On the Islamic Calendar

As we approach our own new year, thought it might be helpful to explain how Veggiestanis keep track of time.

Bit tricky to follow, this. The calendar starts from the hejira which was Mohammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina in the year we know as 622AD. As a point of reference, the Veggiestan book was printed in 1432 AH (after hejira).

The system is complicated by the fact that the hejira calendar is based on the lunar year, and a lunar year is inconveniently ten days shorter than our Gregorian calendar/solar year. So stuff apparently keeps moving back ten days each year. There are still twelve months, each consisting of either twenty nine or thirty days – the length of the months is unpredictable and entirely dependant on the sighting of the new moon. Which in no small way explains why Muslims became world leaders in astronomy very early on.

There are four special holy months during the year (during which fighting and similar bad deeds are prohibited), of which the most important by far is Ramadan, the month of fasting. This is generally seen as a time of contemplation: most Muslims seem to look forward to it as it gives them a chance to recharge their spiritual batteries and reaffirm their faith. Although when Ramadan falls in the summer months (when the daylight hours and thus the period of abstention are so much longer) it is very hard, the period is generally a festive time – we sell more food then than at any other time of the year, as participants like nothing more than to gather at sunset for prayer and to break fast together. The end of Ramadan is celebrated on Eid al Fitr, which is three days of feasting, often interspersed with visiting the poor, the needy or the graves of loved ones.

The second holy month of Islam is Muharram (in 2011 this runs throughout December), which is especially big in Iran and other shi’ia areas. It is largely a month of mourning, when parties and general merry-making are frowned upon. The seventh through to the tenth day is a special period of penitence, when thousands take to the streets and flagellate themselves with chains to express their sorrow at the terrible fate of Imam Hussayn.

The other big Islamic event is the Haj, or pilgrimage, which falls during Dhu-al-Hijjah, the final month of the year. This is when all Muslims who are able aim at least once in a lifetime to make the trek to Mecca. The conclusion of the haj is celebrated by Muslims the world over as Eid-al-Adha, or the ‘feast of sacrifice’.

It has to be said that most of the Middle East has adopted a dual calendar system, using the Western version for political and commercial affairs, and retaining the hejira calendar for high days and holidays. Iranians also have their own calendar, which works from the same start date but is based on the solar year and commences on the first day of spring.

So now you know.

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