Sunday, December 7, 2008

Calendars: Islamic & Western

Image of a astrolabe, made by al-Sarraj in the Islamic year 628


In the west we tend to use the Gregorian [gree-gor-re-ann] calendar system to mark time and dates. The Gregorian calendar marks the birth of Christ as being year 0 and we’re currently in the year 2008. The start of the year is always 1st January and the end of the year is always 31st December, 365 days. It is a system based on the phases of the sun and has months which are 30 or 31 days long (except for February).

In the Arab world there are two different calendar systems in use; the Gregorian and also the Hijira [hij-jee-rraH] which is based on the moon phases. This means each month is 28 days long (very occasionally 29) and consequently a Hijira year is about 354 days long, or 10 or 11 days shorter than a Gregorian year. This calendar marks the flight of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina as being year 1 and we are currently in the year 1429. 1430 will start on approximately 29th December, 2008.

The Arabic calendar appears to ‘move forward’ each year when compared to the Gregorian calendar. However, the order of the months never changes and the year always starts with month 1 or Muharram [moe-haa-ram]. It takes about 33 years for the Hijaria calendar to rotate around an entire Gregorian calendar and because of this, Hijaria calendars are not generally used in agriculture.

When writing, the Hijira year date is indicated by an H after the year, for example; 1422 H or the year 2000.

A joint Hijrah/Gregorian calendar image for the year AD 2008
taken from:

In the west we start our days at sunrise, whereas traditionally, in the Arab world, a new day will start with the sunset. This can cause some confusion; Tuesday evening to a westerner can be a Wednesday evening for an Arab. In general it has to be said the Arab method is loosing ground rapidly to the western way.

In Saudi Arabia weekends fall on Thursdays and Fridays. In 2007 Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE changed - weekends now fall on Fridays and Saturdays in these five countries.

Urban Legend
Years ago I worked with an expatriate man who could not get his head around the difference between the working week in Europe and the Middle East. At the time the weekend fell on Thursdays and Fridays. Having been confused several times by his use of the word Tuesday (he meant the second working day of the week; at that time Sunday) or Thursday (the fourth working day of the week: at that time Tuesday) we started to use a new system. Saturday became day 1, Sunday became day 2, Monday became day 3 and so on. This system resolved all sorts of problems and everyone was happy using it.

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