Beginning of the Hijri Calendar

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Seven years exactly after the death of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam started the Hijri calendar. We are now in 1440 Hijri which means Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam moved from Makkah to Madinah 1440 years ago. Hijrah means migration in Arabic. The Hijri calendar follows the moon; it is the lunar calendar. It is not the solar like the Gregorian calendar following the Sun. Hijri calendar follows the movement of the Moon itself. Whenever there is a new Moon starts, then a new month starts according to the Hijri calendar.


 Hijri Calendar: Background

Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre & The Regents Park Central London Mosque, has delivered a lecture on the occasion of the beginning of Muharram on Saturday, 15 September 2018 as well as to the Muslim community at the Islamic Circle on Saturday 22 September 2018. He was dealing both the importance of the month of Muharram, fasting during Ashoorah and the beginning of the Hijri calendar. I have already written about the importance and significance of the month of Muharram as well as about the fasting on the day of Ashoorah. And I promised in my last writing that I will inshaAllah deal with the beginning of Hijrah caldendar in my next issue.


Speaking about the beginning of Hijri calendar, Dr. al-Dubayan enquired first, how this Islamic calendar starts. And immediately answered, “The Islamic calendar did not start during the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam and did not start during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr Siddique RA. But they started during the days of Umar bin Khattab, the second Caliph. During his time actually it is the real beginning of the administration of Islamic state, more than the days of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam, more than the days of Abu Bakr Siddique. The days of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam was the time for the foundation; the call of Islam; then Abu Bakr Siddique’s time was very short; to be six months about.”


How did this happen? Dr. al-Dubayan said, “During the days of Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam there was no date; no calendar during the days of Abu Bakr Siddique RA also. During the Caliphate of Umar bin Khattab RA we all know I think Umar bin Khattab is the first one who expanded the Muslim state. He was the first one who faced all these problems of management, problem of financial states of the whole Muslim state, the Muslim Ummah and that’s why he puts order for the army’s, he orders for Zakah, he orders for the money of those people who cannot work; those people who are disabled, or whatever they have monthly payment from the Baitul Maal, present day equal to Ministry of Finance. That was all happened during the days of Umar bin Khattab because during his days he had lot of problems.”


Hijri calendar started during second

Caliph Umar bin Khattab RA

Speaking about the background of the beginning of Hijri calendar, Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned, “Umar bin Khattab was the second Caliph. The state expanded everywhere and they had new problems; they faced for the first time some problems and that’s why actually it was needed to have started a system for the regulation of the country or for the state which was very big at that time. From that time the regulation started. Many of the things were made during the days of Umar bin Khattab. One of the things is the Hijri calendar.”


“Umar bin Khattab one day received a letter from Basra, Iraq and there was no date in it; they talked about something happened or going to happen in Shabaan. Shabaan is the eighth month of the Hijri calendar. When Umar bin Khattab received the letter at that moment he did not know which Shabaan they meant: next one or the other one after or may be the last one. So he wrote back to Iraq saying I don’t know which Shabaan you meant. Caliph Umar bin Khattab called the council of consultation. He used to call every time to ask about the problems, to have always Shura or consultation with the Shahabas to ask their opinions and he put this problem to them,” mentioned Dr. al-Dubayan.


Umar bin Khattab consulted with Shoura

The ICC Director General narrated the story how the Hijri calendar was evolved. He said, “Caliph Umar bin Khattab called the meeting of the Shoura; asked them. He said, now we have some letters we don’t know what exactly they meant with the time.  One of the companions said we should have our calendar. Then Umar bin Khattab asked how this calendar is done by other empires or nations. He asked about the Persians, how they do it? They do it every time whenever there is a new king they started a new calendar. Then when the king died; they started a new calendar with the new king. Then he asked about the Romans, how they did it? Someone told him they started from the birth of Jesus Christ Issa alayhes Salam. Then someone told him the Romans in those days used to have calendar starting from the birth of the Jesus Christ alayhe wa Salam. The Arabs, before the Prophet Muhammad Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam, in the pre-Islamic time, did not have calendar but they used to take events as dates; for example, one year there is disease or epidemic, they started to say that happened before the disease two years or after two years.”


Then Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned how the people of the pre-Islamic days remembered the dates. He said, “We see during the life of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam. The Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam was born in the year of the elephant. Why? Because that was the first time the people of Makkah saw an elephant, an animal when an army came from Yemen to destroy the Ka’abah at that time; so they saw the elephant. From that moment Arabs started to call that year, the year of elephant. And that year when the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam was born about 570 or 571, according to the Gregorian calendar. Then if there is something happened, they incidentally take that in the calendar.


Hijri calendar started from Hijrah (migration)

Dr. al-Dubayan then mentioned how the Hijrah was taken as the starting point of the Islamic Calendar. He said, “Caliph Umar asked, what would be the year number one in the calendar? Then some companions suggested from the very beginning from the birth of Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam. Other companions suggested from the death of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam. Then Ali ibn Abu Talib and Abdur Rahman ibn Awf suggested actually lets do the first year of the Hijrah here because Hijrah is the beginning of the Islamic society in Madinah. It is the beginning of the rising glory of Islam. They started the Hijrah. Then Umar said it is better. Hijrah will be the number one. They started from the Hijrah of course. Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam died in 11 Hijri. That time they were in 17 Hijri; they were at that time in the 17 year of the Hijrah. From that day the whole Ummah formed the Hijri calendar started from the first Hijrah when the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam moved from Makkah to Madinah.”


Which month the first month of Hijri calendar

This decision to start the Islamic calendar from Hijrah was taken. When did this happen? It happened during the year 17 Hijrah. The next question came: which month would be the first month of the Hijri calendar. Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned: “Caliph Umar said, we have twelve months which one will be the beginning?  The first one, of course, some people suggested Ramadan; it is better from Ramadan to be the first month of the calendar because Ramadan is the month of syam fasting, the holy month; the month of the Qur’an; so it is better to start the year with it. Another one said no; suggested that to start with Hajj; it is better because Hajj is going to Makkah; it should be the first month of the year.  Then Umar bin Khattab said: no, we will take Muharram the first month of the Hijri calendar; Muharram is the sacred month; the four sacred month of the year; and also it is better when the people finish their Hajj they go home and then the new year starts with when they arrives their home.; why because I wanted the people to do the Hajj the last month; when they moved going out of Makkah the New Year starts; that was the plan of Umar RA.”


“So they agreed that Muharram would be the first month of the Islamic calendar year and of course till Dhul Hijjah which is the 12th month of year. For that moment, they agreed to have the Islamic calendar actually. It was used and still use by many Muslims around the world,” Dr al-Dubayan mentioned.


The ICC chief said, “They put the month of Muharram, this month the beginning of the new calendar and finish with the month of Hajj and now the new calendar started immediately after the Hajj. So Hajj will be the last thing they do; because it is the fifth pillar of Islam. It would be at the end of the year. This is why the companions of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam planned for it. And from that moment the calendar for the Muslim Ummah started. Now we are in the year 1440 of the Hijri. So when Prophet Sallalahu Alayhe Wassallam moved from Makkah to Madinah that was 1440 years ago. Now we start 1440 of the Hijri calendar. I hope you can use the Hijri calendar. Of course we can hope all calendars are important.”