Timing in the Holy Quran
Since ancient times, some nations, such as Egyptians, Romans, Persians and Europeans, adopted the solar year for timing, although they differed in fixing the date for the beginning of years and the number of days in each month, which constituted one part of 12 in each year. Before the advent of Islam, Egyptians made the numbers of days in each month 30, with the addition of 5 or 6 days to the year at the end of it. The lunar calendar known to us now, or the Hijrite Calendar, has not been adopted except after Islam. This is despite the fact that it was followed in pre-Islamic days by the Arabs and certain groups of Jews, as well as in India and China, but in another form.
Attempts were made to unite both solar and lunar calendars at the time when months were nearer to nature represented in the sun and the moon, taking into consideration that the lunar year included 12 lunar months. To achieve this goal, Indians took the moment the crescent appeared in the sky as the beginning of the new year. That was before the coming of the spring. By so doing, they had a year of 12 months, with 30 days in each. Later, the beginning of the year gradually lagged behind the spring, making a difference of one or more than one month. When such a thing occurred they used to adopt a leap year, including 13 months. By this action, one certain month had to be repeated twice
Jews in Yathrib fixed the days of the lunar months as 30 or 29. They used to determine the beginning of the year by the appearance of the crescent they used to see about the beginning of autumn. By this way, they were in need of some of the leap years which included 13 months each.
This is how the nations of the earth differed at that time in adopting the days the years began with. This occurred despite the attempts they made to connect the beginnings of the years with the seasons of those years. But the grave and serious problems with the Arabs was that concerning the fixation of the pilgrimage day. They found that the tenth day of Zul Haj often came in winter. Later, it was gradually delayed, until it came in autumn, then in summer, then in spring, and so on. This contradicted the arrangements they made for their travels, marketing, trades, and even wars, and other activities they used to make in pre-Islamic days. And for this reason, they adopted the idea of the additional days, which could be summarized as follows: Since the solar year represented by the four seasons exceeded in number the lunar year by about 11 days, one month could be added to the lunar year every two or three years in a bid to make it corresponding with the solar year. On that basis, they preferred to perform pilgrimage in Zul Haj in two successive years. The third year they made it 13 months; and by this, that year ended with Muharram during which they again proceeded for pilgrimage.
Even after making all these attempts, the Arabs noticed that the fractions of the familiar solar year (resulting from the revolution of the earth) could be collected to form, in the course of time, a full complete month. For this reason, they supplemented to the year other additional days.
The Arabs' customs and traditions, since the days of Ibrahim, prevented wars in four months every year, in Zul `Qaad, Zul Haj, Muharram and Rajab.
Referring to this, the Holy Quran says in Surat Al-Tauba (Repentance)
"Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months by Allah's ordinance, since the day when He created the heavens and the earth of these four are sacred. That is the right religion; so wrong not yourselves therein. And fight the polytheists all together as they fight you all together. And know that Allah is with those who keep their duty. Postponing (of the sacred month) is only an addition in disbelief, whereby those who disbelieve are led astray. They allow it one year and forbid it (another) year, that they may agree in the number (of months) which Allah has made sacred, and thus make lawful what Allah has forbidden. The evil of their doings is made seeming fair to them. And Allah guides not the disbelieving people."
Interpreters had different ideas about the question of additional days. Some of them preferred, as we have said, to increase the months of the lunar year so as to correspond with the solar year. Some others interpreted the question as a delay in the observance of one of the four sacred months in order to make fighting during it lawful and in order to release themselves from the tradition of staying for three months without breaking out wars.
Of the important astronomical or universal phenomena on which timings depend is the confirmation of the appearance of the crescent in order to determine the first days of the Hejrite months. After the crescent is witnessed, the moon goes eastwards away from the sun. This increases the length of time between the disappearance of the moon and sunset. until it becomes a full-moon. Here, it disappears around dawn. At that time, the moon goes to one direction, while the sun goes otherwise. In the second half of the Hejrite month, the moon disappears during daytime. This becomes delayed gradually until the moon completes a full round, putting itself between both the sun and the earth. At that time, one half of the moon facing the sun becomes luminous while the other, facing the earth, becomes dark. Later, the latter starts to get itself lit and appears in the form of a small crescent which grows gradually in the course of time.
The important point is that the moment the new crescent is born in is the same everywhere in the globe, regardless of day or night. Thus, the time at which the crescent is born should have astronomical value as it determines timings. In this meaning, the Holy Quran says in Surat Al-Baqara (The Cow) :
"They ask thee of the new moons. Say They are times appointed for men, and (for) the pilgrimage."
It is probable that strong sunlight during the day or the accumulation of clouds in the sky or bad witness for any reasons may prevent the witness of the newly born crescent. It is a fact that in certain countries sunset takes place before the appearance of the crescent, while in others chances allow the witness of the crescent immediately after sunset. And for the absence of quick communications facilities at that time, the Holy Quran asked people to keep fasting the moment they witnessed the crescent. In Al-Baqara, God says:
"So whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein."
This had been done as if Prophet Muhammad knew that the Hejrite month had started at a fixed time and that the moon was difficult to be seen sometimes and completely impossible to be witnessed sometimes else. Here, we may ask again: Was Muhammad so distinguished in astronomy or mathematics?
On the other hand, we notice that stars or planets do not complete their revolution around the sun at equal intervals. The length of the year on the earth as it was stated differs completely than that on Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, etc. There may be other planets which follow other suns which complete their revolution around their suns in thousands of the years known in our planet. The idea of diversity among days and years in worlds existing beyond our own is mentioned in the Holy Quran as this: "And surely a day with thy Lord is as a thousand years of what you reckon." Surat Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage). And in: "To Him ascend the angels and the Spirit in a day the measure of which is fifty years." Surat Al-Ma'arij (The Ways of Ascent)