Many Muslims today use the Christian calendar system in their daily affairs, not realizing that some of the practices inherent to this calendar are forbidden in Islam (notably intercalation or nasee).
Moreover, many of those who use the Christian calendar, Christians and otherwise, think that it is an accurate system or that it has had a fixed and true reference point. Thus, when the calendar tells us today is the first Tuesday of the month of May of the year 1999 for example, then this is what today actually is. But the truth is, no one knows for sure what the day, the month or the year actually is. Not only that, but the need for correction is continuous and is inescapable. Intercalation, for example, is done at least every four years through the process called the leap year.
The Christian calendar has years that are 365 or 366 days long. It is divided into 12 months that have no relationship to the motion of the moon, and it employs a system of weeks that group the days in sets of 7. It had three main versions: The Roman, the Julian and the Gregorian calendars, the difference between which lies in the way they approximate the length of the tropical year and in their rules for approximating the occurrence of Easter.
THE ROMAN CALENDAR
Originally, the year started on March 1, and consisted of only 304 days or 10 months (Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December). These 304 days were followed by an unnamed and unnumbered winter period. The Roman king Numa Pompilius (c. 715-673 BC, although his historicity is disputed) allegedly introduced February and January (in that order) between December and March, increasing the length of the year to 354 or 355 days. In 450 BC, February was moved to its current position between January and March.
In order to make up for the lack of days in a year, an extra month, Intercalaris or Mercedonius, (allegedly with 22 or 23 days) was introduced in some years. It was the duty of the priesthood to keep track of the calendars, but they failed miserably, partly due to ignorance, partly because they were bribed to make certain years long and others short. Furthermore, leap years were considered unlucky and were therefore avoided in times of crisis, such as the Second Punic War. In order to clean up this mess, Julius Caesar made his famous calendar reform in 45 BC. “Julius Caesar made all odd numbered months 31 days long, and all even numbered months 30 days long (with February having 29 days in non-leap years). In 44 BC, Quintilis was renamed ‘Julius’ (July) in honor of Julius Caesar, and in 8 BC Sextilis became ‘Augustus’ in honor of emperor Augustus. When Augustus had a month named after him, he presumably wanted his month to be a full 31 days long, so he removed a day from February and shifted the length of the other months so that August would have 31 days. This fact, however, is not confirmed, and could be a fabrication dating back to the 14th century.
THE JULIAN CALENDAR
It was introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. It was in common use until the 1500s. However, some countries (Greece and Russia, for example) used it well into this century. In the Julian calendar, the tropical year is approximated as 365.25 days. This gives an error of 1 day in approximately 128 years. The approximation 365 1/4 is achieved by having 1leap year every 4 years. Furthermore, the way it calculated the Easter occurrence was inaccurate, it had to be refined depending on the fact that most felt that 21 March was the proper day for vernal equinox (because 21 March was the date for vernal equinox during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325). The Gregorian calendar was therefore calibrated to make that day vernal equinox. By 1582 vernal equinox had moved (1582-325)/128 days = approximately 10 days backwards. So 10 days had to be dropped. This change in sequence of the calendar is known in Islam as intercalation, which is prohibited to do for any reason.
THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR
The Gregorian calendar is commonly used today by the non-Muslims. Pope Gregory XIII adopted it in accordance with instructions from the Council of Trent (1545-1563). In the Gregorian calendar, the tropical year is approximated as 365 97/400 days = 365.2425 days. Thus it takes approximately 3300 years for the tropical year to shift one day with respect to the Gregorian calendar. The approximation 365 97/400 is achieved by having 97 leap years every 400 years.
In the Gregorian calendar, every year divisible by 4 is a leap year. Also, every year divisible by 100 is not a leap year, but every year divisible by 400 is a leap year. And so, 1800, 1900 and 2100 are not leap years, while 1600 and 2000 are.
WHO USES THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR?
As we mentioned above not all countries adopted this calendar, and some of those who did, had their own changes added to it. Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain adopted it and other Catholic countries followed shortly after, but Protestant countries were reluctant to change. Later, the Orthodox Church in Greece decided to switch to the Gregorian calendar in the 1920s, but they tried to improve on the Gregorian leap year rules, replacing the “divisible by 400” rule.
Thus the beginning of their calendar is still different from the rest of the Christian world. In an attempt to unify their Christmas and Easter celebrations, both churches tried to change both Calendars. The meeting happened in Aleppo, Syria (5-10 March 1997), organized by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, Representatives of several churches and Christian world communions suggested that the discrepancies between Easter calculations could be resolved by adopting calculations of the vernal equinox and the full moon. This new method for calculating Easter should take effect from the year 2001.
WHEN IT HAPPENED?
Was Prophet Eesa (Jesus), alayhis salam, born in the year 0? No. The reasons for this is that there is no year 0 in the Gregorian calendar and that Eesa, alayhis salam, was born before 4 BC. The concept of a year “zero,” which was introduced by the Muslims was not known to Romans when they devised their calendar. Therefore, CE 1 follows immediately after 1 BC with no intervening year zero. The exact year Eesa, alayhis salam, was born is not known. Also, he, alayhis salam, was not born in December.
And when did the 1st century start? In the year CE 1. Therefore, the 2nd century should have started in CE 101. Thus, the 21st century must have started in the year CE 2001 (and not 2000). And although the 20th century started in 1901, the 1900s started in 1900. The Gregorian system therefore is not standard by any means. It is neither accurate nor widely used.
[By Syed Khalid Shaukat]
Every calendar except one, at any time in the entire history of the world, has had to make corrections by either adding or subtracting time. The Jewish, Chinese, or Hindu calendars add a thirteenth month periodically, to bring the lunar calendar in line with the solar calendar. This is called “intercalation” or “Nasee” (in Arabic). Two kinds of Nasee’ were in practice at the time of Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wasallam. One was inserting a thirteenth month, and the other was transposing a sacred month with another for certain social or political needs and advantages. During the Prophet’s farewell message, two revelations regarding the Islamic calendar were given to humankind, Allah says, “The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year). So ordained by Him, the day He created the heavens and the earth. Verily the transposition (of a prohibited month or intercalation) is an addition to disbelief.” [9:36-37]
This indicates that the use of a calendar with intercalation is against nature and prohibited by Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. Intercalation of a month is used by Jewish, Chinese, and Hindu calendars, while Gregorian calendar uses intercalation of days in several months to increase the number of days to 30 or 31. The one calendar that does not add or subtract time is the Islamic calendar. Despite the figures presented by some calendars, the reality is that among all the prevailing calendars in the world, the Islamic calendar is the oldest in practice in its original form without any correction or modification. The Islamic calendar, because of its inherent cycles of the visible crescent, does not require any corrections, and has remained intact in its principle since it was given to humankind by Allah through Messenger Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wasallam.