The four sacred months.

IT was a custom among the ancient Arabs to observe the four months in the year as sacred during which they held it unlawful to wage war, and took off the heads from their spears, ceasing from incursions and other hostili­ties. During these months whoever was in fear of his enemy lived in full security, so that if a man met the mur­derer of his father or his brother, he durst not offer him any violence.1 "A great argument," says a learned writer, of a humane disposition in that nation, who being, by reason of the independent governments of their several tribes, and for the preservation of their just rights, exposed to frequent quarrels with one another, had yet learned to cool their inflamed breasts with moderation, and restrain the rage of war by stated times of truce."2

This institution obtained among all the Arabian tribes, except only those of Tay and Khuzaah, and some of the descendants of al Harith Ibn Kaab (who distinguished no time or place as sacred),3 and was so religiously observed that there are but few instances in history (four, say some, six, say others4) of its having been transgressed; the war which were carried on) without regard thereto being there­

1 Al Kazwini, apud Golium in notis ad Alfrag., p. 4, &c Al Shahristani, apud Poc. Spec., p. 211.

2 Golius, ubi supra, p 5.

3 Al Shahristani, ubi supra. See ante, p. 190.

4 Al Mughultar.


fore termed impious. One of those instances was in the war between the tribes of Quraish and Qais Ailan, wherein Muhammad himself served under his uncles, being then fourteen,1 or, as others say, twenty2 years old.

The months which the Arabs held sacred were al Mu­harram, Rajab, Dhu'l Qaada, and Dhu'l Hajja; the first, the seventh, the eleventh, and the twelfth in the year.3 Dhu'l Hajja being the month wherein they performed the pil­grimage to Makkah, not only that month, but also the preceding and the following, were for that reason kept inviolable, that every one might safely and without interruption pass and repass to and from the festival.4 Rajab is said to have been more strictly observed than any of the other three,5 probably because in that month the pagan Arabs used to fast;6 Ramadhan, which was afterwards set apart by Muhammad for that purpose, being in the time of ignorance dedicated to drinking in excess.7 By reason of the profound peace and security enjoyed in this month, one part of the provisions brought by the caravans of purveyors annually set out by the Quraish for the supply of Makkah,8 was distributed among the people; the other part being, for the like reason, distributed at the pilgrimage.9

Their observance among the Muslims.

The observance of the aforesaid months seemed so reasonable to Muhammad, that it met with his approba-


1 Abulfeda, Vit. Moh., p. 11.

2 Al Kudai, al Firauz. apud Poc. Spec., p. 174. Al Mughultal mentions both opinions.

3 Mr. Bayle (Dict. Hist. et Crit., art. la Mecque, Rem. F.) accuses Dr. Prideaux of an inconsistency for saying in one place (Life of Mahomet, p.64) that these sacred months were the first, the seventh, the eleventh, p.6.and the twelfth, and intimating in another place (ibid., p.89) that three of them were contiguous. But this must be mere absence of mind in Mr. Bayle; for are not the eleventh, twelfth, and the first months contiguous? The two learned professors, Golius and Reland, have also made a small slip in speaking of these sacred months, which, they tell us are the two first and the two last in the year. Vide Gohi, Lex Arab., col. 601, and Reland, De Jure Milit. Mohammedanor, p.5.

4 Vide Gol. in Afrag., p.9.

5 Vide ibid., p. 6.

6 Al Makizi, apud Poc., ubi supra.

7 Idem, and Auctor Neshk al Ashdar, ibid.

8 See Quran, c. 106.

9 Al Edrisi, apud Poc. Spec., p, the 127.


tion; and the same is accordingly confirmed and enforced by several passages of the Quran,1 which forbid war to be waged during those months against such as acknowledge them to be sacred, but grant, at the same time, full per­mission to attack those who make no such distinction, in the sacred months as well as in the profane.2

Regulations conderning Muharram.

One practice, however, of the pagan Arabs, in relation to these sacred months, Muhammad thought proper to reform; for some of them, weary of sitting quiet for three months together, and eager to make their accustomed incursions for plunder, used, by way of expedient, when­ever it suited their inclinations or conveniency, to put off the observing of al Muharram to the following month, Safar,3 thereby avoiding to keep the former, which they supposed it lawful for them to profane, provided they sanctified another month in lieu of it, and gave public notice thereof at the preceding pilgrimage. This transferring the observation of a sacred month to a profane month is what is truly meant by the Arabic word al Nasi, and is absolutely condemned and declared to be an impious innovation, in a passage of the Quran4 which Dr. Prideaux,5 misled by Golius,6 imagines to relate to the prolonging of the year by adding an intercalary month thereto. It is true the Arabs, who imitated the Jews in their manner of computing by lunar years, had also learned their method of reducing them to solar years by intercalating a month sometimes in the third and sometimes in the second year,7 by which means they fixed the pilgrimage of Makkah (contrary to the original institution) to a certain season of the year, viz., to autumn, as most convenient for the pil­grims, by reason of the temperateness of the weather and the plenty of provisions8 and it is also true that Mu-

1 Cap. 9; c.2, v. 194; c.5, v.3; c. 5, v. 98, &c.

2 Cap. 9; c.2, v.194.

3 See the notes to c.9, ubi sup.

4 Cap. 9, ibid.

5 Life of Mahomet, p.66.

6 In Alfrag., p. 12.

7 See Prid., Preface to the first vol. of his Connect., p.6, &C.

8 Vide Gol., ubi supr.


hammad forbade such intercalation by a passage in the same chapter of the Quran; but then it is not the passage above mentioned, which prohibits a different thing, but one a little before it, wherein the number of months in the year, according to the ordinance of GOD is declared to be twelve;1 whereas, if the intercalation of a month were allowed, every third or second year would consist of thirteen, contrary to GOD's appointment.

Friday instituted as a sacred day

The setting apart of one day in the week for the more peculiar attendance on GOD'S worship, so strictly required by the Jewish and Christian religions, appeared to Mu­hammad to be so proper an institution, that he could not but imitate the professors thereof in that particular; though, for the sake of distinction, he might think himself obliged to order his followers to observe a different day from either. Several reasons are given why the sixth day of the week was pitched on for this purpose;2 but Muhammad seems to have preferred that day chiefly because it was the day on which the people used to be assembled long before his time,3 though such assemblies were had, perhaps, rather on a civil than a religious account. However it be, the Muhammadan writers be­stow very extraordinary encomiums on this day, calling it the prince of days, and the most excellent day on which the sun rises;4 pretending also that it will be the day whereon the last judgment will be solemnised;5 and they esteem it a peculiar honour to Islam that GOD has been pleased to appoint this day to be the feast-day of the Muslims, and granted them the advantage of having first observed it.6

Though the Muhammadans do not think themselves bound to keep their day of public worship so holy as the

1 Quran. C.9. See also c.2, v. 194.

2 See c. 63, and the notes there.

3 Al Baidhawi.

4 Ibn al Athir et al Ghazali, apud Poc. Spec., p.317.

5 Vide ibid.

6 Al Ghazali, ibid.


Jews and Christians are certainly obliged to keep theirs, there being a permission, as is generally supposed, in the Quran,1 allowing them to return to their employments or diversion after divine service is over; yet the more devout disapprove the applying of any part of that day to worldly affairs, and require it to be wholly dedicated to the busi­ness of the life to come.2

The two principal annual feasts.

Since I have mentioned the Muhammadan weekly feast, The two I beg leave just to take notice of their two Bairams3 or principal annual feasts. The first of them is called in Arabic, Id ul Fitr, i.e., The feast of breaking the fast, and begins the first of Shawwal, immediately succeeding the fast of Ramadhan; and the other is called Id al Qurban, or Id ul Adha', i.e., The feast of the sacrifice, and begins on the tenth of Dhu'l Hajja, when the victims are slain at the pilgrimage of Makkah.4 The former of these feasts is properly the lesser Bairam, and the latter the greater Bairam; but the vulgar, and most authors who have written of the Muhammadan affairs,5 exchange the epithets, and call that which follows Ramadhan the greater Bairam, because it is observed in an extraordinary manner, and kept for three days together at Constantinople and in other parts of Turkey, and in Persia for five or six days, by the common people, at least, with great demonstrations of public joy, to make themselves amends, as it were, for the mortification of the preceding month;7 whereas, the feast of sacrifices, though it be also kept for three days, and the first of them be the most solemn day of the pilgrimage, the principal act of devotion among the Mu­hammadans is taken much less notice of by the generality

1 Cap. 63, ubi supra.

2 Al Ghazali, ubi supra, p. 318.

3 The word Bairam is Turkish, and properly signifies a feast-day or holiday.

4 See c. 9, and ante, Sect. IV., p.94.

5 Vide Reland, De Relig. Moh. ,p.109, and D'Herbel., Bibi. Orient., art. Bairam.

6 Hyde, in notis ad Bobov., p. 16; Chardin, Voy. de Perse, tom. 2, p.450; Ricaut's State of the Ottoman Empire, I. 2, c. 24, &c.

7 Vide Chardin and Ricaut, ubi supra.


of people, who are not struck therewith, because the ceremonies with which the same is observed are performed at Makkah, the only scene of that solemnity.*

* In India this feast is popularly known as the Baqr Id, or Feast of the Cow and is celebrated with great ceremony by all Muslims. A goat or a sheep is sacrificed, and its flesh eaten by the family making the offering. For a clear account of the manner of celebrating the various feasts of the Muslims, the reader is referred to the excellent work of the Rev. Edward Sell, entitled The Faith of Islam, chapter vi. E.M.W.

Table of Contents
Answering Islam Home Page