The History of the Islamic Calendar in the Light of the Hijra
The course of history is generally thought to be along a progressive path, but there are occasions when its progress seems to come to a standstill, and it becomes quiescent and inactive. The release of energy in such situations is converted into entropy, i.e. energy that cannot be used.
Such situations and occasions are those that are opposed and are antithetical to the dynamism of history, its usual characteristic. When man, forgetting his Creator and his Benefactor, takes to the worship of the outward phenomena of nature and begins to ascribe the attributes of Deity to man and prostrates himself before human beings who temporarily hold the reins of power, he becomes increasingly prone to the violation of God's laws, thereby generating conflict on earth and tending to ignore moral laws and ethics. He becomes, then, averse to light and takes to the worship of darkness. The course of history, in such a situation, becomes static. Such inertia is not the one that is opposed to dynamics but represents that inactivity-as has its birth in conflict and confusion. History in such a situation seems to assume the state of a spectator gazing at this spectacle with amazement and disappointment, and in utter dejection casts a look at the sky to find out what it has further in store for it.
Perhaps, it is in such circumstances that the Heavenly Court decides how to do away with the obstacles that lay athwart the path of progress and to remove these impediments cluttering up the course of history. These impediments are represented and epitomized by regressive, retrograde and unnatural cultures.
God Almighty has Himself pointed to the condign punishments that visit nations violating His laws. And so we are told:
So We took each one in his sin; of them was he on whom We sent a hurricane, and of them was he who was overtaken by the (awful) cry, and of them was he whom We caused the earth to swallow, and of them was he whom We drowned. It was not for Allah to wrong them, but they wronged themselves. (129: 40).
The period of life which the Prophet (peace be unto him) passed among the hard-hearted and unrelenting people of Mecca represented an era in which the caravan of history seems to have come to a stop, becoming static. When we examine the age, it seems as if the ever moving caravan of life is awaiting some terrible fate at the hands of heaven in the shadow of the hot mountains and feverish rocks. Such a decision is at last manifested. But the raison d'etre for such a judgement was the person whom God Himself designated as Rahma lil-'Alimin' and the maximum extent to which his anger and displeasure could go was to turn his countenance away from his adversary. His compassion, his mercy, and his tolerance are also reflected in the code of laws which were made to descend upon him. It was, therefore, decided by God Himself that the polytheists of Mecca be spared destruction used in all the other forms. Al-Hurmuzan, then, explained to them how to use 'Umar, (however), said: "Give the people an era which they can use in business and which permits them an exact indication of the date in the mutual dealings". A Jewish convert to Islam who was present said: "we (Jews) have a similar calculation which we ascribe to Alexander". The others, however, did not like that era, because it was too far back. Some were for the adoption of the Persian era. It was, however, objected that the Persian era had no fixed epoch year and always stared entirely anew with the ascension (to the throne) of each new king. An agreement was reached to institute the era of the rule of Islam, beginning with the Hijra of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina. There are no such differences of opinion with regard to the date of the Hijra as there are with regard to the time when the call first came to Muhammad and with regard to the day and year of his birth. And although the date of his death is fixed, it is no pleasant thought to use (such a sad event) as the beginning of the era. The Hijra, moreover, coincided in time with the success of the religion (millah) of Islam, the frequent arrival of embassies, and the Muslim ascent to Power. It is a time of blessings and a very impressive (historical) event. The Hijra took place on Tuesday, Rabi 1, 8th. The first of that year -that is, al-Muharram-fell on a Thursday according to the average (calculation). After this had become generally known, it was considered (the correct date). However, according to observation (of the new moon) and astronomical(?) calculation, the day fell on a Friday. The author of the Nihayat al-idrak said that (the Hijra) was used, and for all future times the era was counted from it. Agreement on this matter was reached in the year 17 of the Hijra, the fourth year of the caliphate of 'Umar. Until then, each year (after the Hijra) was called after its main event, and this was used for dating purposes. The first year of the Prophet's residence in Medina was thus called: 'The permission to travel'. The second year was called: 'The year of the command to fight'. The third year: 'The year of the test', and so on. Afterwards, the custom of naming the year after the main events was abandoned.
'Ubayd b. 'Umayr said: "Al-Muharram is the month of God. It is the beginning of the year. It is used as the beginning of the era. In al-Muharram, the Ka'bah is clothed, and money is coined. There is one day in al-Muharram on which repenting sinners are forgiven".
A tradition regarding "the first month of the year being al-Muharram," ascribed to Muhammad appears in ad-Daylamis Firdaws. Ad-Daylami's son reported the same tradition on the authority of 'Ali without the indication of a chain of transmitters." (F. Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, Leiden 1952, pp. 312-313).
At the dawn of history man tried to determine the significance of months and years in his own way. History is not in a position to tell which nation first divided the calendar into years, months, weeks and days-that is to say, how, when, and where it was that a collection of seven days was called a week, of thirty days a month, and twelve months a year. Despite the fact that this fact lies buried in the haze of obscurity, we can still gain access to it through a process of visualization; and we can take the aid of reason to and that this River of Radiance should change its course.
Hijra does not signify merely a journey between the two cities (Mecca and Medina) of the Arabian peninsula but the movement by the caravan of history again from a static state.