiritual Fitness (TM) For Life, available at He can be reached at]

What is Islamic Calendar
S. Khalid Shaukat

The Islamic calendar is based on lunar months, which begin when a thin new crescent Moon is actually sighted in the western sky after sunset within a day or so after the New Moon. Hence, the month is either 29 days or 30 days. There are 12 months in an Islamic year, which is either 354 days long or 355 days long, compared to (Gregorian) civil calendar of 365 or 366 days. Since 12 lunar months are, on an average, 11 days shorter than the (Gregorian) civil year, the Islamic year shifts earlier in each civil year by about this amount. The 12 months of the Islamic calendar are: Muharram, Safar, Rabi' al-Awwal, Rabi' al-Thaani, Jumada al-Ooola, Jumada al-Ukhra, Rajab, Sha'ban, Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhu al-Qa'dah, Dhu al-Hijjah. The Islamic (Hijri) calendar year is usually abbreviated A.H. in Western languages from the latinized "Anno Hegirae" or more commonly known as "after hijrah." Although, the Islamic calendar was introduced in the Christian Era of 632 AD by the Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him), the beginning of Islamic era for the count of years in this calendar was decided, much later in the year 639 AD, to be the year 622 AD.
It was during the Messenger Muhammad's (peace be upon him) last pilgrimage in the 10th year of Hijrah (that is 10th year of his migration from Makkah to Medinah), that the decision to introduce a purely lunar Islamic Calendar was made. The word Hijrah has often been misrepresented by many writers Muslims and non-Muslim alike. It means neither flight nor fleeing. The Arabic word Hajara means: to break off from the relations or abandon one's own tribe. The beginning of the Islamic era was considered and discussed during 639 AD, the time of the 4th year of the Caliphate of Umar who declared that the most important event in establishing the roots of Islam in Medinah is Hijrah (Messenger's migration from Makkah), therefore let it become the epoch of the era which happened in 622 AD. The actual starting date for the Islamic Calendar was chosen (on the basis of purely lunar years, counting backwards) to be the first day of the first month (1 Muharram) of the year of the Hijrah. However, the era between 1st year to 10th year of the Hijrah was not following this Islamic Calendar; instead the prevailing practices of various kinds of intercalation was followed in Arabia at that time. Different tribes were following different intercalation, so there was no uniform calendar. Accordingly, first day of Muharram 1 A.H. as practiced in Arabia corresponded either April 18 or May 18, 622 C.E. (Julian calendar). However, if one wants a theoretical starting date for Islamic calendar (on the basis of purely lunar months without intercalation, counting backwards) then the first day of the first month i.e. 1st Muharram 1 A.H. corresponds to July 16, 622 C.E.
The earliest date of Islamic calendar for which a Julian calendar date is exactly known is 9th Dhu al-Hijjah 10 AH, which corresponds to March 6, 632 C.E. (Friday), when the Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) performed his last and farewell pilgrimage to Makkah

The Islamic Calendar - Calculation

The Islamic calendar (or Hijri calendar) is a lunar calendar. It contains 12 months that are based on the motion of the moon, and because 12 lunar months is 12 x 29.53=354.36 days, the Islamic calendar is consistently shorter (11 Days) than a solar year, and therefore it shifts with respect to the Gregorian calendar.
The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in countries around the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. But other Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.

What does an Islamic year look like?
3.Rabi' al-awwal (Rabi' I)
4.Rabi' al-thani (Rabi' II)
5.Jumada al-awwal (Jumada I)
6.Jumada al-thani (Jumada II)

11.Dhu al-Qi'dah
12.Dhu al-Hijjah

What does the Quran say about measurement of time?
[Quran - 9.36] Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months in Allah's ordinance since the day when He created the heavens and the earth..
[Quran - 31:29] Seest thou not that Allah merges Night into Day and he merges Day into Night; that He has subjected the sun, and the moon (to his Law), each running its course for a term appointed; and that Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do?
[Quran - 103: 1..3] By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),- Verily Man is in loss, - Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.

How is an Islamic month determined:

Each month starts when the lunar crescent is first seen after a new moon.
Although new moons may be calculated quite precisely, the actual visibility of the crescent is difficult to predict. It depends on factors such as weather, the optical properties of the atmosphere, and the location of the observer. Therefore in some cases it may be difficult to give accurate information in advance about when a new month will start.
Furthermore, in some areas Muslims depend on a local sighting of the moon, whereas in other areas a universal sighting is accepted. (i.e. if a new crescent is seen anywhere in the world it is accepted for communities the world over). Both are valid Islamic practices, but they may lead to different starting days for the months.

Rules for the Islamic Calendar in Different Countries

The Islamic calendar is based on visibility of the crescent Moon. We know perfectly well where the Moon and the Sun are at any given time, but how light must the Moon be and how dark must the sky be before we can see the crescent? And what if the weather is bad?
In spite of these difficulties, some Muslim communities base their calendar on actual Moon sightings. This is done in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
In some parts of the world there is a growing trend to determine the start of the new lunar month according to the minimum criteria required for sighting the new crescent. This is .. the age of the new moon must be at least 8.5 hours to 15.5 hours and the separation between the sun and the moon must be at least 11 degrees, to be able to be seen with the naked eye.
In Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf countries they have simplified the calendar. They start the lunar month if the Moon sets after the Sun on the 29th day of the previous month, as seen from Mecca. Discussion on the web site of the Jordanian Astronomical Society.

How does one count years?
Years are counted since the Hijra, that is, Prophet Mohammed's (Peace be upon him) migration to Medina, which is assumed to have taken place 16 July C.E. 622 (Julian calendar). On that date AH 1 started (AH = Anno Hegirae = year of the Hijra).
March 16, 2002 CE will mark the beginning of 1423 AH.
Note that although only 2002 - 622 = 1380 years have passed in the Christian calendar, 1423 years have passed in the Islamic calendar, because its year is consistently shorter (by about 11 days) than the tropical year used by the Christian calendar.

When will the Islamic calendar overtake the Gregorian calendar?
As the year in the Islamic calendar is about 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 C.E. 20874 in the Gregorian calendar will also be (approximately) the 1st day of the 5th month of AH 20874 of the Islamic calendar

Further information: - provides moon visibility curves for the current year and next year.
Astronomical Applications department of the US Naval Observatory - lists New Moon birth times for the whole year. NB - the crescent Moon will not be visible until at least 15 hours after the birth of the New Moon.
Moon sighting versus Moon fighting - an article on various opinions of moon sighting

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