Last Updated: 2020-05-14
What would we do without dates? Many times it seems they’re our enemies. They remind us of the passing of the years. A date can remind us of an event that happened years ago and it feels unreal (even kind of scary) that so much time has passed since then.
But if we visualize our life as if it were a book, without dates it would be as if all its pages floated in the air, instead of being contained and in perfect order.
Curiously, not everyone numbers the pages in the same way, as you’ll see in this article about the Islamic calendar. Let’s get started!
The Purpose of Calendars
A calendar is nothing more than a social convention with the objective of identifying periods and putting a little more order in our lives: in the same way that we once decided that the object with four legs and a board would be called a table, we decided that one year would be 365 days (366 days for leap year).
In fact, it is so contrived that throughout our history we have used different calendars, and even today not all of us follow the same one. 14 calendars are currently in use in the world, and there were 15 more from ancient cultures.
We mainly use the Gregorian calendar, based on the time it takes for the earth to make a complete turn around the sun. And as our position with respect to the sun marks the weather, we can anticipate what temperature a specific day will be.
We will know that in August we will probably wear a t-shirt, and at the end of November we will begin the annoying ritual of taking clothes out of the attic because, when December arrives, temperatures will drop. In short, the calendar is another tool to help us maintain control over our routine.
The Muslim Calendar
Do Muslims use the same calendar as us? Yes and no, it also depends on whether Islam is the official religion of the country. Broadly speaking, they usually distinguish between day-to-day and official holidays, which use the Gregorian calendar, and religious celebrations, which use the Muslim calendar.
Given this duality, what calendar should we consider most important for a Muslim? Or more concretely, which is more important in a country where religion is of primary importance, as is the case with Morocco?
Some clues that allow us to throw some light on the situation is that, as a general rule, when the national media express the dates or when a Moroccan thinks about the month they are living in or important moments in his life (birth, marriage, etc.) they do so using the same calendar as us.
Therefore, it could be deduced that even in cases where religion has such a powerful influence on society, the Gregorian calendar takes priority, although being blunt in this regard could be risky.
Lunar Hijri Calendar
The Islamic calendar is not connected to the four seasons and, therefore, over time Muslim celebrations have occurred under all possible weather conditions.
In short, it is a calendar based on the time it takes for the moon to be in the same phase again. And since lunar years are 354 or 355 days, there is a lag of approximately 11 days with respect to the Gregorian calendar, so every three years it is delayed approximately one month (for example, in 2019 Ramadan began on 6 May, but in 2016 it started on June 6).
In addition, the starting point of the Muslim calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar, marking as year 1 when Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina, and which coincides with the year 622 of the Gregorian calendar. In other words, it does not coincide in days or years with the Gregorian, and also comparatively varies more over time.
To further complicate matters, as the start dates are according to the lunar phases which are not determined by astrological calculations but by visual inspection of an imam (Islamic cleric) looking at the night sky, there is an imprecision of approximately two days, so that Muslims do not know for sure when the date will be until last minute.
The Main Religious Holidays
Let me conclude by listing the celebrations that commemorate the most significant moments in the culture of Islam:
- Ras as-Sana: New Year’s Day
- Ashura: National Mourning Day
- Eid el Mawlid en-Nabaoui: Birth of the Prophet Muhammad
- Eid al-Fitr: End of Ramadan
But if you want to know when exactly they occur, as well as other Moroccan non-religious festivities, you can check our calendar of events and holidays in Morocco, which is updated every year.
I hope that after reading this article everything is pretty clear (although it would be understandable if it’s still not so clear. In the beginning it was also hard for me to wrap my head around all of it). And if you have any questions, feel free to comment. Much love to all of you! See you in the next article!
This entry is part of our beginner’s guide. If you want to know more, check out our page on What to know when you visit Morocco.