5. Muslim Routines and the Islamic Calendar
The Islamic calendar was established from the year in which the Messenger of Allah arrived in Madinah after fleeing for his life from Makkah . This was the point at which a single Muslim community was established in accordance with Shari’ah law. This occurred in 622 of the Christian or Common Era (CE). (Muslims are averse to using the term AD, Anno Domini, because its reference to “our Lord” (i) refers to Jesus, respected but not as Christians do, and (ii) taken that “Lord” implies God, whereas to take as God anything other than the Creator Himself is the most fundamental sin in Islam.)
The Islamic calendar comprises twelve lunar months. Each lunar month is about 29.53 days and therefore the Islamic year is usually 11 days shorter than the solar or sidereal year of 365¼ days. (Leap years and the 0.1 days balance of the lunar year complicate this slightly.)
In practice in Britain, determining the start of the new month is problematic and sometimes causes consternation, e.g. in not being able to set the day of an Eid holiday until the day before. In principle it is simple enough. After sunset on the 29th day of the preceding month the new moon is sought for. If not seen (because it is too ‘young’), one more day is added to the month, making 30 days; and the day after that becomes the 1st of the following month by default. Within a couple of months the 29th-day new moon will be large enough to be visible and the month lengths even out to the average 29.53 days.
It is the new moon’s astronomical nature that it is (i) an extremely thin crescent, being between a few minutes old to just under 24 hours old since being invisible, (ii) is very close in the sky to the set sun, so is obscured by light from the sun, and (iii) rises only a little way above the horizon so is only present for a few minutes. Added to that are the effect of Britain’s high latitude, murky atmosphere and built-up townscape hiding the horizon, so it is exceptionally rare for the moon to be seen on the 29th of any month. Typically nobody troubles to look for the new moon except for the beginning and end of Ramadhaan and the beginning of Dhul-Hijjah. On failing to find it in Britain, different religious practices are preferred, differing by sect or by expediency. Various solutions are, to accept a reported sighting in the nearest Muslim country, or a sighting in any Muslim country, or a sighting in Saudi Arabia, or the ‘add 1 day’ rule is applied. The consequence is that different masjids will often end up fasting or arranging Eid on different days to each other.
The first month of the year is Muharram, falling on or about 29th December 2008, then 18th December 2009, …, 19th August 2020, etc., coming 10 or 11 days earlier each sidereal year.
10th Muharram, Yaum-al-Ashura, has some significance for all Muslims. It corresponds to the Jewish Passover and is also celebrated for the same reason, honouring Moses, but is better known among Muslims for the anniversary of the murder of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Messenger . This is commemorated especially by Shias, who hold events on this day every year, especially public processions including gory acts of self-flagellation. Sunni Islam has deep disdain for this particular act, but commemorate Yaum-al-Ashura by fasting, themselves having high regard for Imam Hussain.
12th Rabi' al-awwal (the third month) is recognised as the birthday of the Messenger of Allah , though the manner of its commemoration varies. The Bareilvi-influenced communities, and many of the more traditional communities, have major events including all-night programmes in the Masjid and street processions, Jalsas, on the day. However the Deobandi, “Wahabbi” and Salafi-influenced communities disdain specific commemoration, concerned to avoid association with Christmas and the deification of Jesus. They disassociate themselves entirely from street processions but may arrange low-key lectures on the life of Muhammad around the 12th Rabi' al-awwal.
15th Shabaan (the eighth month) is also the subject of all-night programmes in the Masjid and a day of optional fasting, but is relatively low-key.
Ramadhaan is the 9th month and obligatory fasting commences the day following the sighting of the new moon marking the start of the month. It continues for 29 or 30 days until the new moon of Shawwal is sighted. The following day, the 1st of Shawwal is Eid-ul-Fitr, the feast of breaking the fast. Worship during Ramadhaan is said to be seventy times superior to other times, and the impact of getting up extra early to start the fast, the extra time at lunch time and the extra prayers in the evening mean that there is a strong motivation to practice more of both formal and informal worship in this month. Accordingly masjids are much fuller than other times, causing congestion problems in residential areas in the evenings, for example.
By 2010 Ramadhaan falls in midsummer, and fasts in Britain can be 18 to 19 hours long from 3am to 9.30pm, followed by a busy evening of salaah and food and little time for sleep before preparing for the next day. Many Muslims will aim to take a long period of leave at this time to accommodate the difficulty of fasting this long. Many take leave anyway especially in the latter part of Ramadhaan, either to travel to Makkah and Madinah for Umrah, or to make as much time as possible free for reciting the Qur’an in Ramadhaan. In Scotland in midsummer, twilight does not disappear so the Shari’ah conditions for the start of the fast at the crack of dawn cannot be applied. Therefore a fixed period is set for the start of the fast, based on other days when the conditions were met.
Zakaah, the poor tax, is mainly donated in this month, for the same reason, the increased virtue of good deeds in Ramadhaan, so considerable amounts of charity money are transferred overseas from Britain at this time, both privately and through Muslim charities.
It is an obligation on every masjid to sustain one or more men to stay permanently in the masjid during the last ten days of Ramadhaan, in ihtikhaaf, a state of seclusion, in order to seek out Lailat-ul-Qadr, the “Night of Power” which is a spiritual experience that is expressed in the Qur’an. The rules governing ihtikhaaf are unusual. You are required to stay inside the masjid room itself continuously for the last ten days except for very brief exits for toilet and wudhu. While outside you may not speak to anyone or acknowledge them – if you do, the Sunnah of ihtikhaaf is broken.
Eid-ul-Fitr occurs on the 1st of Shawwal, the end of Ramadhaan and is the tenth month. Eid is celebrated with food, new clothes, food, Eid salaah, more food, family visits and more food, which is barely picked at after 30 days of fasting. Gifts of money are given by parents to children, nephews and nieces, cascading from generation to generation, leaving the youngest of the family flush and the eldest nearly destitute, at least for the day. Traditionally the Eid salaah takes place in a single gathering for the whole town, in a designated open air Eid Gah on the edge of the town, and this has been practiced by some communities in Britain while Eid has fallen in summertime. Otherwise every masjid makes its own Eid salaah. Eid salaah time is in the morning, from soon after sunrise through to late morning, and takes the form of two rakaahs of salaah followed by two sermons in Arabic, lasting about twenty minutes altogether. However pressure of numbers on Eid Day causes most masjids to organise three or four separate Eid salaahs at hourly intervals through the morning.
There is a worthy practice during the rest of the month of Shawwal to perform six more fasts. These are not obligatory, but it is disconcerting for non-Muslims to find their Muslim colleagues continuing to fast when they understood Ramadhaan had finished for the year! There are no special salaahs associated with this time.
Dhul-Hijjah is the twelfth and final month of the Islamic calendar. Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Makkah , takes place in the second week of the month, and Eid-ul-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, falls on the 10th Dhul-Hijjah. Hajj travellers would have set off from home for Makkah and Madinah one, two or three weeks previously, and the main day of Hajj is Yaum-ul-Arafat, the 9th Dhul-Hijjah when pilgrims gather on the plain of Arafat near Makkah. There are no special practices on the 9th except for those performing Hajj.On the 10th, Eid-ul-Adha is celebrated with Eid salaah in the morning, just as for Eid-ul-Fitr. However every adult who is not impoverished is required to sacrifice an animal, hence the name of the day meaning ‘feast of sacrifice’. This Qurbani at home corresponds to a similar sacrifice made by Hajjis who by now are in Mina, between Arafat and Makkah . The formula for the sacrifice is that it should be a healthy adult sheep or goat for each person, or a cow or camel between seven people. One third should go to the poor, one third to friends and relatives and the rest for the family feast. Before the foot and mouth disease outbreaks in Britain it was common for men to descend on abattoirs after the Eid-ul-Adha salaah, because it is a worthy Sunnah act to perform the animal’s slaughter oneself or at least witness it close at hand. Significant numbers of Muslims do hold official ‘slaughterer’s certificates’ from their local authorities and are legally permitted to perform the slaughter under the proper controlled conditions, and are much in demand on Eid day. However since the foot-and-mouth outbreak which brought tighter restrictions to access to abattoirs, and with Eid ul Adha falling in the short days of winter, it is currently unusual for people to go to witness the slaughtering of their Qurbani or Udhiyah. Instead, butchers are given orders for the meat a few days before, in the usual domestic manner. A number of Muslim charities offer a Qurbani service in which they collect the price of the animal and arrange for its slaughter and distribution of the meat in a poor Muslim country. Many families with overseas connections also make private arrangements by sending money abroad to pay for the local slaughter and distribution of meat to the poor.
Diversity Note: Hajj is a key milestone in the life of a conscientious Muslim. However making arrangements for Hajj can be very complex and can be very difficult to integrate into the usual arrangements employers make for work and annual leave. The difficulties are described in Section 2.2.4.
Sunday is Yaum-al-Ahad, literally the first day or Day One, and Saturday is Yaum-as-Sabah, Day Seven, the Sabbath. However there is no tradition in Islam of a holy day of rest. (The Islamic scriptural interpretation of this concept is that the day of rest was a religious constraint on the Children of Israel, the Jews, to test their forbearance and penalise them for excesses.) Indeed the Christian concept of God resting on the seventh day is anathema to Muslims as the Almighty has no need for rest.
The Muslim day is measured from sunset to sunset. The day of religious significance is Yaum-al-Juma’a, from Thursday evening to Friday evening. Originally this was market day, hence Yaum-al-Juma’a means ‘community day’ or ‘gathering day’, and the main community salaah is of course the Juma’a salaah, after noon, and replacing Dhuhar salaah.
The most auspicious time for religious gatherings is usually Thursday evenings, this being part of the day of Juma’a, and therefore more rewarding.
On Friday mornings it is a Sunnah for men preparing for Juma’a, firstly to clip the nails, shorten the moustache and shave the armpits and pubic hair, then to have a ritual bath, a ghusl, and put on clean clothes, and to use ittar, oil-based perfume. Thus it is normal for Muslim men to have shaved private parts and to use perfume.
The format of Juma’a salaah is that the four Rakaahs of Dhuhar salaah are replaced by two Rakaahs of Juma’a, preceded by a khutbah, or sermon, in two parts. The Khutbah is usually quite short, must be recited in Arabic and must contain some text of the Qur’an, to fulfil its religious requirements. Since the time when the first non-Arabic-speaking land came under Muslim control, it has been customary to provide a speech, a bayaan or wyaz, in the local language before the Khutbah itself, and this is the main opportunity for imams to communicate with the congregation. Increasingly the bayaans in British masjids are delivered in English, but a substantial proportion are still given in the formal language of the dominant population of the masjid, usually either Urdu or Bangla. Sometimes a brief and usually poorly presented translation is also provided in English.