How Islam’s Awesome Lunar Calendar Makes Ramadan Easy For Everyone


Mansoor Dahri, UK

Pretty much everyone knows by now that we Muslims use some mysterious calendar that’s out of sync with the seasons. Even people who know very little about Islam can clearly tell that their Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues are doing that thing where they don’t eat or drink stuff and many of them might have figured out that this seems to happen earlier and earlier every year. You could know absolutely zero about Islam, but if you closely pay attention to this trend long enough, you’ll be able to guess accurately that Ramadan will gradually pass through all the seasons of the year.

Someone who’s known Muslims for about 16-17 years knows that Ramadan is now 6 months earlier than it used to be and that in the same number of years, it’ll therefore go back to where it was originally and complete a 33-year cycle. [1] You don’t even need to know that Muslims use a lunar calendar or what a lunar calendar is to understand this. All you need to know is that the months of the Islamic lunar calendar are not fixed to the seasons of the year. This means that the month of Ramadan can occur in Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter. We Muslims get to experience Ramadan in all seasons of the year.

The Islamic lunar calendar is inherited from the old Arab calendar; the names of the months in the Islamic calendar are the same as the names used by the pre-Islamic Arabs. Scholars aren’t 100% sure what sort of calendar the Arabs originally used but we do know one thing: it certainly was not a lunar calendar. [2] We know for a fact that, at some point in their pre-Islamic history, the Arabs must have had some kind of seasonally fixed calendar before switching to a lunar calendar.

We know this because the names of the months of the Islamic calendar (and therefore the old Arab calendar) refer to seasonally specific times of the year. [3] So, for example, the third month of the Islamic calendar is called ‘Rabīʿ al-ʾAwwal’ (رَبِيع ٱلْأَوَّل) which means ‘First Spring’. This clearly indicates that this month once marked the beginning of Spring. The month that follows this one is called ‘Rabīʿ ath-Thānī’ (رَبِيع ٱلثَّانِي) or ‘Second Spring’ and is also referred to as ‘Rabīʿ al-ʾĀkhir’ (رَبِيع ٱلْآخِر) or ‘Last Spring’ which suggests that is month once marked the end period of Spring.

The fifth month of the Islamic calendar is called ‘Jumādā al-ʾŪlā’ (جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْأُولَىٰ) which means ‘First Dryness’ and is followed by the sixth month ‘Jumādā ath-Thāniyah’ (جُمَادَىٰ ٱلثَّانِيَة) meaning ‘Second Dryness’; this latter month is also referred to as “Jumādā al-ʾĀkhirah” (جُمَادَىٰ ٱلْآخِرَة) meaning “Last Dryness”. It’s clear from this that the fifth and sixth months of the Islamic calendar once occurred consistently during a dry part of the year.

It is not necessary for these months to come in pairs of two. There are also stand-alone months that are named after what the season was like under the old, fixed calendar or what people did during that time of year. For example, the month ‘Ṣafar’ (صَفَر) means ‘Empty’ because it was the time of year when everyone would be out in search of food and all the houses would be empty. There’s also the month ‘Shaʿbān’ (شَعْبَان) which means ‘Scattered’ because people would be dispersed across the desert in search of water. You get the picture.

At some point in their history, the Arabs switched to using a lunar calendar like the one all Muslims would someday use for religious purposes. But the names of the months and the order of their arrangement were left unchanged; once the switch to a lunar calendar was made, the months gradually drifted out of sync with the seasons they described. It then became possible to get mismatches like a month called “Rabīʿ al-ʾAwwal” (“First Spring”) occurring during Autumn or in the dead of Winter.

All things considered, we Muslims should feel deeply grateful to Allah the Almighty for giving us an Islamic lunar calendar where the months are not fixed. Otherwise, fasting would become incredibly difficult for us.

Let me explain. Do you remember how the Arabs would often name months after the seasons that originally occurred during them? Well, imagine for a moment what you might call a month that always occurred in the worst part of Summer when the Arab desert was absolutely blistering and sweltering, and the hot desert days were at their longest. Let’s just think for a moment about what an appropriate name for a month like that might be. What name would you choose for the hottest month of the year? Perhaps you’d call this month something like ‘Scorching Heat’. As it so happens, that’s the name the Arabs settled on to describe the most difficult time of their year.

Sunrise at desert

‘Ramaḍān’ (رمضان) means ‘Scorching Heat’ in Arabic. That’s what they chose to call it. The word comes from the root “r-m-ḍ” (ر م ض) which means ‘extreme heat’. [4] Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan because that’s when the first verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) in the cave of Hira. This is what makes Ramadan so special to us as Muslims and we fast during daylight hours (from dawn till dusk) during this month to express gratitude to Allah the Almighty for giving us the guidance of the Holy Qur’an.

If Allah the Almighty had not ordained a lunar calendar for Islam but had still revealed the Holy Qur’an in the month called ‘Ramaḍān’ according to the old Arab calendar, then we as Muslims would be required by our religion to always fast in the worst part of Summer when the days are long and hot and we would have to do this every single year for the rest of our lives without the least shred of hope that we might someday get to do this in Winter when days are short and relatively cool.

Most of us are not even aware how hard Allah the Almighty could’ve made our religion and how easy He chose to make it instead. He makes this abundantly clear in the following verse about fasting in the Holy Qur’an:

یُرِیۡدُ اللّٰہُ بِکُمُ الۡیُسۡرَ وَلَا یُرِیۡدُ بِکُمُ الۡعُسۡرَ ۫ وَلِتُکۡمِلُوا الۡعِدَّۃَ وَلِتُکَبِّرُوا اللّٰہَ عَلٰی مَا ھَدٰٮکُمۡ وَلَعَلَّکُمۡ تَشۡکُرُوۡنَ

‘… Allah desires to give you facility and He desires not hardship for you, and that you may complete the number, and that you may exalt Allah for His having guided you and that you may be grateful.’ [5]

Before some Australian complains that it’s the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere and it would’ve been lovely if Ramadan had always been a Winter month down there, I’d like to point out that the vast majority of people (nearly 90%) live in the Northern Hemisphere, which includes nearly all the world’s Muslims [6]. Islam is a religion for the whole world and not just one hemisphere of it, it’s a religion for all of humanity not just a lucky 10% who happened to be born in the right place. At any rate, we can’t all move to Australia.

And imagine if the opposite had happened! What if Ramadan had been fixed as a Winter month in the pre-Islamic Arab calendar and Allah the Almighty had kept it that way? It would be great for people in the Northern Hemisphere but people in the Southern Hemisphere would have a good reason to complain because they’d only ever experience Ramadan in the middle of Summer. How could Allah the Almighty have done something like that to the hundreds of millions of people living in Australia, New Zealand, most of South America, a large part of Africa and all the rest of the Southern Hemisphere?

Allah the Almighty is the God of everyone; He has designed the Islamic calendar beautifully so that all parts of the world can experience Ramadan in all seasons. This is because Islam is God’s religion for the whole world and all of humanity.

Thanks to Islam’s awesome lunar calendar, wherever you go in the world, Ramadan only occurs right in the middle of Summer once in a while. This brief period of hardship is a beautiful reminder of how difficult our lives might have been as believers and how grateful we should be to Allah the Almighty for making Islam an easy religion to follow.

I intentionally chose to publish this article relatively late as it’s now the last ashara (ten-day period) of Ramadan. Most of us will have been fasting for at least 20 days now. Only towards the end of Ramadan when we are especially tired and hungry are we truly able to appreciate certain things. Like not having to do this in the worst part of Summer every single year for the rest of our lives. Most of us remember what that was like just a few years ago when for a brief time we had to fast during the longest days of the year. But Alhamdulillah the days of Ramadan are getting shorter each year now. This year we get to fast in late Spring, which is nice. In about 10 years, we’ll get to do it in Winter, which will be epic. Insha’Allah.

So many of the countless favours showered on us by Allah the Almighty remain hidden. We never even stop to think about them. This Ramadan, I hope we all at least ponder over this one.

وَاٰتٰٮکُمۡ مِّنۡ کُلِّ مَا سَاَلۡتُمُوۡہُ ؕ وَاِنۡ تَعُدُّوۡا نِعۡمَتَ اللّٰہِ لَا تُحۡصُوۡھَا ؕ اِنَّ الۡاِنۡسَانَ لَظَلُوۡمٌ کَفَّارٌ

‘And He gave you all that you wanted of Him; and if you try to count the favours of Allah, you will not be able to number them. Verily, man is very unjust, very ungrateful.‘ [7]

About the Author: Mansoor Dahri is an online editor for The Review of Religions. He graduated from UCL in BA Ancient Languages.






[5] Holy Qur’an (2:186)


[7] The Holy Qur’an (14:35)