Monday, October 27, 2008

The Arab calendar

It is with great shame that I admit I don't follow, nor know much about, the Arabic calendar. In fact I know roughly that we are in the year 1429 Hijri, but if you ask me which month we are in, I wouldn't have a clue what to say apart from when we are in Ramadan. I think that I am not the only one and in fact the problem is absolutely chronic throughout the Arab world. Isn't it shameful that I don't even know what day and year I was born in my own calendar? Many people mistakenly believe, as I did, that these are the Islamic names of the month when in fact they are completely derived from the Arab culture.

In an attempt to remedy this shameful deficit, I thought I'd post some useful information on the subject. This is a translation from a post by someone called Hejazy, who kindly put down all this information and appears to have copied it from elsewhere according to what he says.

The "Shahr" شهر is the name of a month in Arabic, it was called a shahr because it was the amount of time it took for one complete rotation of the moon around the Earth, usually 28 or 31 days (29 days in the "kabisah" year). It was called a shahr by the Arabs because the period ended with the moon showing "يشهر القمر". As for the week, it was called Osboo' "أسبوع" and the root of the word is saba'a "سبعة" (seven), the number of days in a week.

The names of the months in the Arabic calendar were used at the beginning of the fifth century AD. They are as follows:

Muhram محرم
The first month in the Arab calendar. It was called Muhram because it was forbidden for any fighting to take place amongst the Arabs during this month.

Saffar صفر
The second month in the Arab calendar. Saffar meant to empty and some have said it described the Arab towns which were emptied as the Arabs went on raids or to do battle. Others said it was due to their raiding of lands which went by the name of al Saffaryah, and others still said it referred to Mecca when many of its inhabitants would leave during this month.

Rabea al Owal ربيع الأول
The third month, when the grass would begin to grow and the weather would get better.

Rabea al Akher ربيع الآخر
The fourth month and the end of spring.

Jamadi al Oola جمادي الأولى
An interesting thing to note is that all the Arab months are masculine apart from Jamadi al Oola and Jamadi al Akhera. Jamadi was called so because it came during the winter when the water would start to freeze, it comes from the word jamad, or froze. Prior to Islam it was called Jamadi khamsa.

Jamadi al Akhera جمادي الآخرة
The sixth month and named for the same reason as mentioned above. Prior to Islam it was called Jamadi sitta.

Rajjab رجب
It was called Rajjab due to the importance the Arabs placed on this month and their strong discouragement of any fighting during it. It's name can mean to glorify something or it meant to leave (fighting).

Sha'aban شعبان
The eighth month of the Arabic calendar. It's name comes from tasha'aba, or to spread out. During this months the Arab tribes would spread out and prepare to raid after spending Rajjab without fighting. Others say that the tribes spread out seeking water during this month, hence the name.

Ramadan رمضان
Prior to Islam the ninth month was called Nateq ناطق and when the month was renamed it coincided with a period of intense heat, Ramad رمض , and so it was called Ramadan. Others say that the sun was so strong that the stones became hot, or Ramadat.

Shawal شوال
It is said that during this month the livestock would raise its tails in heat, others say that during this month the milk of livestock would diminish due to the heat, tashoul تشول. Others say Shawal because the month was extremely hot.

Tho al qi'da ذو القعدة
During this month the Arabs would not travel and some say they would not fight in this month either because it was one of the months when combat was forbidden. Qi'da means to sit, so it was the month of sitting.

Tho al hijja ذو الحجة
The month of pilgrimage and the final month of the calendar. It was called pilgrimage حجة because the ancient Arabs had always performed this rite at this time.

The days of the week

The sabat سبت
To say of somebody that they have sabat means that they are resting. It was called during the pre-Islamic days of Ignorance Jahiliya جاهلية shabar شبار.

The Ahad الأحد
The first day of the week and the root of it is wahed واحد meaning one. During the Jahiliyah it was called Owal أول (first)

Ithnein الأثنين
The second day of the week. Two means ithnein أثنين. In the jahiliyah it was called Ahon أهون

Thalatha' الثلاثاء
The third day of the week and it means three in Arabic. The jahiliyah name was Jabar جبار

Arbe'a الأربعاء
The fourth day of the week and means four in Arabic. Previously called dabar دبار

Khamees الخميس
The fifth day of the week, meaning five. Previously called Mo'ns مؤنس

Jumu'a الجمعة
The sixth day of the week meaning to gather and could have meant that it gathered all the days of the week as their culmination. In the jahiliyah the Arabs called it Arooba عروبة


The Syrian Brit said...

You've miscounted the months, my friend!..
Sha'aban is the EIGHTH month, Ramadan is the NINETH, and so on.. otherwise, you end up with an eleven-month year!..

Maysaloon said...

Thank you SB, I did indeed. I've made the changes and they are now in the right order!

sasa said...

That's a real education, thank you!

I think the reason most of us don't know anything about the Hijri calendar is because it contains some basic contradictions. Rabeaa Al Akher - the End of Spring, for example, moves through the year so that sometimes it will not actually be the end of spring, but the start of autumn.

The problem that the calendar is not aligned with the earth year is only because we have failed to take account of the growth of scientific knowledge (i.e. that an earth year is just over 365 days - not 12 x moon orbits).

It's a shame because, at the moment, it is a dead calendar. It wouldn't take much to bring it back to life.

The Gregorian calendar uses months too - but they aren't tied to moon orbits any more, and so they still have relevance to people's lives.

la Mora said...

Your comment is also a real education Sasa. Tayeb tell me, what would be involved in revivifying it do you think, I´d be intrigued to see if we could turn this into a project...