Islam teaches us that the calendar is decreed by God. He decreed there to be seven days in one week and twelve months in a year, as reaffirmed in the Quran. Within this calendar are days that God has made sacred, ennobling them above other days. Each ennobled unit of time has an act of devotional worship associated with it. The daily devotion is the ritual prayer (ṣalāh); the weekly devotion is the Friday congregational prayer; the annual devotion is fasting (ṣawm) the month of Ramaḍān; and the devotion of a lifetime is the Pilgrimage (Ḥajj).
THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR
Year one of the Islamic calendar commenced with the migration of the Prophet, peace be upon him, from Makkah to Medinah. All Islamic months and dates—whether Ramaḍān, the Pilgrimage (Ḥajj), or the New Year—are based on the lunar calendar. As a natural phenomenon, lunar months vary in length between twenty-nine and thirty days. The start of each month is based on the sighting of the new crescent at the beginning of every month. For the Muslim calendar, a day starts at sunset and ends with the next sunset; thus, Friday begins with the sunset on Thursday, and “Friday night” comes before the daytime portion of Friday. So, in the Muslim calendar, the change of date (e.g., from the 11th to the 12th of a lunar month) happens at sunset, not at midnight as in the solar calendar.
The Friday Congregational Prayer consists of two main parts: a sermon and the Friday prayer both take place at midday. As its name indicates, the Friday Congregational Prayer is prayed in congregation and cannot be prayed alone. Friday is thus celebrated by the community as a time of special devotions that grant a person the opportunity to grow in piety and nearness to God.
God has decreed that Friday is the holy day for Muslims and that on Friday a special congregation is to be held.
“Believers! When the call to pray is made on the day of congregation [Friday], hurry towards the reminder of God and leave off your trading—that is better for you, if only you knew.”
Ramaḍān, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is the month of required fasting, a time of extra devotions, an increased study of the Quran, and generosity. A time of self-restraint and abstaining, Ramadan reminds Muslims of what the less fortunate experience, thereby inspiring them to give and be empathetic. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was described as the most generous, whose generosity during Ramaḍān was further amplified. Ramaḍān is also known as the month when people increase their devotions and flock to the mosques to perform extra acts of worship seeking God’s Mercy and Grace that is always most bountiful but even more so in Ramadan.
Ramaḍān contains a special night, called the Night of Glory (Laylat al-Qadr), on which a devotional act is rewarded more greatly than the same act performed for a thousand months of ordinary time. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught that it falls within the last ten nights of Ramaḍān, on an odd-numbered date. Those who most earnestly seek God intensify their devotional worship for the entire ten days and nights to ensure they reap the reward of that night. Most Muslims, and much of Islamic scholarship, believe it to most likely be the night of the 27th.
A chapter (sūrah) of the Quran is named after the night and describes it,
“We have sent it down on the Night of Glory. What will explain to you what that Night of Glory is? The Night of Glory is better than a thousand months; on that night the angels and the Spirit descend again and again with their Lord’s permission on every task. Peace it is until the rising of the dawn.”
The month of Ramaḍān is also called the month of the Quran. This is partly because the revelation of the Quran began in Ramaḍān, but also because Ramaḍān is a time of study, recitation, and reflection upon the Quran. Muslims attempt to complete at least one entire devotional recitation of the Quran (i.e., reciting it in Arabic) on their own during the month. The increased focus on the word of God during the month provides Muslims with an opportunity to reinvigorate their faith and guide them to a purposeful life.
An act of charity helps bring Ramaḍān to a close. It is an obligation, for those who are financially able, to donate the value equivalent of approximately 2.3 kilograms of foodstuff. This amount is to be donated by the head of a household on behalf of each of his dependents, no matter how young. This amount is to be given to those in need before the Festival of Completing the Fast (ʿĪd al-Fiṭr), and is preferably given before the Festival Prayer (Ṣalāt al-ʿĪd). In Muslim communities, mosques (masjids) and charitable organizations tend to facilitate this process by collecting the money and distributing it to those in need.
The first day after Ramadan is a holiday called the Festival of Completing the Fast (ʿĪd al-Fiṭr). It is an occasion of joy and gratitude for God’s benevolence and grace in the noble month. The day starts with the Festival Prayer (Ṣalāt al-ʿĪd), and is usually a time of visiting to share the occasion with relatives, community elders, and other loved ones. Parents also usually give children gifts or money to celebrate the joyous occasion.
The Festival of Sacrifice (ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā) is celebrated on the tenth day of the Month of Pilgrimage (Dhul Ḥijjah), the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The timing coincides with the performance of the pilgrimage (Ḥajj) by pilgrims from all over the world. For believers who are not performing the pilgrimage, it is commendable to fast the nine days before the festival, with a particular emphasis on the ninth day of the month—the day when the pilgrims are standing on Mount ʿArafah. On the morning of the Festival (ʿĪd), just as on the Festival of Completing the Fast (ʿĪd al-Fiṭr), the community come together to pray in congregation for the Festival of Sacrifice (ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā), and everyone attends. It, too, is a day of joy and festivities, and is usually a time of visiting to share the occasion with relatives, community elders, and other loved ones.
In commemoration of the faith and perseverance of the Prophet Abraham (Ibrāhīm) and his son, it is a prophetic practice (sunnah) for Muslims to sacrifice a lamb or similar animal in the name of God. The meat of the lamb is usually divided among needy families and loved ones, with some kept for oneself. Some Muslims pay a charitable organization to sacrifice an animal on their behalf.
Hajj is a pilgrimage to the Sacred House, the Kabah, at the Sanctuary in Mecca and is required by every Muslim once in a lifetime, if it is physically and financially possible. Hajj is performed in the month of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, over 6 days from the 8th to the 13th of the said month. The rites of Hajj are performed in Makkah at the Kaaba or the Sacred House, at Arafat, an open plain near Makkah where people gather on the 9th to repent, supplicate, and implore God, and in the neighbouring valleys of Muzdalifa and Mina. The rites of Hajj follow the sacrifices and devotions of Abraham, Hagar and Ishmail as they were taught and shown by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Hajj symbolises utter devotion, selflessness, sacrifice and humility before God. The reward for an accepted Hajj is complete and all-encompassing forgiveness. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “He who makes Pilgrimage to this House—avoiding indecent and immoral behaviour —emerges from his sins like a newborn baby.”