Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 43

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

brill.com/arab

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca


Hideyuki Ioh

Tokyo Jogakkan College, Department of International Liberal Arts

Abstract
In pre-Islamic times, pilgrimages were made to sanctuaries in various regions of
Arabia. Feasts connected with idolatry and annual fairs were held at convenient seasons of the year. To keep all these events in order, a lunisolar calendar was used, and
the calendar adjuster of the Ban Kinna was charged with intercalation (nas). They
inserted a leap month according to the same cycle as the Jewish calendar. Though it
was exceptional, in emergency situations (e.g. the war of Fir), they would postpone
a sacred month, set to guarantee the safety of pilgrims. In the first decade of hira
calendar, in fact, three leap months were inserted immediately after l-ia of 1/623,
3/625, and 6/628. On the occasion of the pilgrimage lead by Ab Bakr in 9/631, the leap
month was not inserted, and in the following year at the Farewell Pilgrimage,
Muammad formally abolished intercalation. The day that Muammad arrived in
Medina was, if the account reported by Ibn Isq is correct, 28th June 622, and the
battle of Badr was 2 months earlier than in the standard correspondence.

Keywords
Pre-Islamic calendar, nas , hira calendar, Jewish calendar, sacred month, Muammad,
Farewell Pilgrimage, Mecca

Rsum
lpoque prislamique, des plerinages taient faits aux sanctuaires de diverses
rgions de lArabie. Des festins en lien avec lidoltrie et des ftes annuelles avaient lieu
tout au long de lanne selon les saisons. Pour garder lordre de tous ces vnements, un
calendrier luni-solaire tait utilis, et un rgulateur de calendrier de la tribu Kinna
tait en charge des intercalations (nas). Un mois intercalaire tait introduit selon le
mme cycle que le calendrier juif. En cas durgence (par exemple la guerre de Fir), le

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 4|doi 10.1163/15700585-12341319

472

ioh

mois sacr tabli afin dassurer la scurit des plerins tait report, bien que cela
ft exceptionnel. En fait, durant la premire dcennie du calendrier hgirien, trois
mois intercalaires furent insrs immdiatement aprs le mois de l-ia des
annes 1/623, 3/625 et 6/628. loccasion du plerinage dirig par Ab Bakr en lan
9/631, le mois intercalaire ne fut pas introduit, puis lors du Plerinage de lAdieu,
Muammad abolit formellement les intercalations. La date o Muammad arriva
Mdine, si la description dIbn Isq est exacte, fut le 28 juin 622 de lre chrtienne et
la bataille de Badr eut lieu deux mois plus tt que dans la conversion standard.

Mots cls
calendrier prislamique, nas, calendrier hgirien, calendrier juif, mois sacr,
Muammad, Plerinage de lAdieu, La Mecque

Preface
Mecca was one of the religious centers of the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period.
Sacrificial feasts, harvest festivals, and many kinds of polytheistic rituals took
place in various regions throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Sacred months
were set during the pilgrimage period in different areas of the peninsula, and
all kinds of fighting and killing were prohibited to ensure the safety of pilgrims
and merchants coming from great distances.
Each pilgrimage and trading at the annual fair (sq) took place during a
specific season every year. This was because of the need to deal with merchants
from outside the peninsula and also due to geographic factors, such as seasonal
winds or harvest periods.
The society of that time was vastly different from that of the Islamic era,
when Mecca became the only place of pilgrimage. In order to maintain order,
calendars in pre-Islamic Arabia had to follow the seasons.
Looking at other areas, the Sassanid dynasty of Persia had a unique
solar calendar. Solar calendars such as the Julian calendar, which designated
21 March as the date of the vernal equinox at the council of Nicea in 321,
and other ecclesiastical calendars (e.g. Coptic, Syrian, and Abyssinian) had
been dominant around the Arabian Peninsula. These solar calendars as well as
the Jewish calendar placed religious events in specific seasons of the year,
when people gathered for pilgrimages and trade. The Arabs who traded
with the Mediterranean areas, Abyssinia, and Persia, absorbing various kinds

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

473

of religious knowledge from the Jews and the Christians, would not have been
indifferent to these calendars.1
As is well known, the hira calendar (the Islamic calendar) is a lunar calendar. In the lunar calendar, one year consists of 354.367 days (29.531 days in
12 months) and differs from the solar calendar (365.242 days) by approximately
11 days. Consequently, a specific month does not correspond to a specific season. The prophet Muammad formally designated this lunar calendar in his
later years at the time of the Farewell Pilgrimage (aat al-wad). On the
other hand, the pre-Islamic Meccan calendar was a lunisolar calendar, in
which a month was intercalated (making a 13-month year) roughly every three
years to keep the seasons and the months in correspondence.
The Jewish calendar is also a lunisolar calendar, developed under the influence of the Babylonian calendar. It has seven leap months in 19 years to resolve
the discrepancy between the lunar calendar and the solar calendar, and its
year originally started around the vernal equinox. As will be seen below, the
Jewish calendar may be closely connected with the pre-Islamic Meccan
calendar.
Studies dealing with pre-Islamic South Arabian inscriptions have revealed
the systems of a number of local calendars in the Yemen,2 and recent epigraphic work on the imyarite calendar proves that a lunisolar calendar with
a leap month had been in use in imyar as well.3
The Prophet Muammads abolition of the intricate traditional (lunisolar)
calendar and adoption of a pure lunar calendar was meant to change the traditional pilgrimage and trading system in the peninsula.
The months of the hira calendar are as follows.4
1 On the calendars used around the Arabian peninsula, see F.C. de Blois, Tarkh (I.1.v-vii),
EI2.
2 Cf. A.F.L. Beeston, Epigraphic South Arabian Calendars and Dating, London, Luzac, 1956;
C.J. Robin, Dcompte du temps et souverainet politique en Arabie mridionale, in ProcheOrient ancien : temps vcu, temps pens, ed. F. Briquel-Chatonnet and H. Lozachmeur, Paris,
Jean Maisonneuve [Antiquits smitiques, 3], 1998, p. 121-151.
3 N. Nebes, A new Abraha inscription from the Great Dam of Mrib, Proceedings of the Seminar
for Arabian Studies, 34 (2004), p. 228. On the imyarite calendar, see also I. Gajda, Le royaume
de imyar lpoque monothiste: Lhistoire de lArabie du Sud ancienne de la fin du IV e sicle
de lre chrtienne jusqu lavnement de lislam, Paris, Acadmie des Inscriptions et BellesLettres [Mmoires de lAcadmie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 40], 2009, p. 255-273.
4 The hira calendar that is generally used these days has 30 days for odd-numbered months,
29 days for even-numbered months, for a total of 354 days in addition to 11 leap days that are
inserted in 30 years. In other words, a 355-day year is inserted 11 times in 30 years. This system

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

474

ioh

1st al-muarram
2nd afar
3rd rab I
4th rab II
5th umd I
6th umd II
7th raab
8th abn
9th raman
10th awwl
11th l-qada
12th l-ia
The current month names of the hira calendar were presumably used as-is, at
least in the iz area, in the pre-Islamic Period.5
1

Pilgrimages and Annual Fairs in Pre-Islamic Arabia

Pre-Islamic Arabia had abundant camels (which brought ten times the price of
sheep), palms, gold and silver mines, perfumes, and other resources. In their
caravan trade, the Meccan merchants imported all sorts of goods, such as
horses, cereals, wine, oil, weapons, clothes, jewelry, and perfume, as well as
slaves.6 However, the Meccan merchants didnt have a monopoly since there
was no dominant tribe at the time Muammad began his mission.
Annual fairs took place at the pilgrimage sites, allowing pilgrims and merchants opportunities for trade in daily necessaries and luxuries, in addition to
was reportedly established by Ulugh Beg (d. 853/1449), and it drifts only 1 day every 2600
years.
5 The original meanings of the names given to each month were explained etymologically in
al-Masd, Mur al-ahab wa-madin al-awhar (Les prairies dor), ed. and transl. C.Barbier
de Meynard et A.Pavet de Courteille, revised by C. Pellat, Paris, Imprimerie impriale, 1971,
III, p.417-419; al-Brn, Kitb al-r al-bqiya an al-qurn al-liya, ed. C.E. Sachau, Leipzig,
Otto Harrassowitz, 1923, p. 60; id., The Chronology of Ancient Nations, ed. and transl. C.E.
Sachau, London, W.H. Allen, 1879, p.70-71. Cf. F.C. de Blois, Tarkh (I.1.iii-iv), EI2.
6 Concerning the commodities which the Meccan merchants imported, see e.g. H. Lammens,
La rpublique marchande de La Mecque vers lan 600 de notre re, Bulletin de lInstitut
gyptien, 5/4 (1910), p. 47 ff; F.M. Donner, Meccas Food Supplies and Muhammads Boycott,
JESHO, 20 (1977), p. 254 ff; P. Crone, Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, Oxford, B. Blackwell,
1987, p. 150.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

475

sacrificial animals and garments necessary for the pilgrimage, as well as the
hides of the sacrificed animals.
Ibn abb, Yaqb and al-Marzq contain valuable accounts of the fairs
that took place throughout the Arabian Peninsula7, and Azraq has some
detailed information about the fairs that were held near Mecca.8 Although
these sources record the month in which each fair took place, the key question
is in which season of the year a given fair was held. Muammad participated in
the Farewell Pilgrimage in the 12th month, l-ia 10/March 632. Therefore,
we can assume that the a in the pre-Islamic period took place in spring
every year. During the pilgrimage, trade was conducted at the fairs of Uk
(north of al-if), Maanna (north of Mecca, on the way to irna and Arafa),
and l-Maz (near Arafa).9
In the iz region, the three sacred months of l-qada, l-ia, and
al-muarram (or afar I, cf. chapter 2, below) were designated, during which
pilgrims of the a had the chance to visit the shrines of the regions three
goddesses: al-Uzz (at Nala), al-Lt (at if), and Mant (near Qudayd in the
coastal area of the Red Sea); and also the Kaba of Mecca. There were many
more idols in the iz, such as Saad in idda and Suw located north of
Mecca.10 Not only the Quray of Mecca but also all the tribes of the area played
an important role in maintaining the safety of pilgrimage fairs and rites.11
7

Ibn abb, Kitb al-Muabbar, ed. I. Lichtenstdter, Hyderabad, Dirat al-marif


al-umniyya, 1942, p. 263-268; al-Yaqb, Tar, ed. M. Th. Houtsma, Leiden, Brill, 1883, I,
p. 313-315; al-Marzq, Kitb al-Azmina wa-l-amkina, Hyderabad, Dirat al-marif
al-umniyya, 1332/1913-1914, II, p.161-170.
8 Al-Azraq, Abr Makka, ed. F. Wstenfeld, in Die Chroniken der Stadt Mekka, Leipzig,
F.A. Brockhaus, 1858 (reprint: New York, G. Olms, 1981), I, p. 129-132.
9
According to al-Azraq, Abr, p.129, 131, Uk (administrated by the Ban Qays b. Ayln
and Ban aqf) was held for the first 20 days of the 11th month of l-qada, Maanna (by
the Ban Kinna) was for the last 10 days of l-qada, and l-Maz (by the Ban
Huayl) was for the first eight days of the 12th month of l-ia. Al-Marzq, Azmina,
II, p. 167-168 reports that Uk was administrated by the Ban Tamm.
10 Regarding the pagan gods in Arabia, cf. T. Fahd, Le panthon de lArabie centrale la veille
de lHgire, Paris, Librairie orientaliste P. Geuthner, 1968. On the other hand, recent
investigations encourage a reconsideration of the ordinary views on polytheism and
idolatry in the pagan Arab society. See esp. G.R. Hawting, The Idea of Idolatry and the
Emergence of Islam, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 88 ff.
11 ums, an organization that controlled the rites of the pilgrimage, is mentioned in several
sources (e.g. Ibn abb, Muabbar, p. 178-179; Ibn Him, Kitb Srat rasl Allh, ed.
F. Wstenfeld, Gttingen, Dieterichsche Universitts Buchhandlung, 1858-1860, p.126-129;
al-Azraq, Abr, p.118-131), but information about them is very limited. See M.J. Kister,
Mecca and Tamm, JESHO, 8 (1965), p. 132-141; U. Fabietti, The Role Played by the

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

476

ioh

At Na in aybar a fair took place in al-muarram, and we can assume that


not only the resident Jews but also the neighbouring Arab tribes gathered
there.12
Assuming that l-ia, when the pilgrimage around Mecca took place,
was in spring during the pre-Islamic period, the 3rd month, rab I, in which the
fair of Dmat al-andal (where the idol Wadd was enshrined) took place, was
in early summer. Since it came at the end of the wheat harvest in Syria, flour
was offered to the Syrian idol Uqayir.13 Syria had a long history of holding fairs
and festivals around the summer solstice, including Dayr Ayyb, Bur (Bostra),
and Arit. Dayr Ayyb was reported to be held 25 days after the Pleiades
disappeared,14 around the summer solstice in June. Large numbers of trading
ships gathered along the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, taking advantage
of west wind in summer.15 aza as well as Bur is mentioned by the historical
sources as the main destination of Meccan caravans.16 Nawrz, the first day of
Organization of the ums in the Evolution of Political Ideas in Pre-Islamic Mecca,
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 18 (1988), p.25-33.
12 Many nomadic Arab tribes, including aafn, had close connections with the oases in
aybar. The neighbouring Jewish oases, Wd l-Qur, had similarly strong relations with
an Arab tribe, Ura (al-Bakr, Muam m staama, ed. Muaf al-Saqq, Beirut, lam
al-kutub, 1983, I, p. 43; R. Simon, Meccan Trade and Islam, Budapest, Akadmiai Kiad,
1989, p. 83).
13 Ibn al-Kalb, Kitb al-Anm, ed. Amad Zak B, Cairo, Mabaat al-amriyya, 1914,
p. 48-49.
14 Al-Marzq, Azmina, II, p. 169-170. Al-Marzq (d. 421/1030) being a relatively later
philologist, these accounts might reflect the facts in 10th-11th centuries.
15 A. Le Gras, General Examination of the Mediterranean Sea: A Summary of its Winds,
Currents, and Navigation, transl. R.H. Wyman, Washington, Government Printing Office,
1870, p. 145, remarks the prevailing winds on the Mediterranean and Red Seas, which are
favorable from March to the end of October for navigation from Europe to the east, are
contrary during the winter season. For the navigation in the Mediterranean, see also
J.H. Pryor, Geography, Technology, and War: Studies in the Maritime History of the Mediter
ranean 649-1571, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 12 ff; D.M. Varisco,
Medieval Agriculture and Islamic Science: The Almanac of a Yemeni Sultan, Seattle and
London, University of Washington Press, 1994, p. 220.
16 On Meccan caravans to aza, see al-Wqid, Kitb al-Maz, ed. M. Jones, London,
Oxford University Press, 1966, I, p. 200; al-abar, Tar al-rusul wa-l-mulk, ed. M.J. de
Goeje et al., Leiden, Brill, 1879-1901, I, p. 1561. Muammads great grandfather, Him died
in aza on a commercial trip (Ibn Him, Sra, p. 87). Antoninus Martyr who visited aza
about AD 570 informs us Gaza itself is a magnificent and delightful city; its inhabitants
are most respectable, eminent for liberality of all kinds, and lovers of pilgrims.
See Palestine Pilgrims Text Society: Of the Holy Places Visited by Antoninus Martyr, tr.
A. Stewart, London, [Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, 1], 1896 (in The Library of the Palestine

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

477

the Persian solar year, was originally observed at the summer solstice, and in
Iraq traditional feasts were also held around summer solstice in the Islamic
period.17
Apparently, Muaqqar,18 a fair in the Persian Gulf region (held in the 6th
month, umd II) was in autumn, and the fairs of Aden and an (9th month,
raman) were in winter. The reason these fairs took place in sequence from
uhr, Dab (7th month, raab), through ir (8th month, abn) to Aden
(raman), is that the monsoon blows from the Indian continent to the
Arabian Peninsula in autumn and winter. Ships sailing from Oman and India
to the Yemen took advantage of this wind,19 and in winter, they took advantage
of the seasonal wind of the Red Sea that blows from Aden to the direction of
Mecca.20
In pre-Islamic Arabia, a cycle of fairs going around the Peninsula clockwise
had been established as being the most favorable for trade. Therefore, we may
conclude that the 12-month lunar calendar was adjusted periodically by
inserting a leap month to ensure the fairs occurred in the proper seasons. The
following diagram on the next page illustrates the cycle.
The two journeys mentioned in sura Quray, For the ilf (agreement, preservation, security, etc.) of Quray, for the ilf of their journey in winter and
summer (Kor 106, 1-2), are thought to describe the activities of Qura merchants who visited Syria in summer and the Yemen in winter.21

17

18
19

20

21

Pilgrims Text Society, New York, AMS Press, 1971, II), p. 26. For more details on Meccan
merchants in Syria, see Crone, Meccan Trade, p.115-119.
Cf. A. Sprenger, Ueber den Kalender der Araber vor Moammad, Zeitschrift der Deutschen
morgenlndischen Gesellschaft, 13 (1859), p. 159-160; R. Levy-[C.E. Bosworth], Nawrz,
EI2.
The idol l-Labb was enshrined there and its guardian was the Ban Abd al-Qays (Ibn
abb, Muabbar, p. 317).
R.B. Serjeant affirms that the merchants travelling by sea from the Persian Gulf must have
taken advantage of the monsoon which brought them to ir about November. See his
Hd and Other Pre-Islamic Prophets of aramawt, Le Museon, 67 (1954), p. 126.
Currents caused by the wind flow the same direction as the wind. Cf. A. Lucas, Red
Sea and Indian Ocean Cruising Guide, Huntingdon, Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, 1985,
p. 22-25; Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Pilot, Taunton, The United Kingdom Hydrographic
Office, 200715, p.19-20; Varisco, Medieval Agriculture, p. 222.
Among historical sources, see e.g. Ibn abb, Kitb al-Munammaq, ed. . Amad Friq,
Hyderabad, Dirat al-marif al-umniyya, 1964, p.31-36 and 262-263; al-Wqid, Maz,
I, p.197 (Ethiopia in winter). However, the battle of Badr occurred in raman. The event
was caused by Muammads intention to raid the caravan led by Ab Sufyn coming from
Syria to Mecca. It seems likely that in those days there was a journey to Syria that departed
around in umd I and returned in raman (during autumn and winter). See Ibn

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

478

ioh
summer
3rd month
Dmat al-andal
Basl
spring 11th-12th month
iz

6th month autumn


Muaqqar

7th month
uba
11th month
9th month aramawt
an
winter
(Expedition to Mecca: spring in the age of Abraha)
Figure 1

Timing of the pilgrimage fairs in pre-Islamic Arabia

Basl22 in the figure represents the eight sacred months uniquely established
by the Ban Murra (sub tribe of aafn), who inhabited the area east of
Medina. They seem to have utilized the sacred months for traveling to the pilgrimage fairs in each area of the Peninsula.
The fair of uba took place near Tabla and ura, where some famous
pagan shrines existed.23 It took place in the 7th month, raab, which was no
doubt the sacred month in this region as well as in the vicinity of Mecca, where
the local feast of raab (umra) was once held.24 In aramawt, a fair took
place in the same month as Uk, and even Meccan merchants reportedly
visited there from afar.25

22
23

24

25

Him, Sra, p. 421 and 427 ff; al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1271 and 1282 ff. In Jerusalem, the great
feast was held in October. See al-Masd, Mur, III, p.405.
Ibn Him, Sra, p. 66.
The idol, l-alaa in Tabla had a temple in which divination arrows were performed
(Ibn al-Kalb, Anm, p. 34-36). According to Yqt, Muam al-buldn, Beirut, Dr dir,
1957, II, p. 210-211 (s.v. uba), Muammad, who was employed by ada, visited this fair.
The pre-Islamic Meccan feast umra had been celebrated in a great scale even in the
Islamic era in raab. See Kister, Rajab is the Month of God..., Israel Oriental Studies, 1
(1971), p. 191. Its prosperity in the Middle Ages was reported in detail in Ibn ubayr, Rila
Ibn ubayr, Beirut, Dr dir, 1988, p. 106 ff.
The fairs name is al-Rbiya. Quray was guarded there by kil al-Murr family of the
Ban Kinda (al-Marzq, Azmina, II, p. 165). The Ban Kinda possessed the idol ar in
al-Nuayr of aramawt (Ibn abb, Muabbar, p. 318).

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

479

In Arabia, the adjustment of calendars by inserting leap months and setting


sacred months is called nas, and the calendar adjusters who carry out these
functions are called nsi or munsi.26 According to Tafsr of al-abar, the
Arabic root N.S. means increase or extension, and its usage includes exten
ding longevity or increasing the walking speed of camels. It also has derivative
expressions such as milk diluted with water or pregnant woman.27
The function of nas was passed down among the Ban Kinna, who held
the title qalammas for about 60 years. The last calendar adjuster, Ab umma,
who converted to Islam, performed this duty for 40 years and was the greatgrandson of the first member of the family to assume this role.28 The Ban
Kinna inhabited mainly the area west of Mecca in the coastal areas along the
Red Sea and were known as the administrators of the fair of Maanna. It was also
reported that they shared the worship of the idol al-Uzz with Quray.29 The
Ban Mlik b. Kinna (to whom the qalammas family belonged) and the Ban
Mirkn b. Kinna had an idol called Saad in idda.30 The Ban Kinna played
an important role in the pilgrimage fairs and rites in the sanctuaries of the iz.
Every year, around the end of the a, the calendar adjuster would chant at
the Kaba to make his declarations about the calendar: I make no mistakes and
have no sins, and whatever I say will not be retracted. Moreover, he would
come to Min riding on a donkey to make such declarations.31
During one pilgrimage period, pilgrims would find out whether the following years pilgrimage was to come after 12 months or 13 months. The decision of
the Kinanite calendar adjuster, then, naturally would have been made known
widely to Arabs all over the peninsula by the pilgrims and the merchants.
26

The leader of the Sanhedrin in charge of calendaring in the Jewish society was also called
ns. Cf. A. Moberg, An-Nas in der Islamischen Tradition, Lunds Universitets Arsskrift,
1/27/1, Lund-Leipzig, 1931, p. 1-54; id., Nas, EI and EI2 .
27 Al-abar, mi al-bayn an tawl y al-Qurn, ed. idq aml al-Ar, Beirut, Dr
al-fikr, 1995, X, p. 167.
28 Ibn Him, Sra, p.30; Ibn abb, Muabbar, p. 156-57; al-Masd, Mur, III, p. 116-117; Ibn
al-Kalb, amharat al-Nasab, ed. N asan, Beirut, lam al-kutub, 1986, p. 164-165.
Al-Azraq, Abr, p. 125, however, mentions that the Ban Kinda originally had served as
calendar adjusters and then Mlik b. Kinna who married a Kindite princess, succeeded
in that function. The Ban Kinda in the Yemen and aramawt reportedly embraced
Judaism in pre-Islamic times, and their calendar hence should have been a lunisolar
calendar as that of imyar (see I. Shahd, Kinda, EI2 ).
29 The guardian (sdin) of al-Uzz was the Ban Sulaym. See Ibn Him, Sra, p. 55; Ibn
al-Kalb, Anm, p. 22.
30 Ibn Him, Sra, p. 53; Ibn al-Kalb, Anm, p. 37.
31 Ibn abb, Muabbar, p. 157; al-abar, mi, X, p. 169.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

480

ioh

The calendar adjuster had something to do with the Abrahas famous expedition to Mecca in the Year of the Elephant (the year in which the prophet
Muammad is believed to have been born).32 It may not be so surprising that
the Ethiopian Christians invaded Mecca, one of the religious centers of the
pagan Arabs. A number of idols which originated from the Yemen possibly
took refuge in the Kaba of Mecca.33
Competing pilgrimages were another problem. Abraha built a church in
an, intending to induce Arab pilgrims visit this church, and wrote about his
intention to Negus, the Ethiopian king. Hearing about this story, one of the
calendar adjusters went to the church and defiled it.34
Indeed the biggest religious feast for Christianity is Easter, which occurs in
spring (it is celebrated on Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox). That is, the vernal Christian feast in the Yemen coincided with the a
in the iz. Maintaining order among the Arab tribes in the pre-Islamic
Period depended on maintaining the cycle of pilgrimages, and Abrahas expedition was intended to change this traditional system unilaterally.35 The calendar adjusters reaction can be understood as stemming from his role of
controlling the cycle of pilgrimages all over the peninsula.

32

33

34
35

The actual date of Abrahas expedition to Mecca is discussed in considerable detail in M.J.
Kister, The Campaign of ulubn: A New Light on the Expedition of Abraha, Le Muson,
73 (1965), p.426-436; L.I. Conrad, Abraha and Muammad: Some Observations Apropos
of Chronology and Literary Topoi in the Early Arabic Historical Tradition, Bulletin of the
School of Oriental and African Studies, 50 (1987), p.225-230; C.J. Robin, LArabie la veille
de lislam: La campagne dAbraha contre la Mecque, ou la guerre des plerinages, in Les
sanctuaires et leur rayonnement dans le monde mditerranen de lAntiquit lpoque
moderne, ed. J. de La Genire et al., Paris, Diffusion de Boccard [Cahiers de la Villa
Krylos, 21], 2010, p. 213-242; id., Arabia and Ethiopia, in The Oxford Handbook of Late
Antiquity, ed. S.F. Johnson, Oxford-New York-Auckland, Oxford University Press, 2012,
p. 284-292.
In Mecca not only the pagan Arabs but also Christians (e.g. Waraqa b. Nawfal) and Jews
existed. Inside the Kaba, lay the pictures of Abraham, Jesus and Mary (al-Azraq, Abr,
p. 111-114). The iz was an area which allowed various kinds of beliefs.
See esp. M.J. Kister, Some Reports concerning Mecca: From Jhiliyya to Islam, JESHO, 15
(1972), p.63-66.
According to Ibn abb (Munammaq, p. 68), Abrahas army included the Ban aam
and the Ban ri b. Kab from the southern Arab; these two tribes did not acknowledge
the sanctity of Mecca nor make a pilgrimage to Kaba. The Ban ri b. Kab, christianized
from early times, resided in Narn, while Ibn al-Kalb, Anm, p. 44 states that they had
the Kaba in Narn and worshipped it. The Ban aam was one of the tribes that
worshiped the idol, l-alaa in Tabla (Ibn al-Kalb, Anm, p. 35-36).

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

481

During the life of the prophet Muammad, the cycle of fairs and the timing
of the expeditions were no doubt closely related to each other. For instance,
Muammads expedition to Dmat al-andal was in rab I;36 and his expedition to aybar was in muarram.37 The expedition to Tabk was undertaken
in a hard season when the heat was intense, the land was in a drought and
fruit was ripe. Thus the expedition must have taken place in summer around
rab I, 9 /June-July, 630.38 The expedition of Al b. Ab lib to the Yemen was
in raman, 10/December, 631.39
During the apostasy (ridda) wars, Usma b. Zayd made an expedition into
Syria immediately after the death of Muammad (rab I, 11/June, 632),40 and
returned two months after he set off. Then Ab Bakr appointed 11 generals,
including lid b. al-Wald who was deployed against ulaya, and their armies
were dispatched all around the peninsula.41
Since historical sources give no detailed months or days related to the activities of these generals and armies, we can only make a rough estimate that the
armies were sent around in umd II (around September). One of the gene
rals, Ikrima, was initially deployed against Musaylima, but he headed to Umn
(Oman) before the arrival of lid b. al-Wald, and then moved to Dab, Mahra,
an, and aramawt. It is interesting to note that the Ikrimas various batt
les seem to have coincided with the cycle of the fairs. Al-abar states, Dab is
the city where the great fair (sq) was held. They fought intensely at Dab.
They plundered the fair thoroughly.42 Apostasy occurred in Tabla as well, to

36 Al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1462-1463 tells us as follows: In this year (5/626), he made an


expedition to Dmat al-andal in rab I, because the Messenger of God heard that many
people had gathered there and had approached to his territories.
37 Ibn Him, Sra, p. 755 (al-muarram in 7/628).
38 Ibn Him, Sra, p. 893-894; al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1693. See also al-Wqid, Maz, III,
p. 990. In this expedition, Muammad sent lid b. al-Wald to Dmat al-andal where
Ukaydir, the king of Dmat, was captured in a summer moonlit night (al-abar, Tar,
I, p. 1702; al-Wqid, Maz, III, p. 1025-1026). Although Ibn Him reports that the
expedition to Tabk took place in raab, 9/Oct-Nov, 630, this is implausible and too late as
a historical date. J. Wellhausen, Muhammed in Medina: Das ist Vakidis Kitab alMaghazi in
verkrzter deutscher Wiedergabe, Berlin, G. Reimer, 1882, p. 19-20 suggests that the
expedition took place in rab II (Jul-Aug).
39 Al-Wqid, Maz, III, p. 1079.
40 Al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1868; al-Wqid, Maz, III, p. 1121-1122.
41 Al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1878-1881. For details of the apostasy wars, see E. Shoufany, Al-Riddah
and the Muslim Conquest of Arabia, Beirut, University of Toronto Press, 1972, p. 107 ff.
42 Al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1979.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

482

ioh

restore the famous idol l-alaa,43 and it was probably around in the month
of raab that the regional feast had been held.
Control of the religious rites during the feasts and economic activity at the
fairs (customs duties were imposed at most of the fairs except Uk)44 was the
most important interest for the ruling Arabs in the region, so we can assume
that these occasions may have been used for declarations of apostasy.
2

The Months in Pre-Islamic Mecca

How were the months arranged in common years and leap years in the preIslamic period?
Passages in the Qurn regarding the calendar in the time of the Prophet are
as follows:
The number of the months with Allh is twelve, in Allhs Book on the
day He created the heavens and the earth. Of these four are sacred. That
is the correct creed. So wrong not yourselves therein, but fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together. (Kor 9, 36)
The nas is an addition of unbelief. Those who have disbelieved are led
astray thereby. They make it profane one year and make it sacred another
year, in order to adjust the number which Allh has made sacred. Then
they make profane what Allh has made sacred. (Kor 9, 37)
Moreover, Muammad gave a sermon in Min, taking the place of the calendar
adjuster who had ever declared the decisions there, during the Farewell
Pilgrimage, as follows:45
Indeed, time has circulated as on the day when Allh created the heavens
and the earth. The number of the months is twelve in the Book of Allh,
of which four are sacred; three consecutive months of l-qada,
l-ia, and al-muarram, and raab which is called the month of Muar.
43

Ibid., I, p. 1988. According to Ibn al-Kalb, Anm, p. 35-36, l-alaa was once destroyed
in the time of Muammad.
44 M. Lecker, Were Customs Dues Levied at the Time of the Prophet Muammad?,
al-Qantara, 22 (2001), p. 24 ff.
45 Al-Wqid, Maz, III, p. 1112; al-abar, mi, X, p. 161. Cf. also al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1754;
Ibn Sad, Kitb al-abaqt al-kabr, ed. E. Sachau, Leiden, Brill, 1904-1917, II/1, p. 133.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

483

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

It is between umd and abn. Every month has twenty-nine days or


thirty.
We have been discussing pre-Islamic calendric adjustment particularly with
reference to the insertion of leap months. However, Muslim traditions relating
to Kor 9, 36-37 are divided into two kinds of thought about calendric adjustment. The first interpretation is intercalation of leap months. In this case the
nas means to shift or postpone each month by insertion of a leap month. The
second interpretation is suspension or postponement of sacred months. In
this case the nas is interpreted to shift sacred months to subsequent months.
The latter interpretation often gives an impression that the system of leap
months was not recognized. In addition to the existence of these two interpretations, what makes things more complicated is the problem of how to arrange
and adjust leap months and sacred months when the insertion of a leap month
causes a year to have 13 months.
Regarding Kor 9, 37, a number of exegetical traditions remain in Tafsr of
al-abar.46 Insertion of leap months is not considered in many traditions.
Those traditions are based on the exegetical idea that the calendar adjuster,
urged by some warlike Arabs, occasionally postponed a sacred month due to
attacks, wars or raids by other tribes. In such case, months could be arranged
in either one of the following two orders.47
A.(Transference of the sanctity of the sacred month to afar)
Common year
al-muarram (sacred month)
Nas
al-muarram (profane month)

afar (profane month)


afar (sacred month)

46 Al-abar, mi, X, p. 168-172. Eleven traditions are recorded. For convenience, tradition
number 12980 was labeled as i, and 12990 as xi in sequence. Cf. also the German translation
by Moberg, an-Nas, p. 5-9.
47 Al-abar, mi, X, p. 168-170 (i-vi). The traditions similar to A are reported in Muqtil b.
Sulaymn, Tafsr, ed. Amad Fard, Beirut, Dr al-kutub al-ilmiyya, 2003, II, p. 46; al-Farr,
Man al-Qurn, ed. Muammad Al l-Nar et al., Cairo, al-Dr al-miriyya, 1955-1972, I,
p. 436-437; Ibn Him, Sra, p. 30.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

484

ioh

B.(Postponement of al-muarram to the next month)


Common year
al-muarram (sacred month)
Nas
afar (profane month)

afar (profane month)


al-muarram (sacred month)

There is also a tradition that describes an adjustment in which two profane


months occur at the beginning of one year and two sacred months occur at the
beginning of the following year.48
Nas (first year)
afar (profane month)
Nas (next year)
al-muarram (sacred month)

afar (profane month)


al-muarram (sacred month)

The above-mentioned orders had the purpose of keeping the numbers


consistent, as criticized in Kor 9, 37. If such an adjustment was actually
made frequently, the safety of pilgrims and merchants who came from a distance would have had been endangered. A question also arises: why were
only the months of al-muarram and afar chosen as the objects of nas, and
other sacred months were not?
However one of al-abars traditions relates the following:49
They would go on a pilgrimage in l-ia for two years, al-muarram
for the following two years, and afar for the next two years. Thus they
went on a pilgrimage by shifting the months of pilgrimage to subsequent
months every two years.
This tradition explains that in order to adjust the gap between the lunar
calendar and solar calendar, the months of the pilgrimages were postponed by
one month every two years instead of inserting a leap month. The sermon by
Muammad at the Farewell Pilgrimage, Time has circulated as on the day when
Allh created the heavens and the earth, is interpreted by this tradition as indicating that the timing of a returned to l-ia, as in the original cycle.
Al-Azraq, Ibn abb, and Ibn Sad also quote a similar tradition.50 However,
48 Al-abar, mi, X, p. 171 (ix).
49 Ibid., X, p. 170 (vii).
50 Al-Azraq, Abr, p. 127; Ibn abb, Munammaq, p. 274; Ibn Sad, abaqt, II/1, p. 134.
Al-Azraq, Abr, p. 128 states in the year 9, the a fell in l-ia.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

485

no ground can be found in any historical sources for the a being scheduled
during the months of raman or awwl in the beginning of the hira era. The
umra by Muammad from 6/628-8/630 occurred in the month of l-qada,
but this is not the a. Thus, this interpretation cannot be historically possible since sacred months would also have had to shift every other year.
Al-Masd clearly mentions the system of leap months as follows:
One month used to be added every three years in Arabia in the time of
hiliyya. This was called nas, meaning postponement (tar). Allh
criticized nas by revealing that nas is an addition of unbelief.51
Arabia in the time of hiliyya practiced nas because there were differences between the solar and lunar calendars, as revealed in the phrase
nas is an addition of unbelief.52
Al-Brn explains that a pure lunar calendar similar to that of the Muslims
was used in Arabia in the past, but the leap system was introduced so that pilgrimages could occur at a convenient time for taking products and merchandise to the markets. He reports as follows:53
They learned intercalation (kabs) from Jewish people in the area. It was
200 years before the hira.... This was called nas because the beginning
of a year was postponed by one month every two to three years.
Judging from their literary works, al-Masd and al-Brn were familiar with
the natural history of many ages and cultures and obviously quite knowledgeable. Therefore they must have understood the insertion of leap months in a
lunisolar calendar.
On the other hand, al-Balur reports the following:54
They wanted the day to leave for the a to be at a certain time (season)
of the year. Therefore, they delayed their departure by 11 days every year.
They would depart in the following year even if they were in the month
of l-ia. This is because they added 11 days to the date in the month

51 Al-Masd, Mur, III, p. 417.


52 Al-Masd, Kitb al-Tanbh wa-l-irf, ed. M.J. de Goeje, Leiden, Brill [Bibliotheca
Geographorum Arabicorum, 8], 1967, p.217-218.
53 Al-Brn, r, p.62 (transl. p.73).
54 Al-Balur, Ansb al-arf, ed. Mamd al-Fardaws al-Am, Damascus, Dr al-yaqa
l-arabiyya, 1996-2004, X, p. 72-73.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

486

ioh

of l-ia. Whatever day of the year it was, 11 days were adjusted in


this way.
With this tradition, the 11-day annual difference between the lunar calendar
and the solar calendar was adjusted by delaying the departure by 11 days each
year. While this report is interesting, it is hardly credible as a historical fact.
The following are the names of the months that we can infer from the early
sources in which it is difficult to find concrete evidence.
Common years
11th l-qada (sacred month)
12th l-ia (sacred month)
1st
afar I (sacred month) or afar al-muarram (sacred month)
2nd afar II (profane month)
7th
raab (sacred month)
Leap years
11th l-qada (sacred month)
12th l-ia (sacred month)

al-muarram (leap month, sacred month)
1st
afar I (profane month)
2nd
afar II (profane month)
7th

raab (sacred month)

Judging from Kor 9, 36, of these four are sacred, and Kor 9, 37, in order to
adjust the number which Allh has made sacred, it can be assumed that four
sacred months were set up without exception, irrespective of whether a given
year was a common year or a leap year.55
According to the early Muslim sources, the pre-Islamic calendar had two
consecutive months of afar at the beginning of the year and the Arabs called
them afarn (the two afars: afar al-awwal, afar al-ir).56 Al-muarram was
55

R. Bell is probably right in mentioning that verse 9, 2 of the Qurn (journey freely in the
land for four months...) originally followed the phrase in 9, 36 (Of these four are sacred.
That is the correct creed.). See The Qurn: Translated, with a Critical Re-arrangement of
the Surahs, Edinburgh, T.&T. Clark, 1937-1939, I, p. 173; Introduction to the Qurn,
Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1953, p. 95.
56 Al-Azraq, Abr, p. 126; Ibn Him, Sra, p. 30; al-Masd, Mur, III, p. 117.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

487

thought by European scholars to have been originally a passive participle that


qualified afar.57 Probably within the first century of the Islamic era, the first
month of afar began to be called al-muarram.58
Moberg and Plessner claim that the pre-Islamic leap month was not a sacred
month.59 However the leap month actually became a sacred month, and the
following month (afar I) became a profane month. As we have reviewed, pilgrimages and trade are believed to have continued even before and after the
month of l-ia, so it was essential to respect the three consecutive sacred
months to maintain the socio-economic system of the area. Moreover, from
the verse, The a is in the well-known months (ahur) (Kor 2, 197), it could

57

58

59

J. Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidentums, Berlin, G. Reimer, 1897 (first publ. 1887), p. 95;
Moberg, an-Nas, p. 13-15 and 22; A.J. Wensinck, afar, EI and EI2; M. Plessner,
al-Muarram, EI and EI2.
According to al-Balur and Ibn Sad, Muammad sent a letter to the people of Narn,
in which he imposed on them dues of one thousand clothes in every afar and raab. If
these dues had to be made every half a year, the first month of the year must have been
called afar, and not muarram in those days. See al-Balur, Fut al-buldn, ed. M.J. de
Goeje, Leiden, Brill, 1968, p. 64; Ibn Sad, abaqt, I/2, p. 35-36; Wellhausen, Reste, p. 95.
Moberg: (an-Nas, p. 22)
Common year:
Leap year:
l-ia
l-ia
al-muarram [X]
afar
afar I or al-muarram

afar II
Plessner: (Muarram, EI2)
Common Year:
Leap years:
l-ia
l-ia
al-muarram afar
afar al-muarram
afar
Their theory causes confusion about the arrangement of months, leading to a simple
question of whether people in those days familiarized themselves with such arrangements
of months. Moberg thought that the leap month was not al-muarram, afar, nor sacred
month; the name of the leap month was unknown (indicated by [X]). J. Fck, Zu an-nas
(Koran 9, 37), Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, 36 (1933), p.281-283 also asserts that in the
leap year, a leap month became profane, and the sacred month of al-muarram was
shifted to a month later. On the other hand, R. Paret, Der Koran: Kommentar und
Konkordanz, Stuttgart, W. Kohlhammer, 1971, p. 203 offers two possibilities for the orders
of the months (11th month to 1st month) in a leap year: a) XI s XII s L p I s; b) XI s XII
s L s I p. (s = sacred, p = profane, L = leap month).

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

488

ioh

be assumed that in the pre-Islamic period no specific days in these three


months were designated for the rites of the a.60
The cycle of months described above is just a model for periods when pilgrimages and trading went peacefully. However, during emergencies, when
there were attacks from the tribes who did not respect the sacred months, or
when fights started between the tribes, the nas might intentionally adjust the
calendar by shifting the sacred months. It is said that during the sacred months
the Arabs maintained peace, even in front of the ones who murdered their
fathers, which shows how rigorously the sacred months were observed. In the
year 2/624, when an army sent by the prophet Muammad engaged in a battle
during the sacred month of raab and killed a man of Quray in Nala, a sacred
area and the site of pilgrimages to the goddess al-Uzz, the Prophet had to
make excuses using the Qurnic verse that contains following phrase: They
will ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say: fighting in it (the sacred
month) is serious, ...persecution is more serious than killing (Kor 2, 217).61
The sacred months could be postponed only in exceptional cases such as
when the local situations did not allow pilgrimages to proceed peacefully. The
battle of Fir, in which Muammad was believed to have participated in his
youth, was fought between Kinna and their allies Quray on one hand, and
Hawzin on the other, near the fair of Uk. It is interesting that Kinna,
whose members were in charge of adjusting the calendars, were principal
figures in this battle, and that the battle prompted the cancellation of the fair
at Uk.62 Moreover, according to several traditions of al-abar, tribes such as
Hawzin, Sulaym, and aafn, who fought Kinna, dealt with nas on their
own, ignoring the role of Kinna.63 Therefore there might have been cases of
nas when the setting of the sacred months did not have meaning. It is presumed that some vivid memories of the battle of Fir remain in some
traditions.
Consequently, Kor 9, 37, which has been a mystery to Muslim exegetes and
modern scholars for a long time, should be interpreted as follows:64
60

However, most of the exegetical traditions interpret the months in Kor 2, 197 as awwl,
l-qada, and the first ten days of l-ia. See e.g. al-abar, mi, II, p. 351-356;
Muqtil b. Sulaymn, Tafsr, I, p. 104.
61 Ibn Him, Sra, p. 423-427; al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1273-1279.
62 Ibn abb, Munammaq, p. 198; Ibn Sad, abaqt, I/1, p. 81. Cf. also E.L. Tasseron, The
Sinful Wars: Religious, Social, and Historical Aspects of urb al-fijr, Jerusalem Studies in
Arabic and Islam, 8 (1986), p.44.
63 Al-abar, mi, X, p. 169-170 (ii, v). See also Muqtil b. Sulaymn, Tafsr, II, p.46.
64 Various interpretations of the verse are presented with detailed references by F.A. Shamsi,
The Meaning of Nasi: An interpretation of verse 9:37, Islamic Studies, 26/2 (1987),
p. 143 ff.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

489

The nas (adjustment) is an addition of unbelief. Those who have disbelieved are led astray thereby. They make afar I profane in a leap year and
make afar I sacred in a common year, in order to adjust the number (i.e.
four), which Allh has made sacred. Moreover they make profane (in
urgent situations) what Allh has made sacred (e.g. l-qada, l-ia).
Thus Muammad understood the word nas in two ways: 1) insertion of the
leap month (intercalation) and, 2) temporary suspension of the sacred month.
Although the sacred months are mentioned several times in the Qurn,
they are not especially significant in the present day, but it is worth reviewing the relationship between the Muslims and the sacred months in early
Islamic times. The siege and execution of the Jewish tribe of Qurayza occurred
during the months of l-qada and l-ia (5/627). Here the sacred months
were ignored. The siege of if immediately after the battle of unayn, which
occurred in awwl (8/630), was withdrawn after about twenty days.65 Since
the following month of l-qada was the time when a fair was held in Uk,
the withdrawal may have occurred out of consideration for pilgrims coming
from a distance.
As observed in the verse Fight the polytheists all together (Kor 9, 36),
revealed later in the Prophets life, fights with polytheists during the sacred
months were considered legal. In fact, it is known that after the death of
Muammad, battles were fought regardless of the sacred months, e.g. the apostasy (ridda) war in the time of the first caliph Ab Bakr and the holy war
(ihd) triggered by lid b. al-Walds invasion to the Persian territory. Thus
wars against pagans were not affected by the restrictions in the sacred months,
but fights among Muslims certainly were.
However, the prohibition against murder or battles during the sacred
months seems to have gradually lost its force, starting with the first civil war
when the third caliph Umn was killed in a revolt during l-ia (35/656).
In the battle of iffn, where Al fought with Muwiya, many preliminary skirmishes were fought in l-ia (36/657). But towards the end of the month,
battles were avoided because the following month fell under al-muarram.
Battles were suspended during that month and were resumed in afar.66
Al-muarram, meaning sanctity, might have re-invoked the traditional concept of inviolability upon both armies. Another possibility is that the Muslims

65 Ibn Him, Sra, p. 872.


66 Al-abar, Tar, I, p. 3273 ff. Cf. J. Wellhausen, Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz, Berlin,
G. Reimer, 1902, p. 50-51; id., The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall, transl. M.G. Weir, Beirut,
Khayats, 1963, p.79-80.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

490

ioh

came to interpret the sacred month (ahr al-aram; singular form) mentioned
in the verse, They will ask you about fighting in the sacred month. Say:
Fighting in it is serious, (Kor 2, 217) as referring to al-muarram alone. This
assumption explains the reason why the exegetical traditions of al-abar on
Kor 9, 37 cited above discuss exclusively the sanctity of al-muarram.
Later on, however, Als son usayn was killed at Karbal in al-muarram
(61/680).67 Moreover after the battle of al-arra in l-ia (63/683), the
Syrians laid siege to Mecca and fought against Ibn al-Zubayr in al-muarram.68
Given these historical facts, it may be reasonable to assume that the prohibition of fighting even in al-muarram lost its meaning over the years.
In the later Islamic world, the r of the ites, as well as the voluntary
fast of the Sunnites, came to be observed in 10 al-muarram. The mawlid
al-nab (the birthday of the prophet Muammad) in rab I, and the feasts for
the Saints have also been celebrated with enthusiasm in particular regions
since the Middle Ages.69 Moreover, raman, the month of fasting, in which
the first revelation of the Qurn is commonly believed to have come down to
Muammad, is regarded by present day Muslims as the most sacred month.
In other words, sanctity in the religious sense came to be added to the months
in the Islamic period.
3

Intercalation in Pre-Islamic Mecca

3.1 Theories
The pre-Islamic calendar has been earnestly studied since the middle of the
19th century. A typical example is the work of Effendi, who considers the
calendar in those days to have been a pure lunar calendar without leap months.
He attempts to identify events such as the birth date of the Prophet by reviewing astronomical events such as solar and lunar eclipses.70 Sprenger agrees
with the use of a pure lunar calendar, while also claiming that the a
67

It is also plausible that usayn himself had chosen al-muarram to travel to Iraq on the
assumption that it would be safe to do so.
68 Al-abar, Tar, II, p. 426.
69 For a more detailed discussion on these Muslim festivals, see G.E. von Grunebaum,
Muhammadan Festivals, London, Curzon Press, 1951 (new impression 1976), p. 51 ff.
70 M. Effendi, Mmoire sur le calendrier arabe avant lislamisme, et sur la naissance et lge
du prophte Mohammad, Journal Asiatique, 5/11 (1858), p. 109-192. Sh.B. Burnaby makes
summary of this article in Elements of the Jewish and Muhammadan Calendars, London,
G. Bell & Sons, 1901, p. 460-470.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

491

occurred around the springtime every year, a practice made possible by periodically shifting pilgrimage events to the following months based on the observation of the movement of stars (anw).71 Moberg, in his special work about
nas, recognizes the existence of leap months and also discusses the sequences
of months. However he did not refer to the cycle of intercalation.72
Another critical opinion about the calendar in those days is that the a
originally occurred in autumn (the facts that raman means intense heat
and that rab means spring are often referred to as grounds for this view), but
that it was shifted to spring in the time of the prophet Muammad.73 Shifting
of months from their usual season occurs not only in pure lunar calendars but
also in lunisolar calendars if the cycle for inserting leap months is not
accurate.
Rubin assumes that the a occurred in spring for 200 years prior to the life
of Muammad and that Pesach and Easter were also celebrated at the same
time.74 I agree with Rubins view, even though he does not venture into the
issue of intercalation.
Caussin de Perceval offered a well-known theory that the pre-Islamic Arabs
practiced a type of intercalation in which a leap month was introduced every
three years.75 Amr Al76 and Hamidullah77 also offered theories regarding the
cycle of the intercalation.
71 Sprenger, Kalender, p. 134-175.
72 Moberg, an-Nas. Cf. above, n. 59.
73 Wellhausen, Reste, p. 95 ff describes this point in full detail. See also Wensinck, adjdj,
EI and EI2; H. Lazarus-Yafeh, The Religious Dialectics of the adjdj, in id., Some Religious
Aspects of Islam, Leiden, Brill, 1981, p. 21; S.D. Goitein, Ramadan: the Muslim Month of
Fasting, its Early Development and Religious Meaning in id., Studies in Islamic History
and Institutions, Leiden, Brill, 1968, p. 92-93.
74 U. Rubin, The Great Pilgrimage of Muammad: Some Notes on Sra IX, Journal of Semitic
Studies, 27/2 (1982), p.244.
75 A.P. Caussin de Perceval, Mmoire sur le calendrier arabe avant lislamisme, Journal
Asiatique, 4/1 (1843), p. 342-379; Notes on the Arab Calendar before Islam, transl. L.
Nobiron, Islamic Culture, 21 (1947), p. 135-153. His theory is discussed in detail in Burnaby,
Elements, p.371-376 and 447-459.
76 H. Amr Al, Fresh Observations on Percevals 100 Year Old Notes on the Arab Calendar
before Islam, Islamic Culture, 22 (1948), p. 174-180; The First Decade in Islam, The Muslim
World, 44/2 (1954), p. 126-138.
77 M. Hamidullah, The Nasi, the Hijrah Calendar and the Need of Prepairing a New
Concordance for the Hijrah and Gregorian Eras, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society,
16/1 (1968), p.1-18; The Concordance of the Hijrah and Christian Ears for the Life-Time of
the Prophet, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, 16/4 (1968), p. 213-219. Cf. also F.R.
Shaikh, The Veracity of the Arab Pagan Calendar, Islamic Culture, 71/1 (1997), p. 41-69.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

492

ioh

The following is a discussion about the cycle of intercalation in the preIslamic period and how many leap months were inserted during the first
10 years of the hira calendar. The date in which certain incidents occurred
should be reexamined: for example, the hira of the prophet Muammad may
have occurred in the hot summer month of June, not in September.
It can be assumed that a leap month was inserted roughly every three years.
But what kinds of rules were there on how to make an intercalation? In case of
the primitive lunisolar calendar, we can surmise that it was dependent on
natural phenomena and seasonal events such as the weather, harvesting of
crops, and the movements of stars. In fact, there are arguments that such a
system was actually used in the pre-Islamic period.
The basis for discussion of the cycle is the theory provided by Caussin de
Perceval in the early 19th century, which still remains effective as a reference.78
He presents a calendar that begins with 21 November 412 in the Christian era, on
the base of al-Brns account that the system of intercalation was introduced
200 years before the hira.79 His theory may be briefly summarized in figure 2.
Since it seems unlikely that the pre-Islamic Arabs possessed advanced astronomical knowledge, leap months were inserted regularly once every three
years, and the a at the year-end fell in late October to early November,
the time for harvesting date palms. Raman intense heat fell during midsummer, and rab I and II fell during the springtime from January to March.
However, this leap month that occurs once every three years would result in
approximately one day of error every year. Even if the difference between
78

W. Muir depends on his theory and made the date of Badr in January, AD 624, which is two
months earlier than standard correspondence. See The Life of Moammad, Edinburgh,
J. Grant, 1923, p. X, 214 and also The Life of Mahomet and History of Islam to the Era of the
Hegira: With Introductory Chapters On the Original Sources for the Biography of Mahomet
and On the Pre-Islamite History of Arabia, London, Smith, Elder, 1858-1861, I, p. 206-209.
L. Caetani, Annali dellIslm, Milano, Ulrico Hoepli, 1905-1926 (reprint, New York, G. Olms,
1972), I, p. 354-360 also discusses Caussin de Percevals theory, but he insists that the date
of the historical events at the time of Muammad should be given based on the standard
correspondence. W.M. Watt, pointing out clearly the existence of leap months, follows
Caetanis position. See Hidjra, EI2; Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, Oxford University
Press, 1953, p. 299-300 and 339; The History of al-abar VII: The Foundation of the
Community, State University of New York, 1987, p. 1-2 (note 1). Cf. also F.A. Shamsi,
Percevals Reconstruction of the Pre-Islamic Arab Calendar, Islamic Studies, 37/3 (1998),
p. 353-369.
79 Al-Brn, r, p. 62 (transl. p. 73). Cf. above, note 53.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

493

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca


Pre-Islamic calendar:
1st year
al-muarram 1st = 21 Nov. ad 412.
Dec
(1) al-Muarram
Nov
(12) l-ia
Oct
(11) l-qada
Sep
(10) awwl
Aug
(9) Raman
Jul
(8) abn
Jun
Direction of shift

(2) afar
Jan
(3) Rab I
Feb
(4) Rab II
Mar
(5) umd I
Apr
(6) umd II
May
(7) Raab

Muammads farewell pilgrimage:


Wuqf at Arafa
9 l-ia ah 10 = 7 Mar. ad 632
(8) abn
Nov
(7) Raab
Oct
(6) umd II
Sep
(5) umd I
Aug
(4) Rab II
Jul
(3) Rab I
Figure 2

Dec

Jun

(9) Raman
Jan
(10) awwl
Feb
(11) l-qada
Mar
(12) l-ia
Apr
(1) al-Muarram
May
(2) afar

Theory of Caussin de Perceval

the solar calendar and lunar calendar, i.e. a difference of 11 days a year and
33 days every three years, is compensated for by a 30-day leap month once every
three years, there are still three days missing. Therefore, the calendar goes faster
than the solar calendar by one day a year on average. The reason that l-ia
in 10/632 (the month of the Farewell Pilgrimage by Muammad) fell during the
spring is that approximately 200 days of difference accumulated in 200 years
(refer to figure 2). As indicated in table 1, the first leap month was inserted
on 10 November 413, immediately after the month of pilgrimage, and the

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

494

ioh

following leap months were regularly inserted immediately after the months
of pilgrimage in the 4th, 7th, 10th, 13th years and so on. After the hira calendar beginning in 622, leap months were inserted immediately after the months
of pilgrimage in the 1/623, 4/626 and 7/629. Given the historical fact that the
Prophet occupied Mecca in 8/630, intercalation did not occur after this year.
At the Farewell Pilgrimage in 10/632, leap months were formally abolished. The
hira calendar begins on 19 April 622 (Monday), which is a three-month difference from 16 July 622 (Friday), the commonly accepted date. These are the
points of Caussin de Percevals argument.
Table 1

Theory of Caussin de Perceval80

Years of the Institution


of Nas

Beginning of the month


of al-Muarram

Date of Pilgrimage

1
Nas
2
3
4
7

21st Nov. 412


10th Nov. 413
9th Dec. 413
28th Nov. 414
18th Nov. 415
15th Nov. 418

21st Oct. 413

19th Apr. 622


8th Apr. 623
7th May 623
26th Apr. 624
15th Apr. 625
4th Apr. 626
3rd May 626
23rd Apr. 627
12th Apr. 628
2nd Apr. 629
1st May 629
20th Apr. 630
9th Apr. 631

19th Mar. 623

9th Nov. 414


29th Oct. 415
19th Oct. 416
16th Oct. 419

Years of hira
I 211
Nas
II 212
III 213
IV 214
Nas
V 215
VI 216
VII 217
Nas
VIII 218
IX 219
X 220

80

7th Apr. 624


26th Mar. 625
15th Mar. 626
3rd Apr. 627
23rd Mar. 628
12th Mar. 629
1st Apr. 630
20th Mar. 631
9th Mar. 632

Caussin de Perceval, Mmoire, p. 370 and 373 (transl. p. 148 and 150).

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

495

Table 2 The hira Year and the Christian Year


AH

Christian date of 1 Muarram

1
2k
3
4
5k
6
7k
8
9
10 k
11

16 Jul. 622 Fri


5 Jul. 623 Tu
24 Jun. 624 Sun
13 Jun. 625 Th
2 Jun. 626 Mon
23 May 627 Sat
11 May 628 Wed
1 May 629 Mon
20 Apr. 630 Fri
9 Apr. 631 Tu
29 Mar. 632 Sun

K is a kabisa year in which one day is added to l-ia (from 29 days to 30 days).

The following report of Procopius (d. c. 565, Byzantine historian) is quoted by


Caussin de Perceval as evidence of the difference (missing dates) in the
calendar:
At a meeting of Roman Generals convened at Dara by Belisarius, AD 541,
to discuss a plan of campaign, two officers who commanded a corps
formed of Syrian troops declared that they could not march with the
main army against the town of Nisibius, alleging that their absence would
leave Syria and Phoenicia an easy prey to the raids of the Almondar Arabs
(al-Munir III). Belisarius showed these two officers that their fears were
groundless, because they were nearing the summer solstice, a time when
the pagan Arabs used to devote two whole months to the practice of their
religion, abstaining from any bellicose act whatsoever.81
Caussin de Perceval assumes that the a in Mecca was staggered to the time
of summer solstice in AD 541, i.e. the a, originally in October to November,
occurred approximately 130 days earlier after approximately 130 years after the
beginning of the calendar (AD 412).82 However, Munir III (d. AD 554) who
81

82

Caussin de Perceval, Mmoire, transl. p. 152. Cf. Procopius, History of the Wars, with an
English translation by H.B. Dewing, London-Cambridge, W. Heinemann-Harvard
University Press, 1914-1940 (reprint: 1960-1962), I, p. 401-403.
Amr Al, who reviewed Caussin de Percevals theory, believes that it would not be natural
for the Arabs in those days to let the pilgrimage month stagger from autumn to spring over

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

496

ioh

appears in this source is a king in ra in the north of the Arabian Peninsula.


As described above, the cycle of pilgrimage at the time of the prophet
Muammad was in spring in the iz region and in summer on the side near
Syria in the north. In other words, Procopiuss account confirms the historical
fact that the cycle of pilgrimage on the Peninsula, i.e. pilgrimage in summer on
the side near Syria, had already been established by around AD 541.83
The pilgrimage to the proximity of Mecca was made in the spring for many
years. In fact, as mentioned in the previous section, Abrahas expedition to
Mecca around the middle of 6th century was likely to have been made when
the a fell in the time of Easter. Leap months were accurately inserted for at
least one century until the time of Muammad. It remains a matter of speculation whether or not the cycle in which the a fell in autumn and the month
of raman in summer existed in ancient times, as claimed by Caussin de
Perceval, Wellhausen, and Wensinck.84
Caussin de Percevals theory described above is still quoted after one and a
half centuries because explicit information cannot be found in the early
sources about the years when leap months were inserted, so there is little contrary evidence to this theory.
Hamidullah reviews the lunisolar calendar with the insertion of leap years,
going one step beyond the Caussin de Percevals theories. Taking the influence
of the Babylonian calendar into consideration, he presents a theory to the
effect that the differences between the solar and lunar calendars were reconciled

83

84

200 years, and assumes that the event at the summer solstice was to be in raab. See Amr
Al, Fresh Observations, p. 174-180.
Nonnosus (Byzantine diplomat under Justinian I, dispached to Ethiopia and Arabia
around AD 530) also informs us most of the Saracens, those who live in Phoenicon as well
as beyond it and the Taurenian mountains, have a sacred meeting-place consecrated to
one of the gods, where they assemble twice a year. One of these meetings lasts a whole
month, almost to the middle of spring, when the sun enters Taurus; the other lasts two
months, and is held after the summer solstice. During these meetings complete peace
prevails, not only amongst themselves, but also with all the natives; even the animals are
at peace both with themselves and with human beings. See The Library of Photius I,
transl. J.H. Freese, London-New York, Society for Promoting Christian KnowledgeMacmillan [Translations of Christian Literature. Series. I, Greek texts], 1920, p. 18-19. A
sacred meeting-place described above had apparently been located in Northern Arabia.
According to Crone, Meccan Trade, p. 197 (note 127), Phoenicon is on the northern Red
Sea Coast, and Taurenian mountains are abal ayyi.
Cf. above, note 73. Shifting of the a from autumn to spring might be explained by an
inaccurate intercalary system in the ancient period older than 200 years before the hira.
Cf. K.Wagtendonk, Fasting in the Koran, Leiden, Brill, 1968, p. 124.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

497

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

by adding leap years eleven times every 30 years. He posits that leap years were
inserted four times during the first 10 years of the hira calendar; therefore 21
March 622 (Sunday) is considered as the beginning of the hira calendar, i.e.
four months earlier than 16 July (Friday) in the standard calendar.
Table 3

Dates of the important events85

Event

Date in the early


sources

Standard
Correspondence

Hamidullahs
calculation

Hira era
begins
Prophets
Migration
Badr

1st muarram, 1

16th Jul. 622, Friday

21st Mar. 622, Sunday

12th rab I, 1
Monday
17th raman, 2
Friday
15th awwl, 3
Saturday
8th l-ia, 10
Friday

24th Sep. 622, Friday

31st May 622, Monday

13th Mar. 624,Tuesday

18th Nov. 623, Friday

2nd rab I, 11
Monday
or
12nd rab I, 11
Monday

28th May 632, Thursday 25th May 632, Monday

Uud
Last
Pilgrimage
(tarwiya)
Death

85

31st Mar. 625, Sunday


6th Mar. 632, Friday

6th Mar. 632, Friday

7th Jun. 632, Sunday

Cf. Hamidullah , The Concordance, p.219.


A certain degree of care is needed when dealing with the hira calendar. One thing
that should be pointed out is that it is impossible to compare the calendar in that period
with the Christian calendar with complete precision. The Arabs in those days marked the
start of a month by sighting the new moon and there were two 29 day months or 30 day
months in a row occasionally. Astronomy nowadays is advanced enough to roughly
estimate on what date the new moon could have been sighted. Nevertheless, it is
impossible to accurately estimate the exact date on which the new moon was sighted,
because the observation of the new moon depends on the longitude of that area, the
weather, geographic conditions and so on. It is thus impossible to replicate the hira
calendar accurately, and we have to allow for a 1-2 day drift when comparing it with the
Christian calendar. However, if historical materials have days of the week as well as dates,
it may be possible to estimate on what date major incidents happened after the hira,
since the same days of the week were used among the Jewish/Christian/Islamic calendars.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

498

ioh

It is assumed that the Battle of Badr occurred four months earlier than commonly believed. It is suggestive that Hamidullah offers dates for events that fall
on the same days of the week as documented in historical sources. His argument suggests that the date of various events in the lifetime of the Prophet
should be fundamentally corrected. However, the problem is that there is little
proof of the cycle of intercalation that he describes.
Amr Al rightly asserts that the Arabs had 7 leap months every 19 years, as
in the Jewish calendar. According to his theory, intercalary months were
inserted after l-ia in the years 2/624, 5/627, 7/629 on the same cycle
as the Jewish intercalation.86 Wagtendonk, following Amr Als theory, mentions that the date of the battle of Badr was 16 December 623 (three months
earlier than the standard calculations).87
In the following, I will present a revision of Amr Als theory.
3.2
The Cycle of Leap Years in the Jewish Calendar
The 6th to 7th century, when Muammad was active, was a period in which
influences from Judaism and Christianity were spreading in Arabia. It is therefore impossible to analyze the calendar in this period without taking into
account the Jewish intercalation system and moveable feasts in Christianity.
To put the answer first, by the time Muammad started his prophetic mission
in Mecca, a leap month was inserted on the same cycle as that of the Jewish
calendar. Hence it is possible to estimate the intercalary cycle in this period
accurately.
Before moving forward with this discussion, it is necessary to offer a brief
explanation of the Jewish calendar. Unlike the Christian solar calendar, the
Jewish calendar has been a lunisolar calendar since ancient times. It developed
based on the Babylonian calendar, and the names of the months closely resemble those of the Babylonian months.
For the convenience of the Jewish people who were far away from Jerusalem
and scattered throughout various areas, a fixed calendar based on calculation
not relying on astronomical observation was needed at an early stage. It is
believed that this calendar was developed mainly in Babylonia in present-day
Iraq. Although the majority of the literature states that based on the calendric
reform of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi in the 2nd century, Hillel II established the
current system in the 4th century, there is some disagreement. The new year in
86

Amr Al, First Decade, p. 129-132. It is strange that he significantly revised his theory in
Upstream Downstream: Reconstruction of Islamic Chronology, (Khuda Bakhsh Annual
Lectures Series, 7), Hyderabad, 1977.
87 Wagtendonk, Fasting, p. 124-126.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

499

the current Jewish calendar begins with Tishri in autumn, and 6 October 3761
BC in the Christian Era is believed to be the beginning of the Creation.
According to the Biblical description or the discussions in the Talmud, however, the month of Nisan in the spring was commonly considered as the start
of a new year in the Jewish calendar until the 13th century.
The festival that attracts the most pilgrims is Pesach (Passover), related to
the Exodus led by Moses. It falls on the 15th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar,
the full moon following the vernal equinox. In the Jewish lunisolar calendar,
leap months are regularly added so that the 15th day of Nisan comes after the
vernal equinox. As a movable feast, the Christian festival of Easter falls on the
Sunday immediately after it.
In the Jewish calendar, seven leap months are inserted every 19 years. It is a
more complicated system than common lunisolar calendars, in that there are
29 days or 30 days in Mar eshvan (the second month) and Kislev (the third
month) to prevent Hoshanah Rabbah (the seventh day of Sukkot) from falling
on the Sabbath or to prevent Yom Kippur from falling on the day before or after
the Sabbath.88
In a leap year, a leap month is inserted in Adar immediately before Nisan,
the month of pilgrimage. It is described in the Talmud that the leader of the
Sanhedrin determined when to insert a leap month by seeing how well the
grain was ripening.
Unlike the Jewish calendar, a leap month was inserted immediately after
l-ia in the pre-Islamic calendar. It is considered that this method
was adopted in order to notify pilgrims coming from a long distance of
whether the pilgrimage of the following year would occur 12 months later or
13 months later.
By the decision of the Kinanite calendar adjuster who had advance information from the Jews concerning the Jewish intercalation cycle, the a of
l-ia had always been celebrated in the same month as Jewish Pesach and
Easter.89 Consequently, the Jews in Arabia shared with the Arabs the sacred
months for making pilgrimages and trading at the fairs. The Arabs in the preIslamic period were in the Semitic religious environment.

88
89

R.N. Bushwick, Understanding the Jewish Calendar, New York-Jerusalem, Moznaim, 1989,
p. 80-81.
It is likely that not only pagans but also Jewish and Christian Arabs made visits to Mecca
(Rubin, The great pilgrimage, p. 244). Cf. above, note 33.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

500
Table 4

ioh
The Current Jewish Calendar

19 years in the solar calendar: 365.242 days 19 = 6.939.598 days


19 years in the lunisolar calendar (7 leap months):
354.367 days 19 + 29.531 7 = 6.939.690 days
Deviation between two calendars: 0.092 day = 2.2 hours
Cycle of intercalation: 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th, 19th years as leap years
Common year

Leap year

(1) Tishri 30 days



(Sep-Oct Yom Kippur)
(2) Mareshvan
29 29 30
(3) Kislev
29 30 30
(4) Tevet
29
(5) Shevat
30
(6) Adar
29

(Feb-Mar Purim)
(7) Nisan
30

(Mar-Apr Pesach)
(8) Iyyar
29
(9) Sivan
30
(10) Tammuz
29
(11) Av
30
(12) Elul
29
Total:

Table 5

353 354 355

29 29 30
29 30 30

Adar I (Leap month) 30 30 30


Adar II (Purim)
29 29 29

Total:

383 384 385

Months in the leap year

The Jewish Calendar:


Nisan (Pesach) Adar I Adar II Nisan (Pesach)
The Pre-Islamic Calendar:
l-iaal-muarram afar I l-ia

One of the finest accomplishments in chronology in the beginning of the 20th


century is that of Burnaby. It presents date conversions of the Jewish calendar
and the hira calendar based on a number of extremely sophisticated calculations. To date, his work is part of the basic literature for understanding the
Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

501

systems of the Jewish and the hira calendars and how to match them with the
Christian calendar. However, it must be viewed with a critical eye, particularly
in the early Islamic period. Direct application of this study should be limited to
cases in which the Jewish calendar and the hira calendar operate under the
current system.
It seems that advanced development of astronomy in medieval Muslim
society significantly contributed to the sophisticated system of the current
Jewish calendar, and it is not likely that a calendar completely identical to the
current one was used in Jewish society in the 6th to 7th centuries. The kind of
calendar used by the Jewish people in Arabia in pre-Islamic times still remains
a matter of speculation. It is not clear whether or not they employed the same
system as the Jewish people in Babylonia or Jerusalem, since there are not any
historical materials concerning the Jews in Arabia. It is highly possible that
they relied on observation of the new moon for deciding the beginning of each
month. Moreover there are various theories on the cycle of leap years in medieval Jewish society, which is different from the current cycle as cited below. The
current cycle was reportedly determined after the time of Maimonides
(d. 1204).90 However, it is possible to assume that precise information was
shared in each region regarding the timing of Pesach, Yom Kippur, and other
annual observances, i.e. whether or not a leap month was added in a certain
year. It is also conceivable that such information was communicated to the
Kinanite calendar adjuster every year.
Table 6 is the Jewish calendar at the beginning of the 7th century, i.e. around
the first year of the hira calendar, presented by Burnaby, indicating dates in
the Christian era that correspond to the 1st day of Tishri and Pesach on the 15th
day of Nisan. The cycle of leap years is calculated in the same way as the pre
sent (i.e. 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years).
Looking at the year 4386 underlined, the 15th day of Nisan is 18 March. This
is earlier than the vernal equinox on 21 March, and in this case Pesach should
have come one month earlier than Easter. A similar condition continues during
the succeeding centuries. In the Nicene Council in AD 325, 21 March was established as the vernal equinox and the Sunday after the following full moon
(15th day of Nisan) as Easter. In principle, Easter has to come within a week
after Pesach. It is likely that this kind of discrepancy may have occurred those
days between the Jewish and Christian calendars.91 In reality, however, it is
90 Burnaby, Elements, p. 26.
91 It must be noted that Easter can occur one month earlier or later than Pesach. Cf. F. Stern,
Calendar and Community: A History of the Jewish Calendar Second Century BCE-Tenth
Century CE, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 86.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

502

ioh

natural in this case to assume that a leap month was inserted in the year 4386
and Pesach fell on around 18 April, immediately before 20 April (Easter). This
is also true for the year 4375 underlined, and it is reasonable to consider that a
leap month was inserted in this year. Therefore, the cycle of leap years in the
Jewish calendar in those days is corrected to the years of 3rd, 5th, 8th, 11th, 14th,
16th and 19th.
Table 6

Corresponding Jewish and Christian Dates (Burnaby)92

1 cycle contains 19 years. 230 cycles: 19 230 = 4370 years. Below is 231st cycle,
beginning with 4371st year.
Leap years are marked E. A-G are Sunday letters.
Cycle 231
Order of
the years

1
2
3E
4
5
6E
7
8E
9
10
11 E
12
13
14 E
15
16
17 E
18
19 E

Jewish
year

4371
4372
4373
4374
4375
4376
4377
4378
4379
4380
4381
4382
4383
4384
4385
4386
4387
4388
4389

Tishri 1
(Christian date)

Nisan 15
(Christian date)

Th
Mon
Sat
Th
Tu
Sat
Sat
Tu
Mon
Sat
Th
Tu
Sat
Th
Th
Mon
Th
Th
Mon

Sat 4.3 611


Th 3.23 612
Tu 4.10 613
Sun 3.31 614
Th 3.20 615
Th 4.8 616
Sun 3.27 617
Sat 4.15 618
Th 4.5 619
Tu 3.25 620
Sun 4.12 621
Th 4.1 622
Tu 3.22 623
Tu 4.10 624
Sat 3.30 625
Tu
3.18 626
Tu 4.7 627
Sat 3.26 628
Th 4.13 629

9.24
9.13
9.2
9.20
9.10
8.30
9.18
9.6
9.25
9.15
9.4
9.22
9.11
9.1
9.20
9.9
8.28
9.17
9.5

610 D
611 C
612 A
613 G
614 F
615 E
616 C
617 B
618 A
619 G
620 E
621 D
622 C
623 B
624 G
625 F
626 E
627 D
628 B

Number of
days

354
355
383
355
354
385
353
384
355
355
383
354
355
385
354
353
385
354
383
(Continued)

92 Burnaby, Elements, p. 302.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

503

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca


Table 6 (Continued)
Cycle 232
Order of
the years

Jewish
year

1
2
3E
4
5
6E
7

Tishri 1
(Christian date)

4390
4391
4392
4393
4394
4395
4396

Sat
Th
Mon
Mon
Th
Tu
Mon

9.23
9.13
9. 2
9.21
9. 9
8.30
9.18

93

.
Yr

m
Co

nY

r.

5
6

Com

12

.
mm

on

Yr.

11
mon

10
Y r.

Com

10

L e a p Yr.

Com

mon

Y r.

8
Co
m

.
Yr

Yr
Co

ap

11

10

ea p

Le

13

on

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

r.

12

93 Al-Brn, r, p. 52-53 (transl. p. 65).

on Y

11

Three cycles of intercalation in the Jewish calendar (al-Brn)93

C o m m o n Y r. C o m m

L e a p Y r.

14

13

12

Yr.

p Yr

15

14

13

Figure 3

16

15

14

m o n Y r.

Lea

pY

Y r.

16

17

18

on

17

Le a

18

18

17

r.

19
19

19

n Yr

355
354
385
353
355
384
355

16

mo

Com mo

Y r.

Tu 4.3 630
Sat 3.23 631
Sat 4.11 632
Tu 3.30 633
Sun 3.20 634
Sat 4.8 635
Th 3.28 636

15

Com

Com mon

r.

629 A
630 G
631 F
632 D
633 C
634 B
635 A

Number of
days

om

on

Y
eap

Nisan 15
(Christian date)

504

ioh

This assumption is confirmed by the description of al-Brn. There are


different cycles of Jewish intercalation according to al-Brn, who remarks
three kinds of cycles of leap months as indicated in Figure 3.
The leap cycle represented in the innermost circle in Figure 3 is the 3rd, 5th,
8th, 11th, 14th, 16th, and 19th years, the same as the cycle corrected by the
author above. Al-Brn reports that among the three cycles, this cycle is the
most widely diffused among the Jews. They preferred it to others and attri
buted its origin to the inhabitants of Babylonia.94 Correction of Burnabys
cycles (table 6) looks reasonable as long as it is applied to this period. Other
evidence is offered as below.
3.3
Correction of the 1st to 10th Years of the hira Calendar
If leap months were also inserted in the pre-Islamic period in accordance with
the cycle of the Jewish calendar (and the cycle of Easter in Christianity), it is
considered that the timing to insert leap months in the Hira calendar should
be immediately after l-ia in 1/623, 3/625, 6/628 and 9/631, based on the
innermost cycle of figure 3.
In table 7, Amr Als theory (he is also using Burnabys correspondence)
and my revision are shown. Amr Al considers that the pre-Islamic leap month
was set immediately after the Jewish leap month Adar, resulting in the Jewish
Nisan always happening to come immediately after l-ia in a leap year.
Table 7

Correspondence between Jewish and pre-Islamic lunisolar calendar:


Amr Als theory and authors revision

: Adar II: leap month

AD

623

Jewish
year
Burnaby

4383 (13)

4384 (14)

Jewish
month
Burnaby

Lunisolar
month
Amr Al

Jewish
month
authors
revision

Lunisolar
month
authors
revision

8
9

11

II 1
2

8
9

11

II 1

(Continued)

94 Al-Brn, r, p. 55 (transl. p. 65).

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

505

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca


Table 7 (Continued)

AD

Jewish
year
Burnaby

624

625

626

627

628

629

630

4385 (15)

4386 (16)

4387 (17)

4388 (18)

4389 (19)

4390 (1)

Jewish
month
Burnaby

Lunisolar
month
Amr Al

Jewish
month
authors
revision

Lunisolar
month
authors
revision

8
9

8
9

8
9

11

III 1

11

IV 1
2

11

V1
2

11

VI 1

11

VII 1
2

11

VIII 1

11

IX 1

8
9

5
6

8
9

10
11

III 1

11

IV 1

10
11

V1

10
11

VI 1

11

VII 1

10
11

VIII 1

11

IX 1
(Continued)

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

506

ioh

Table 7 (Continued)

AD

631

632

Jewish
year
Burnaby

4391 (2)

4392 (3)

Jewish
month
Burnaby

Lunisolar
month
Amr Al

Jewish
month
authors
revision

Lunisolar
month
authors
revision

8
9

11

X1
2

11

XI 1
2

8
9

11

X1
2

11

XI 1
2

The problem is the leap month in 9/631. Mecca was occupied in 8/630 and the
a in the following 9/631 was made in l-ia led by Ab Bakr. After Ab
Bakr departed for Mecca, several verses of Srat al-Bara (Kor 9) were revealed
to Muammad, and he sent Al b. Ab lib to read them to the pilgrims at
Min taking the place of the calendar adjuster, on the day of sacrifice.95
Although the polytheists participated in the a, making their own arrangements in the rites, their participation in the pilgrimage was prohibited in the
following year.
It is clear that the revelation of the Qurn relating to nas, the number of
the months with Allh is twelve... (Kor 9, 36), nas is an addition of unbelief.
Those who have disbelieved are led astray thereby... (Kor 9, 37) was declared
by Al at that time. Declaration of nas by the Kinnite calendar adjuster was
abolished, and a pure lunar calendar was established. The cycle of 12 months a
year has been observed until today. A leap month that should have been originally inserted at that years a was abolished, and it resulted in an advance
of one month.

95

Ibn Him, Sra, p. 919-922. Al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1721 relates that he sent Al b. Ab lib
with thirty or forty verses of Bar and Al read them on the day of Arafa.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

507

The hira calendar of table 8 indicates the dates of the Farewell Pilgrimage
of Muammad in 10/632. According to Wqid, 25 l-qada falls on Saturday,
and the day of tarwiya (8 l-ia) falls on Friday,96 which is consistent with
table 8. Goldstine shows the dates of the new moon (the period when the
bright side of the moon is turned away from the earth and cannot be observed)
and the full moon that have been calculated with a computer, using recent
advancements in astronomy (refer to table 9). The new moon can normally be
observed in 1-2 days with the naked eye. Table 8 also indicates that the hira
calendar used today is the result of precise calculation like the Jewish
calendar.
What should be noted in table 8 is that the hira calendar is shifted to the
left. There is a one-month difference between l-ia in the hira calendar
and Nisan in the Jewish calendar. The Farewell Pilgrimage is one month earlier
than the date of Pesach and Easter. As mentioned above, this is because insertion of a leap month was discontinued at the time of the a in the previous
year 9/631, even though it was originally in the cycle of intercalation.
Muammads statement at the Farewell Pilgrimage, Indeed, time has circulated as on the day when Allh created the heavens and the earth97 certainly
indicates this situation.
If leap months were inserted three times during the first 10 years of the hira
calendar in AH 1, 3 and 6, it would be necessary to review the correspondence
between the hira calendar and the Christian calendar during this period.
In table 10, there is a three-month shift to the left as a whole, as a result of
three intercalations.

96 Al-Wqid, Maz, III, p. 1089 and 1101.


97 Cf. above, note 45.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

Correspondence between Christian, Jewish, and hira calendars

March

April
8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Easter

98

See, e.g., G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, The Islamic and Christian Calendars: AD 622-2222 (AH1-1650), Reading, Garnet, 1995, p. 18.

Farewell Pilgrimage

l-qada
l-ia
al-Muarram
25 26 27 28 29 30 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

* Hira calendar ah 1011

Nisan
Adar I
Adar II
25 26 27 28 29 30 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Pesach

* Jewish calendar am 4392

22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The vernal equinox
Goldstine:
: newmoon : fullmoon

February

* Christian calendar ad 632

Dates in are Sunday, being same day in Christian, Jewish, and hira calendar.
Christian Jewish correspondence is based on Burnaby cited above.
Christian hira correspondence is based on the table used at current days.98
AH10 in the hira calendar is in kabisa year ( l-ia has 30 days).

Table 8

508
ioh

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

509

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca


Table 9

New moon and full moon in AD622 and AD632 (Goldstine)99


AD622

Number

New moons
Date

Time

Full moons
Date

Time

20062
20063
20064
20065
20066
20067

1.17
2.16
3.18
4.16
5.16
6.14

15:35
9:16
2:52
19:07
9:23
21:43

2.2
3.3
4.1
5.1
5.30
6.28

0:41
10:35
18:57
2:33
10:24
19:40

2.11
3.12
4.10
5.10
6.8

23:46
10:54
19:35
2:46
9:35

AD632

20186
20187
20188
20189
20190

1.27
2.26
3.26
4.25
5.24

9:43
0:06
15:10
6:30
21:46

The beginning of the calendar should be corrected to 18 April 622 (Sunday),


assuming that two out of three leap months have 30 days and one has 29 days,
by deducting 89 days from 16 July (Friday) of the original date of the hira
calendar.
According to Goldstine, the new moon at Babylon in Iraq (at latitude 32.33
north and longitude 44.24 east) occurred at 19:07 on 16 April 622 (refer to
table 9). It was therefore possible to see the new moon at sunset on the 17th (i.e.
the beginning of the 18th), if not hindered by rain or clouds. The lunar cycle
was approximately the same at the time of sunset on April 17, 622 in both
Babylon and Medina.100 However, it is impossible to confirm whether the
Arabs actually observed the new moon on this day.
99

H.H. Goldstine, New and Full Moons: 1001 B.C. to A.D. 1651, Philadelphia, American
Philosophical Society, 1973, p. 136-137.
100 When Babylon is compared with Medina, sunset in Babylon is approximately 40 minutes
earlier than in Medina around the time of the winter solstice; however it is about the
same time around the summer solstice. By comparison, sunset on 17 April, 2013 was 18:34
in Babylon and 18:45 in Medina.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

Correction of the hira calendar with 3 leap months

ah 2

ah 4

plus 89 days 18 April 622 ad (Sunday)

ah 1
16 July 622 ad (Friday)

Farewell Pilgrimage

ah 10

abolition of intercalation

ah 7

Above: pure lunar calendar.


Below: calendar with three leap months (immediately after l-ia of 1/623, 3/625, 6/628. is leap month).

Table 10

510
ioh

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

511

Ibn Isq and al-abar report that the date when Muammad arrived in
Medina in the hira (migration) is 12 rab I (Monday).101 If the hira calendar
begins with 16 July (Friday) as is commonly accepted, with 30 days of muarram
and 29 days of afar, 12 rab I, the day of hira by Muammad, falls on
September 24 (Friday). However, this is inconsistent with the historical sources
that place this event on a Monday. As mentioned above, if the first date of the
hira calendar is 18 April 622 (Sunday) with 30 days in al-muarram and afar,
this day falls on 28 June 622 (Monday).102 It is a hot day in the midsummer, and
this date is consistent with the description in historical sources. Ibn Isq
reports:103
We heard about departure of the Messenger of God from Mecca and then
expected his arrival eagerly. After the morning prayer we would go out to
the lava plain to wait for him. We stayed there until the sun put out our
shade, and then we entered the house. They were hot days. The day when
the Messenger of God arrived, we sat waiting for him as usual. Then our
shadow disappeared and we entered the house. After that he arrived.
This event should have happened around the summer solstice when the sun
comes right above ones head in Medina. Medina is located on latitude 2428N,
and the tropic of Cancer is 23 27N.
Both the dates of Badr (raman 2) and Uud (awwl 3) must have occurred
two months earlier than the standard correspondence (cf. table 3). The date of
Uud should, thus, have been at the end of January or the beginning of
February. This is further suggested by the fact that, immediately before the
battle, the Meccan army reaped the unripe green barley (qal) around Medina
as forage for their camels and horses.104
101 Ibn Him, Sra, p.333; al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1242 and 1256.
102 Caussin de Perceval, Mmoire, p. 378 (transl. p. 152) states that it coincides with the first
days in July. It is reported in the several traditions that when Muammad arrived in
Medina, he saw the Jewish fasting of r (Yom Kippur; the Day of Atonement), and
ordered the fasting for Muslims as well (cf. Goitein, Ramadan, p. 95-96). The day of Yom
Kippur (10 Tishri) in AD 622 is calculated in 20 September in the correspondence of
Burnaby (table 6). Among the modern scholars, then, there might be views which prefer
mid-September as the date of the hira (Muammads arrival in Medina) to the end of
June, but, as Wagtendonk (Fasting, p.126) maintains, Muammads arrival does not have
to coincide exactly with Yom Kippur.
103 Ibn Him, Sra, p. 333-34, cited in Caussin de Perceval, Mmoire, p. 378 (transl. p. 152).
104 Al-Wqid, Maz, I, p. 207. See also al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1393. Wellhausen, Muhammed
in Medina, p. 17 assumes that this event must be in January or February because the barley

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

512

ioh

The theory that the beginning of the hira calendar must be three months
earlier than commonly believed might cause various inconveniences when
events relating to Muammad are discussed. However some difficulty inevitably accompanies explicit reconstruction of a historical date due to a number of
factors, including discrepancies in the reported date provided by the sources.
Conclusion
In the pre-Islamic period, pilgrimages and trade took place in specific seasons
in various areas in Arabia. Interchanges of people and goods in these areas
kept peace and order among the Arab tribes, and the sacred months guaranteed that these interchanges would be safe. Mecca and surrounding area
accepted all sorts of beliefs, including traditional tribal polytheism and the
monotheism of Judaism and Christianity. At the spring pilgrimage in
l-ia, different religions held various kinds of rites and feasts, not limited to
9th and 10th days of the month.
The role of the calendar adjusters, who inserted a leap month to keep the
lunisolar calendar accurate, was of particular importance. They introduced the
Jewish intercalary system, and consequently Jewish Nisan always corresponded
to l-ia. They occasionally declared suspension of the sacred months, in
those cases when the fairs and the religious rites couldnt be held safely.
Already in the early Islamic period, the memory of the calendar adjusters
functions had disappeared among the Muslims, thus the historical materials
describing the pre-Islamic calendar are very confusing. However it is also true
that the number of accounts recorded in the early sources, as well as the verses
of the Qurn help us to rediscover the hidden facts regarding those days.
The prophet Muammad established a new Islamic order that brought
about great changes in Arab society. The Kaba in Mecca was designated as the
house of Allh, and all idols in it were destroyed, as were any other idols in the
of Medina was usually reaped in March. J.L. Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia, ed. W. Ouseley,
London, Henry Colburn, 1829 (reprint, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010), II,
p.209-210 remarks regarding the barley of Medina, its harvest is in the middle of March.
[...] After harvest, the fields are left fallow till the next year. Cf. also Muir, The Life of
Mahomet, III, p. 156, citing Burckhardt. The raid of al-andaq took place in awwl AH 5
(Ibn Him, Sra, p. 668 and 682; al-abar, Tar, I, p. 1463) or in l-qada (al-Wqid,
Maz, II, p. 440). Preparing for the battle, the Muslims had already collected the crops a
month before (al-Wqid, Maz, II, p. 444). Considering that a leap month was inserted
at the end of AH 3 (awwl AH 5 begins around on 24 January 627), it might be possible
that the harvest occurred at such an early time.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513

The Calendar in Pre-Islamic Mecca

513

Arabian peninsula. The social classes, such as guardians of the shrines, diviners, soothsayers, and calendar adjusters, all lost their roles. The praise once
afforded to tribal poets was transferred to readers of the Qurn.
The object of pilgrimages was limited to Mecca and the surrounding area.
The traditional lunisolar calendar with intercalation was abolished, and a pure
lunar calendar without leap months was established. Muammad avoided
Jewish and Christian influences in the calendar and made the Islamic a a
universal rite not limited to a certain season.

Arabica 61 (2014) 471-513