THE CLOCK, THE CALENDAR AND THE KORAN
THE religion which Mohammed founded bears everywhere the imprint of his life and character. He was not only the Prophet but the prophecy of Islam. This is true not only as regards matters of faith and ritual, but also of many things which at first sight would seem to have no connexion with either.
The connexion of the three words in the title may seem merely fortuitous or alliterative to the reader: to the Moslem their connexion is perfectly evident, because the clock and the calendar are set back and regulated by the book of the Prophet. The Moslem calendar with its twelve lunar months and its two great feast days is fixed according to the laws of the Koran and orthodox tradition, based upon the practice of Mohammed himself. The fast month of Ramadhan, for example, is so called from the Arabic root which means to burn, and before the days of Islam this month, in accordance with its name, always fell in the heat of summer. Because of the change in the calendar, and because Mohammed abolished the intercalary months, the fast occurs eleven days earlier each year and travels all round the seasons. Although the ancient Arabian year was composed of twelve lunar months, the Arabs about the year 412 introduced a system of intercalation whereby one month additional was inserted every three years. Mohammed abolished this scientific practice, and we read in the Koran (Surah 9:36 ,37): “Verily, the number of months with God is twelve months in God’s Book, on the day when He created the heavens and the earth; of these are four that are sacred; that is the subsisting religion.”
By this one verse of the Koran, which is unchanged and irrevocable, the whole Moslem world is religiously bound fast to the lunar calendar. Baidhawi and other Moslem commentators try to explain these verses in such a way as to hide the fact that the Arabs in the “Time of Ignorance” were far more scientific in their calendar than were Mohammed himself or the Arabs who followed his leading. In the Commentary of Mohammed Hussein Nisaburi, printed in the margin of the thirty-volume Commentary by Al Tabari, we find, however, the true explanation. After giving the usual explanations, which do not explain, he says: “There is, however, another explanation of this verse. The meaning of nasi is the adding of a month to certain years so that the lunar year will be equivalent to the solar; for the lunar year of twelve months consists of 354 days and a fifth or sixth of a day, as we know from the science of astronomy and the observations of astronomers. But the solar year, which is equivalent to the return of the sun from any fixed point in the firmament to the same position, consists of 365 days and nearly a fourth day. Therefore the lunar year is less than the solar year by ten days, twenty-one and one-fifth hours, nearly, and by reason of this difference the lunar months change from season to season; so that, for example, the month of pilgrimage will sometimes occur in winter, sometimes in summer, or in the spring or autumn. In the ‘Time of Ignorance’ they were not pleased when the pilgrimage occurred in an unsuitable time for their merchandise. Therefore they arranged for a leap year with an additional month, so that the hajj should always occur in the autumn; so they increased the nineteen lunar years by seven lunar months, so that it became nineteen solar years, and in the following year they added a month. Then, again, in the fifth year; then in the seventh, the tenth, the thirteenth, the sixteenth, the eighteenth year, etc. They learned this method from the Jews and the Christians who also followed it on account of their feasts. And the extra month was called Nasi.” Nisaburi goes on to give a tradition according to which Mohammed himself abrogated this practice when he made his last pilgrimage to Mecca and established the ritual of the hajj.
The origin of the lunar calendar is, therefore, based not only on the Koran text but on tradition. The inconvenience of this reckoning, however, is being increasingly felt, and more and more the solar year and the dates of the Greek calendar are being used by Moslems. We may read, for example, on the title pages of all the leading Cairo and Constantinople dailies, even those published by Moslems, Wednesday, the 28th of Safar, 1331 and on the opposite side of the page, February 5th, 1913. To convert a Moslem date into one of our own era is not altogether a simple matter. “To express the Mohammedan date,” says Dr. Forbes, “in years and decimals of a year, multiply by .970,225; to the product add 621.54, and the sum will be the precise period of the Christian era.” According to Murray, “If it is desired to find the year of the Hegira, which comes in a given year of the Christian era, it is sufficient to subtract 621 from the year given and to multiply the remainder by 1.0307”; while, according to Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam, if one desires to find the precise Christian date corresponding to any given year of Islam, the following rule obtains: “From the given number of Musalman years deduct three per cent., and to the remainder add the number 621.54; the sum is the period of the Christian era at which the given current Musalman year ends. This simple rule is founded on the fact that one hundred lunar years are very nearly equal to ninety-seven solar years, there being only eight days of excess in the former period; hence to the result found, as just stated, it will be requisite to add eight days as a correction for every century.”
A writer in the Egypt nationalist organ, Al Sha‘b, who signs himself Al Zarkawy, proposed to modify the lunar year in a thoroughly Mohammedan fashion and call it the Hegira solar year. He professed to know from Moslem tradition that the date on which the Prophet emigrated from Mecca to Medina was Friday, the twelfth of Rabi’a I., corresponding to September 22nd, A. D. 622. It was seventeen years after that date, according to this writer, in the Caliphate of ‘Omar, that the year in which Mohammed went to Medina was taken as the beginning of the Mohammedan era; the first Muharram of the year 622 being Thursday, July 15th. The writer proposed that, as the lunar calendar is inexact for business purposes and the Koran requires it for religious purposes, the Moslem world should introduce a Hegira solar date, so that periodical events will not change from year to year, although the feasts, etc., which are based on the appearance of the moon, will be fixed as heretofore by the lunar calendar. He also found a strange and providential coincidence in the fact that the day on which the Hegira date began, namely, September 22nd, 622, was the first day of autumn when day and night are twelve hours each! This date should, therefore, be taken for the beginning of the era and of the calendar. The writer proposed that the names of the months should be those of the signs of the zodiac, the Ram, the Bull, the Twins, the Lion, etc. The number of days in the first six months will be thirty each, and in the second six months thirty-one. The sixth month, however, of the second series, namely the last month in the year, will have twenty-nine days for three years, and thirty days every fourth year. Al Zarkawy seriously submitted this proposition to the public, whose criticisms he invited, and with faith in his own proposition dated the article the 23rd of the month of Capricorn, 1291 of the Hegira Solar Year, which corresponds to the 5th of the month of Safir of the Hegira lunar year 1330. But his proposal found no acceptance.
To make confusion worse confounded as regards the Moslem calendar, we must remember also that the date of the Mohammedan months at present, in nearly every part of the Moslem world, is fixed not by the almanac or calendar prepared beforehand, but depends upon the actual observation of the new moon by competent witnesses. This is especially true of the new moon which appears at the beginning and end of the month of fasting. According to Moslem tradition, based upon the practice of the Prophet, it is necessary for these witnesses to appear before the kadhi, or local judge. The result is, with the uncertainty of weather, and frequently the unreliability of the witnesses, that towns in Arabia only a few miles apart will begin and end the month on a different day. In Turkey and in Egypt, as well as in India, Moslems are beginning to follow the printed calendar, but among the orthodox the practice is considered decidedly doubtful, One of the leading papers in Alexandria recently contained a notice by the head of the Moslem religious fraternity calling for men of keen vision and faithful character who would be on the look-out for the appearance of the new moon, so that the observation of the fact and the feast day of Islam might be accurately fixed and not be dependent upon hearsay!
Before the advent of Mohammed the Arabs already possessed considerable knowledge of practical astronomy. The Bedouins on their night journeys, having no other guide than the moon and the brightest stars, made observations and crude astronomical deductions. It was not, however, till the second century of the Hegira that the scientific study of astronomy began under the influence of India. Moslem astronomers accepted all the fundamental features of the Ptolemaic system of the universe, together with its errors. In the fourth century A. H. the possibility of the earth’s revolution was discussed, but in the following centuries and among orthodox Mohammedans today, its immobility is generally accepted. Only Western education, as in Egypt , Turkey , and Persia , has changed opinion. In Al Azhar the astronomy taught was until recently Ptolemaic. C. A. Nallino says the Arabs outstripped their predecessors, the Greeks, “in mathematical astronomy, in the number and quality of their instruments and the technique of their observations.” It is, therefore, the more remarkable that the solar calendar was not adopted long since in Moslem lands. The last great Moslem astronomer was Ulug Beg of Samarkand (A. D. 1449). “With him the scientific study of astronomy ceased throughout the Islamic world; henceforth we only meet with authors of elementary manuals; compilers of almanacs, etc. The real astronomer has disappeared, and in his place we find only the muwakkit of the mosques.”
The present names of the Moslem months are different from those in use before Mohammed’s time. The first month of the year is called Muharram, and is so called because both under the pagan Arabs and in the time Mohammed it was held unlawful to go to war in this month. The first ten days of it are observed in commemoration of the martyrdom of Al Hussein, and the tenth day is the fast of ‘Ashur’a. Safar (yellow) was so named because it occurred at a time when the leaves bore a yellow tint. It is the most unlucky month in the year, for in it Adam was turned out of paradise and Mohammed was taken ill. Rabi‘a-al-Awal and Rabi‘a uth-Thani signify the first and second spring months and used to occur at the beginning of the year in springtime. Jamad-al-Awal and Jamad-ath-Thani, the fifth and sixth months, were, according to Caussin de Perceval, so named because the earth then became hard and dry (jamad) through scarcity of rain. The seventh month Rajab signifies honoured. It was a sacred month during the “Time of Ignorance” when war was not permitted. Sha‘ban is called the Prophet’s month. The old significance of the name means to separate, for in this month, we are told, the Arab tribes separated in search of water. On the 15th day of this month occurs the celebrated “Night of Recording,” upon which God is said to register all the actions of mankind which they are to perform during the coming year. Mohammed enjoined his followers to keep awake throughout the whole of this night, and repeat one hundred prayers. This ninth month is called Shawwal, because of some obscure reference to camels’ tails and Bedouin life. The name signifies a tail. On the first of this month occurs the Moslem feast of the “Breaking of the Fast,” called ‘Id-ul-Fitr. The last two months in the year are called Dhu-al-Ka‘da and Dhu-al-Hajj. The former signifies the month of resting or truce, in which the ancient Arabs were always engaged in peaceful operations; the latter, the month of the pilgrimage. During this month the pilgrims visit Mecca. A visit at any other time does not in any way have the merits of a pilgrimage. On the tenth day of the month is the great Moslem feast of sacrifice, ‘Id-ul-Azha.
One can see from this summary that at least three of the months in the calendar are closely linked to religious practice and Moslem tradition, and that while Islam stands, this part of the calendar cannot be changed. Dr. C. Snouck Hurgronje has recently shown that the lunar calendar even controls in some measure the number of pilgrims from Malaysia to Mecca. According to Moslem belief, the Hajj al Akbar, or Greater Hajj, which has special religious merit, only occurs when the great day of the pilgrimage (the 19th), or Dhu al Hajj, falls on Friday, which is also the Moslem day of public worship. This superstition in regard to lucky days, and the desire to be present at Arafat on a Friday, obtains great credence among the Malays, but as the date of the month depends on actual observation at Mecca , there can be no certainty.
Prince Leone Caetani has shown in his recent work, Annali dell’ Islam , that the exact date of Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina is quite uncertain. According to most authorities it took place on June 20th, A. D. 622. According to this calculation, the Caliph ‘Omar made the first of Muharram corresponds with Thursday, July 15th A. D. 622. Caetani devotes some twenty pages to a discussion of this difficult subject, and gives comparative tables for every day in the Moslem calendar from the year 1 A. H. to correspond with our own. (Vol. i. pp. 344-361.)
A leaf from a Moslem calendar published in Cairo shows the practical difficulties of the situation in this capital city. On either side of the word for Tuesday, the third day of the week, this calendar gives the year of the Hegira and that of “The Birth.” Then follow in large letters the ordinary Moslem and Christian date, the 21st of Rabi‘a-uth-Thani and April. Below is the record of an event, namely, a victory of the Egyptian Army in the Sudan , on the corresponding date of the year 1306. On either side of this chronological note occur other dates, viz.: the 27th of Barmuda, 1628 (Coptic), and the 27th of Maart, 1328 (Ottoman financial year), the 27th of Adar, 2223 (Greek) and the 22nd of Nisan, 5672 (Hebrew). Underneath we have given, both in Arabic and in European time, the five periods of prayer, and the rising and setting of the sun and moon. In addition to the periods of prayer are added the actual time of sunrise and of high noon, for the Moslem noon , when the muezzin calls for prayer, differs from high noon by two minutes. On this particular day, according to Moslem time, the former is at five hours thirty-nine minutes, and the latter at five hours thirty-seven minutes. In each leaf of the calendar a short quotation from the traditions is given. Here it reads: “It is a part or righteousness to befriend the friend of your father.”
Turning from the Moslem calendar to the Moslem clock, we find here also that the mediaeval legislation of the Prophet and the power of tradition are supreme. Before clocks and watches were invented, Moslems divided the day and the night according to the prayer-ritual, and this division still prevails among the common people everywhere. The periods of prayer are five, as is well known. Daybreak, just after high noon, between high noon and sunset, sunset, and finally when the night closes in. These prayer-periods are known respectively as Fijr, Zuhr, ’Asr, Maghrib, and ’Asha’. Although the general duty of prayer is enjoined in the Koran, there is not a single passage where five periods of prayer are mentioned (cf. Surah 30:17; 11:116; 20:130; 17:80). The first passage is the most definite, and reads: “Celebrated be the praises of God when you are in the evening and when you are in the morning, for to Him belongs praise in the heavens and the earth; and at the evening, and when you are at noon.” The commentators are agreed that five prayers a day are not mentioned. The stated periods, as well as all the ritual or prayer, are therefore based upon tradition. They were possibly borrowed from the practice of the Oriental Church, as is the case of so much else in the public prayer ritual of Islam. 1 Basil of Cappadocia, according to Dr. Hughes, speaks of five hours as suitable for prayer, namely, the morning, the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, and the evening. Mohammed, however, changed the times of prayer to suit the Arabian climate, his family arrangements (see the traditions), and the life of the Bedouin tribes, to the great inconvenience of Moslems under other skies and in the bustle and turmoil of modern city life.
Clocks and watches are found nearly everywhere today in the Moslem world. In Egypt , India , Algeria and Malaysia , most Moslems use Western time because of the influence of European governments. In Persia , Turkey , Arabia , Morocco , Afghanistan , and the rest of the Moslem world generally, clocks and watches are still regulated every day at sunset, which must be twelve o’clock exactly by Moslem time every day in the year. One can imagine how not only ordinary clocks but costly timepieces are abused by being set back or forward every day at sunset; but as long as the muezzin’s cry rings from the minarets, the time of the day for the orthodox believer will be regulated by his call, observatories to the contrary notwithstanding.
Popularly speaking, the chief use of a clock or a watch, in any case, is to know the exact time for prayer, and just as an ordinary pocket compass is known by the name of “Mecca pointer” (Qibla), all over western and central Asia, because it has been found useful to indicate the direction of Mecca to the travelling pilgrim, so the hands on the clock are real prayer-pointers. At the beginning of Ramadhan, for example, there is often a brisk and increasing trade in timepieces of every description, in order that the hours of fasting and the hours of feasting may be promptly known. High noon, according to Mohammedan reckoning, may be anywhere from forty minutes past four to fifty minutes past six in this latitude (30 degrees north); but an interesting rule to remember is this, that the time of noon, according to Mohammedan watches and clocks on any particular day, subtracted from twelve, gives the apparent time on sunset according to Western reckoning.
This connexion and confusion of the clock, the calendar and the Koran bring about the result that the only time-reckoning on which Christians, Moslems and Jews agree in the Orient, is that of the days of the week. These are numbered and called by their numbers, save Friday and Saturday, which are known as the “day of assembling” and the “day of the Sabbath.” Among the days of the week Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are esteemed auspicious and lucky, while the other days are considered unlucky. According to tradition (Mishkat 24:1) God created the earth on Saturday, the hills on Sunday, the trees on Monday, all unpleasant things on Tuesday, the light on Wednesday, the beasts on Thursday, and Adam, who was the last of creation, was created about the time of afternoon prayers on Friday.
Friday is the day specially appointed for public worship throughout the whole Moslem world. According to tradition delivered by Mohammed, “It is the day on which the sun rises; the day on which Adam was taken into paradise and taken out of it; the day on which he repented and on which he died. It will also be the day of Resurrection.” Although this day is sacred for special prayer among Moslems, it is neither in the traditions nor in the Koran considered a day of incumbent rest. Only in recent years, and with the rise of pan-Islamism, have Mohammedans begun to observe the day more vigorously and attempted to make it a substitute for the Christian Sabbath in its character and in their demands as regards government regulations and privileges, as at the recent Egyptian Moslem Congress. 1 The revival of Islam on these and other lines will doubtless end in attempts to revise the calendar and the division of the hours. But for the present, next to that of banking and the taking of interest (both forbidden in the Koran), there is no more urgent, practical question than that of the Clock, the Calendar and the Koran.
1 R. Strothmann, on the contrary, believes the periods were borrowed from Zoroastrianism. Cf. his Kultus der Zaiditen , p. 19. He bases his conclusions on Goldziher’s investigation: Revue de l’Histoire des Religions , 1901, p. 15.
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