A lunar month starts with a new moon and lasts through all the moon phases until the next new moon. Credit: bigstockphoto.com/Delpixart

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar used by Muslims around the world to determine the timing of important religious observations such as Ramadan and Hajj. It is called the Hijri calendar, because it begins with the year of the Prophet’s migration (in Arabic, Hijra) from Mecca, his birthplace, to Medina, a city where he was the leader and from which Islam grew and spread. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the days change relative to the Gregorian calendar.

How is the timing of the Islamic calendar decided?

Every month is either 29 or 30 days. If the new crescent is spotted on the twenty-ninth day, then the new month begins on the next day. If the crescent is not spotted, then the new month starts after the thirtieth day. It is only necessary for one Muslim in the community to spot the moon. With the advent of modern technology, there has been some disagreement on whether it is necessary to view the moon with one’s eyes.

What are the most important dates in the calendar?

The ninth month of the year is Ramadan, a month of fasting and piety. The beginning of the next month, Shawwal, is Eid al Fitr, one of two important holy celebrations in Islam. Dhul-Hija, the twelfth and final month, is the prescribed time for the pilgrimage, Hajj. The second holy celebration, Eid al-Adha, takes place after the pilgrimage.

There are other specific days that have particular significance to Muslims. For example, the tenth of the first month, Muharram, is traditionally understood to be the day that Moses and the Children of Israel were saved from Pharaoh. It is also the day the Prophet’s grandson, Hussein, was martyred. Many Muslims fast on this day, and Shia Muslims often commemorate it with ritualized mourning. Fasting is also encouraged for six days in Shawwal, although it is not obligatory. Some Muslims celebrate additional days such as the Islamic New Year and the Prophet’s birthday during the third month, Rabi’ al-Awwal although these additional celebrations are often discouraged by more conservative scholars.

What are the months of the Islamic calendar?

Arabic Name of Month Meaning/significance?
1. Muharram “Forbidden”/One of four sacred months in the year; fighting is haram (forbidden).
2. Safar “Void”
3. Rabi‘a al-awwal “First spring”/also means to graze because cattle were grazed during this month.
4. Rabi‘a ath-thani “Second spring”
5. Jumada al-awla “First of the parched land”
6. Jumada al-akhirah “Last of the parched land”
7. Rajab “Respect”, “honor”/2nd sacred month in which fighting is forbidden.
8. Sha‘ban “Scattered”/from a word meaning split and divide, marking the time of year when Arab tribes dispersed to find water.
9. Ramadan “Burning heat”/most venerated month of the year, Ramadan is a time for reflection. Muslims fast from dawn to sunset.
10. Shawwal “Raised”
11. Dhu al-Qa‘da “The one of truce/sitting”/third of four sacred months; fighting prohibited.
12. Dhu al-Hijjah “The one of the pilgrimage”/last of four sacred months; during this month Muslim pilgrims from all around the world congregate at Mecca. The Hajj is performed on the 8th, 9th and 10th days of the month.

Additional Resources

What’s So Difficult About The Islamic Calendar?

Should Muslims use science to determine religious dates? Or continue to rely on the traditional method of observing the new moon with one’s own eyes? Is it more important to minimize confusion or to honor tradition?

“Nowruz” Is Approaching Cheerfully. So, What Is Nowruz?

Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is celebrated by millions in the Middle East and neighboring areas. The holiday is based on an ancient Zoroastrian tradition and has been incorporated into the Solar Hijri calendar, a calendar used by Iran and other countries which is based on both the Islamic calendar and on the solar Persian calendars of the past.

In schools, a growing push to recognize Muslim and Jewish holidays

Muslim and Jewish families are both pushing to get important religious holidays recognized by school systems so that their children do not have to choose between their faith and their studies. In Prince William County, an interfaith organization managed to convince the school system to prevent tests and major assignments from taking place on or directly before or after Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first night of Passover, Eid al-Adha, or Eid al-Fitr.

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