The Origins of the Islamic Calendar

When Mohammed fled from Mecca to Madina almost 1500 years ago, it gave birth to the Hijra or the Islamic calendar. It is also known as the Muslim calendar and is primarily used by Muslims all over the world in order to determine the exact days on which they can celebrate Islamic festivals, the Islamic New Year, Islamic holidays 2007, etc.

Right now, the Islamic Year is 1428. Each year of the Hijra calendar or the Islamic calendar is labeled H (denoting Hijra) or AH (denoting the Latin phrase 'anno Hegirae' or 'the year of the Hijra.')

The Gregorian vs. the Muslim Calendar

The Islamic calendar has many similarities and differences in comparison to the Gregorian calendar. For example, The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar with 365.2422 days in a year whereas the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar with 354 days in a year. This means that while the Islamic holidays and the Islamic festivals fall on fixed dates in the Islamic calendar, they are celebrated on different dates in the Gregorian calendar every year. They both have 12 months in a year but the Gregorian is solar and the Islamic calendar is purely lunar.

Gregorian Years in the Islamic Calendar

In order to get the exact Gregorian year using an Islamic calendar you need to follow this formula -

(Islamic year * 0.97) + 622 = Gregorian year

Interestingly enough, both the calendars will overlap in the Gregorian year 20840 or after eighteen thousand years! Moreover, the Islamic calendar 2007 will start and complete within our year 2008. One complete cycle of an Islamic calendar occurs every 30 odd years or so in a Gregorian calendar.

The Shia Calendar vs. the Sunni Calendar

85% of Muslims across the world are Sunni Muslims and 15% are Shias. Yet, there are marked similarities and differences between the Shia calendar and the Sunni calendar. For one, all Muslims celebrate the following holidays in their Islamic prayer calendar -
  • Eid ul-Fitr, which is celebrated on the last day of Ramadan fasting and marks the beginning of Shawwal.
  • Eid ul-Adha, which is celebrated at end of Haj, or the Mecca pilgrimage. It falls on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah.
Of all the months of the Islamic prayer calendar, the Ramadan is the most stringent as well as the most sacred. Without exception, all Muslims will fast and will avoid eating, drinking, or sex from sunrise to sunset for a period of one month. After sunset, they enjoy haleem and other delicacies to break their day long fasts. At the end of the Ramadan month, they celebrate Eid ul-Fitr.

This is where the similarity ends between the Shia calendar and the Sunni calendar. Only the Shias observe some holidays which are not marked on the Sunni calendar. For example, on the Shia calendar you will see, amongst others, the celebrations of -
  • Eid al-Ghadeer, which celebrates Prophet Muhammad's announcement of Imam Ali's imamate
  • Muharram, which celebrates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain bin Ali's, who was Prophet Mohammad's grandson
  • Arba'een, memorializing the torture of Imam Hussain's children and women after he was killed
  • Milad al-Nabi, or the birth of Prophet Muhammad

The Islamic Prayer Calendar

The Islamic prayer calendar is based on the Jewish calendar and is pretty similar to the medieval Christian calendar. This Muslim calendar is recognized and followed by all Musalmans or Muslims, whether they are Shias or Sunnis. It comprises of a week that begins on a Saturday (our Monday) and concludes on a Friday or Jumma (our Sunday). Jumma is the day of rest and prayer. On this day, devout Muslims will gather at their place of worship called the Masjid (equivalent to our Church or temple) sharp at noon.