The lunar hijri calendar is a calendar based on the cycles of the Moon’s phases and is used, among other things, to organize Islamic rituals. This calendar begins its count from 622 CE when Prophet Muhammad (s) emigrated from Mecca to Medina. This year was reportedly chosen as the first year of the Muslim calendar during the caliphate of Umar with the suggestion of Imam Ali (a).
A lunar hijri year has 354 or 355 days; it is ten or eleven days shorter than a solar hijri year. The first month in this calendar is Muharram and the last month is Dhu l-Hijja. According to some hadiths, the month of Ramadan is the first month of the hijri lunar year, and thus religious practices and rituals begin, in some prayer books, with the rites of the month of Ramadan and end with the practices of the month of Shaʿban. Al-Sayyid b. Tawus, a renowned Shiite scholar in the seventh/thirteenth century, held that the month of Ramadan was probably the beginning of the religious calendar and the month of Muharram was the beginning of the ordinary calendar.
Place and Importance
The lunar hijri calendar is a calendar based on the cycles of the Moon’s phases. It was called hijri because the hijra (emigration) of the Prophet (s) in 622 CE marked its beginning. Muslims have used this calendar to organize their religious deeds and rites, and thus the calendar is also called the Islamic calendar as well.
The lunar hijri calendar was the official calendar of the Muslim countries prior to the first world war (1914-1918 CE). In Iran, the lunar hijri calendar was replaced by the solar hijri calendar in Farvardin 11th, 1304 SH/ March 31, 1925, and the same change was made in Afghanistan in 1301 Sh/1922.
The Starting Year
The lunar hijri calendar begins its count from the year the Prophet (s) emigrated from Mecca to Medina. However, there is disagreement as to when this year was chosen as the beginning of the Muslim calendar. According to some reports, the decision was made during the caliphate of ʿUmar in 17/638 or 18 AH/639. According to these reports Abu Musa Ashʿari wrote a letter to ʿUmar complaining about the lack of fixed dates on the letters he received from Umar, which made him confused about the order of the letters. Thus, ʿUmar established a council to set a starting point for the Muslim calendar. In this council, three dates in the Prophet’s (s) life were suggested: the beginning of his mission, his demise, and his emigration. The latter suggestion put forward by Imam Ali (a) was accepted and set as the starting point of the Muslim calendar.
According to another view, it was the Prophet (s) himself who set the year of his emigration as the starting point of the Islamic calendar, because in some texts dating back to the time of the Prophet (s), such as the text of the pact between the Prophet (s) and the Christians of Najran and the Prophet’s written advice to Salman al-Farsi, the Hijri dates are written.
The First Month
The lunar hijri year starts with the month of Muharram and ends with Dhu l-Hijja. This is because the lunar year of the Arabs before Islam began with Muharram and thus the second caliph decided to choose the same month as the first month of the year in the Muslim calendar and rejected the suggestion of choosing Ramadan as the first month.
Al-Shaykh al-Tusi, the jurist and traditionist of the fifth/eleventh century, maintained that according to widely transmitted Shiite hadiths, the first month of the hijri year was the month of Ramadan. Accordingly, in his book Misbah al-mutahajjid, he began writing about annual rites with the rites of the month of Ramadan and ended them with the rites of the month of Shaʿban. He also regarded the month of Rajab as the last of the sacred months.
Al-Sayyid b. Tawus, a prominent Shiite scholar of the seventh/thirteenth century, also held that based on the practice of a great number of past scholars and their books, the month of Ramadan is the beginning of the lunar hijri year. However, he thought it was probable that the month of Ramadan could be the first month of the religious year and the month of Muharram the beginning of the ordinary year.
The lunar hijri year contains twelve months, with each month containing twenty-nine or thirty days. However, whether a given month contains twenty-nine or thirty days is determined based on moon phases and therefore is not fixed. Nevertheless, in conventional lunar hijri calendars, the odd months are considered thirty days and the even months twenty-nine days. The last month in leap years is always thirty days.
The number of days in a lunar year is ten or eleven days less than that of solar years. Therefore, the number of days in an ordinary lunar year is 354, and in a leap year 355.
According to Ali b al-Husayn al-Mas'udi, a historian of the fourth/tenth century, the Arabs of the Age of Ignorance would add one month to the lunar year in every three years, and this is what the Quran calls nasīʾ and criticizes.
The months of a lunar hijri year are as follows:
- The material for this article is mainly taken from سال هجری قمری in Farsi WikiShia.