Do Muslims have their own calendar?
Updated on 11 January 2018

By: Salamah Ghudayer

With the new year, most of us in the modern world are starting a new calendar; the Gregorian calendar, however, to Muslims, our new year was just a bit earlier. Muslims follow a lunar calendar called the Hijri calendar. Hijri means migration. The calendar was started 1439 years ago when the Prophet Mohammed migrated from Mecca to Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia and was to mark a fresh start for Muslims.  Aside from simply day to night, the moon was seen by many cultures as more precise than the sun for a calendar, as it has phases going from absent, thin crescent, partially full, full and so on in reverse. Whereas the sun, differs more by season which are longer periods. A lunar calendar then was easier for planning events, future meetings and counting travel distances and so a lunar calendar was preferred for Muslims to use. A new lunar day starts at sunset. A new lunar month begins when the new moon arrives with its thin crescent after the dark night. A lunar month is on average 29 days, which is why for example the month of Ramadan seems to slide backwards each year in the Gregorian calendar.  

For the Emirati seafaring people who we call Hadtheri; the moon and tide are connected. The earth’s water facing away from the moon budges outward which makes high tide and deeper water. The water facing towards the moon is shallower as the water has been displaced to the opposite side of the earth. This ebb and flow happens daily across the earth and is called the tide. People in Dubai used to be able to walk across the Dubai Creek when the tide was low, as in actuality it is not a creek in the common term but a tidal inlet from the Gulf. High tides bring in nutrition and treasures from the sea, and allows safer navigation over berms and shallow areas of the Gulf.  
The Bedouin of the desert, as well as the city fishermen and pearl divers used the moon for navigation. Without any tools, if you connect the points on a crescent moon and continue a line at the same angle down to the horizon, then that point of the horizon indicated south if you are north of the equator and north if you are south of the equator.   

In Arab traditions, some activities were preferred to occur only on full moon nights, or in waning vs. the waxing cycle. However, most cultures have similar tales regarding the moon; such as personality differences during the full moon or by following astrology. Muslims do not follow astrology though, but may rather have a great interest in astronomy which is studying the celestial entities as a science but not for predicting the future or for luck. Old Arab traditions believe in cutting the hair only on the full moon days for longer, thicker hair. There is a traditional medical practise called ‘hjama,’ which is “cupping” and is believed to be more beneficial during the last half of the moon cycle. The human body is 60% water, so is greatly affected by the pull of the moon, just like the seas, so how can we not have our own tide of energy and physical effects, so perhaps the traditions have value somehow and are not mere folk tales or old beliefs. Whatever the connection may be, Muslims are encouraged to fast the days of the white nights which are nights of the full moon. So, the 13th, 14th and 15th of the Hijri calendar some abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset and perhaps the intelligence behind this in relation to the moon and the body is known only to the Creator.

No matter our beliefs, as the Emirates is a land for all people, it is without doubt the moon that holds beauty for all to admire and we all expect it as nightfall covers our cities. Yet for some, we find peace in admiring nature and see it as an example of a power greater than us. There is a beloved quote from the Prophet Mohammed, regarding his determination and loyalty to God. “Even if they placed the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, I will not abandon this course.”

With thanks to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Call 04-3536666 or visit

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