Community History

More than Days: The History of Islamic Months Imam al-Qarafi | Translated by Suhaib Webb

The names of the Islamic months are rooted in certain events that took place in them. Ramadan is named after Ramda; Ramda are stones heated by the sun during summer. Shawal is derived from the lifting (Ar. shayl) of a camel’s tail to ward off flies (because of the extreme heat). Dhul Q`adah is named such because it was the first sacred month that prohibited fighting. Thus, people sat (refrained from fighting) during that time. Dhu al-Hijja is named such because the Hajj coincides with it. Muharram takes its name because fighting is prohibited during it. Safar takes its name from sifir, which means to be empty, because the trails that the Arabs used for travel and business were empty because the sacred months had ended and fighting returned. Rab`i al-Awal and Rab`i al-Thani took their names from rab`i al-‘ashab (dense grass) because it grew during these two months. Jumad al-Ula and Jumad al-Thani took their names from jumad al-ma (Eng. ice), because these two months occurred while it was cold. Rajab is coined as such because it is a sacred month. Sha`ban is taken from a word which means to split and divide. It took its name because the Arabs would return to fighting upon its onset and divide themselves.

Translated from Al-Dhakhira by Imam al-Qarafi, vol. 2 pg. 486

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    • One is a feminine (Al-Uulaa) adjective, and one is the masculine (Al-Awwal) adjective for “the first.”

  • “Jumad al-Ula and Jumad al-Thani took their names from jumad al-ma (Eng. ice), because these two months occurred while it was cold.”

    But this is a lunar calendar! The months rotate over all the seasons of the year. How can any month be associated with cold/heat?

  • Regarding Ramadan, Shawal, Rabi al Awwal, Rabi al Thani,Jumad al Ula and Jumad al Thani:

    Are the roots of these words from pre-Islamic days during which the Arabs would intercalculate days into the month, as Jews still do, before the Quranic verse which prohibited that?

    Given that the months move back by 10 days each year, the names are historical and no longer relevant to the seasons, which shift now, no?

    Another calender related question: is it incumbent on non-Arab Muslims to use this calender for other than religious purposes? What is the Shari’ah ruling on this?

    In the Turco-Persian cultural sphere we have always used a different solar calender rooted in Iranian history, although dated beginning from the Hijrah after we adopted Islam, for day to day affairs. We only use the Islamic/Arab calender for religious purposes. Has any scholar ever discussed this?

  • The months carry a different meaning to Muslims – each month has importance by reminding us of what happened during that month.

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