[By Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani (rahimahullah)]
“Surely, the number of months according to Allah is twelve (as written) in the Book of Allah on the day He created the heavens and the Earth, of which there are Four Sacred Months. That is the right faith. So, do not wrong yourself therein…” [Surah Taubah: 36]
In the present verse, mentioned there is another bad custom prevailing in Arabia since its age of ignorance – which Muslims have been instructed to abstain from. That bad custom relates to a chain of happenings. Details go back to the distant past since when a year was accepted as having twelve months by the religious codes of all past prophets. Out of these twelve months, four were considered sacred, therefore, worthy of great reverence. They were three consecutive months of Dhu al-Qa’dah, Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram, and the month of Rajab.
All religious codes of past prophets agree that every act of worship during these four months is more reward-worthy – and should someone commit a sin during these months, the curse and punishment resulting from it is also more blameworthy. Under these past religious codes, fighting and killing was prohibited during these months.
Since the Arabs of Makkah al-Mukarramah are the progeny of Sayyidina Ibrahim (alayhissalaam) through Sayyidina Isma’il (alayhissalaam), they all professed belief in Sayyidina Ibrahim (alayhissalaam) as a prophet and messenger of Allah and claimed to follow his Shari’ah. However, as fighting, killing and hunting was also prohibited during these four sacred months among the followers of the Ibrahimi community, the people of the Arab age of ignorance found the implementation of this injunction extremely hard. The reason was that, during the pagan period, fighting and killing had become the only vocation for them. Therefore, in order to make this restriction somewhat easy on them, they spun out all sorts of excuses to satisfy their self-serving motives. Whenever they needed to fight during one of the sacred months, or whenever a sacred month approached while they were already fighting, then, they would say: This year, this month is not sacred. The next month will be the sacred one. For example, when Muharram arrived, they would say that ‘this year, the month of Muharram is not sacred, instead of that, the month of Safar will be sacred’. And if they had some other exigency, they would say, ‘this year, the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal will be sacred;’ or say, ‘this year the month of Safar has come earlier and Muharram will come later.’ Thus, in one stroke, they made the month of Muharram as the month of Safar! In short, they would somehow complete the count of four month during one year, but would not bother to retain the order and signification of what was divinely determined. It was up to them to give any name to any month, call it Dhu al-Hijjah or call it Ramadhan or make one come earlier and make the other come later. If another emergency came, for example, when they would remain engaged in fighting for a period as long as ten months leaving only two months to the year, then, on this occasion, they would increase the number of months in a year saying, ‘this year will be of fourteen months.’ In this way, they would make the remaining four months the sacred months.
In short, they did show their reverence for the Ibrahimi faith atleast by doing it during four months of the year when they would abstain from fighting and killing. But, they did not observe the order of the months in a year according to which four of them were fixed as the sacred months. This was what they juggled with seeking interpretations to suit their needs or fancies.
The outcome was that, during those days, it had become difficult to determine as to which month was Ramadhan or Shawwal, or Dhu al-Qa’dah, Dhu al-Hijjah or Rajab. When Makkah al-Mukarramah was conquered in the 8th year of Hijrah and the Holy Prophet ﷺ sent Sayyidina Abi Bakr to make the proclamation of withdrawal from disbelievers and Mushriks at the Hajj season of Hijrah year 9, this month was, according to the genuine calculation, the month of Dhu al-Hijjah. But, according to the same old custom of the Jahiliyyah, this month was declared to be that of Dhu al-Qa’dah – and, that year, according to them, not Dhu al-Hijjah, but Dhu al-Qa’dah was fixed to be the month of Hajj. Then came the Hijrah year 10 which was the year the Holy Prophet went for his last Hajj. As nature would have it, this brought about a unique arrangement when the genuine month was that of Dhu al-Hijjah and, according to the arbitrary reckoning of the people of Jahiliyyah too, that turned out to be Dhu al-Hijjah itself. Therefore, the Holy Prophet ﷺ said in his address at Mina: “Time has come back to its position Allah had set the day He created the heavens and the Earth”. It means that the month, the real month of Dhu al- Hijjah, turned out to be the same month of Dhu al-Hijjah that year, even in the sight of the people of Jahiliyyah.
This was a window to the custom of Jahiliyyah, a custom that changed the number, the order and the specification of months in a year, even made deletions and alterations at will. The activity of making a few changes here and there may appear to be small and innocuous. A month is a month, call it by any name, it remains a month. But, things were not that simple in the given situation. These changes disturbed the implementation of Islamic laws connected with a particular month or a specific date in it. They also affected duties fixed for the beginning or the end of the year – such as, the injunctions of Hajj during the ten days of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, fasting during the ten days of Muharram and the rules of Zakah at the end of the year. As a direct result of this practice, hundreds of Islamic laws were distorted making their compliance useless. In these two verses of the Holy Qur’an, Muslims have been instructed to remain on guard against the evil in this pagan custom.
In the first verse (36), it is said: “surely, the number of months with Allah is twelve”. Here, the word: ‘iddah appears in the sense of number and shuhur is the plural of shahr which means month. The sense of the verse is that the number of months, in the sight of Allah, is set as twelve. No one has the right to decrease or increase it.
Then, by placing the phrase: (fi kitabullah: as written in the Book of Allah), it was stressed that this numerical setting of the months stood recorded in the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfuz) since eternity. Then, by saying: “on the day He created the heavens and the Earth”, it was indicated that the Divine decree was, though, promulgated in eternity, but this order and setting of the months came into being when the heavens and the Earth were created.
After that, it was said: “of which there are Four Sacred Months”. It means that, out of these twelve months, four are sacred. They have been called: hurum (sanctified ones) in the sense that fighting and killing is prohibited during these month, and also in the sense that these months are blessed and it is obligatory to hold them in due esteem and that acts of worship during these become more reward worthy. The first injunction out of the two was abrogated in the Shari’ah of Islam. But, the second one, that of increased reverence, esteem and devotion to ‘Ibadah during this period still remains operative in Islam.
In his address (Khutbah) of the Day of Sacrifice (Yaumu’n-Nahr, a term used for ‘Eidul-Adha) during the Last Hajj (Hajjatul-Wada’), the Holy Prophet ﷺ explained these months by saying: ‘Three months are consecutive – Dhu al-Qa’dah, Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram and one month is that of Rajab.’ But, there were two sayings of the Arabs regarding the month of Rajab. Some tribes used to call the month we know as Ramadhan the month of Rajab while, as seen by the tribe of Mudar, Rajab was the month which comes in between Jumada ath- Thani and Sha’ban. Therefore, the Holy Prophet ﷺ, by mentioning this month as ‘Rajab Mudar’ – also made it clear that it means the month of Rajab which is in between Jumada ath-Thani and Sha’ban.
Thereafter appears the statement: “That is the right faith”. It means that keeping the setting and serial order of months, specially the injunctions pertaining to the Four Sacred Months, according to the very original decree of Allah Almighty is the right faith to hold. Making any changes, alterations, additions or deletions therein is a sign of crookedness in comprehension and temperament.
The next sentence: “So, do not wrong yourselves therein” means: ‘Do not become unjust to your own selves either by acting against the compliance-worthy injunctions pertaining to these months, or by not observing proper respect for them, or by falling short in devoting yourselves to ‘Ibadah therein.
In his Ahkam al-Qur’an, Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas has said: The hint given here is that these blessed months have an exclusive characteristic of their own. Whoever devotes to ‘Ibadah during these is awarded with the ability and encouragement to engage in it during the rest of the months. Similarly, a person who makes the necessary effort to stay safe from sins and other bad deeds during these months finds that remaining safe from these evils during the rest of the months of a year has become easier on him. Therefore, not making the best out of these months is a terrible loss.