Insight: The changing seasons of Ramazan

02 Jun 2018


Illustration by Sophia Khan
Illustration by Sophia Khan

By the grace of Allah, we are in the middle of Ramazan. This year, the summer heat is fierce and the days long. Fasting in this intense heat is not easy, but only when we think of the rewards the Almighty has promised for the people who fast, we readily bear the thirst and hunger.

Most of you may associate the fasting month of Ramazan with summers, because at your age you must have started to fast only a few years ago. But there is good news for you all. In not many years, may be six or seven, the weather will be much better in the fasting month as gradually it will move towards spring and then winter.

Like the majority of people around the world, Muslims also follow the Solar or Gregorian calendar, for planning the day-to-day life and yearly activities. Here I would like to tell you more about the solar calendar which begins in January and ends in December.

As you all must have learnt in your geography classes, our Earth is one of the planets of the Sun and revolves around it on its fixed orbit. The second rotation of the Earth is around its own axis, which is slightly tilted.

The Earth takes 365 ¼ days to complete one revolution around the Sun and since its orbit is oval in shape, the seasons change according to the distance between the Sun and the Earth at a particular time of the year. The parallel movement of the Earth, that is its rotation, ascertain which part of the Earth is nearest to the Sun and which part is farthest away. We have two summers and two winters each year, but these are divided into one each for the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Have you ever wondered why our Islamic festivals never come on the same date of the year? This is because we follow two calendars at the same time, the Gregorian or solar calendar for our worldly activities and the Hijri or Lunar calendar for our religious ones.

As we reside in the Northern Hemisphere, we can safely say that December/January will be cold (winter months) in our part of the Earth, February/March and October/November will be pleasant (spring and autumn months) and May/June and sometimes July will be hot (summer months). This is the reason why festivals followed by the Christians always fall in the same season.

Christmas is associated with winter in our hemisphere and with summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In the same way, Easter always comes in Spring/Autumn depending on which part of the Earth a person is living in.

There is another important movement in the universe, which deeply affects life on the Earth. The moon, a satellite of the Earth, which moves around it on its orbit. Like Earth, it also rotates on its axis. As the orbits are not circular in shape, the speed of these movements of Earth and moon vary with the distance they are from the Sun and Earth respectively. These variations in the speed affects the time between two lunations (viewing of the new moon) which can be about 29.18 days to 29.93 days.

Have you ever wondered why our Islamic festivals never come on the same date of the year? This is because we follow two calendars at the same time, the Gregorian or solar calendar for our worldly activities and the Hijri or Lunar calendar for our religious ones.

The word Hijri takes it root from Hijrat, an Arabic word which means migration. The Hijri calendar followed by Muslims begins from Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) migration from Mecca to Medina. The Hijri year begins on the first of Muharram and ends on the last day of Ziqaad, and though it has 12 months like the solar one, the length of our months is associated with the sighting of the moon.

In a lunar calendar, the length of a month is defined as the time between two new moons, which has an average duration of 29.5 days. This is the reason why we cannot say for sure on which day of the solar month our new Hijri month will begin, as the moon is sighted either on the 29th or 30th night of a month. The month begins with a new moon, reaches its mid at the full moon and comes to an end as the moon slowly recedes and finally disappears from sight in the last two or two and half days.

Here lies the reason of the changing seasons of our Islamic months. Although a lunar year, just like a solar year has 12 months, its duration is about 354 days, which is about 11 days shorter than the solar year. The dates of our Islamic calendar keep on shifting when we consider the corresponding dates of a solar year. This means that the month of Ramazan, which began on the 17th of May this year, will begin around 6th or 7th May in 2019, the exact date depending on the number of 29- and 30-days months we will have in the next lunar year.

In the same way, our other important festivals like Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha and Hajj, (the pilgrimage to the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the five-day rituals of the Hajj days) and Ashura (the 10th of Muharram) keep moving back around 11 days as compared to each solar year.

I hope it will now be clear to my young friends why our Islamic months and festivals keep drifting when we compare them to the dates on the Gregorian calendar we all routinely follow. Ramazan, which has been occurring in the long and harsh summer months for more than a decade now, will eventually drift into a better season and then into winters.

This means that Ramazan will begin in the mid of May nearly 33 years from now. In my life span, I have witnessed this holy month in both winters and summers more than once.

So take heart, Allah, the merciful, never burdens a soul more than it can bear. Fast without complaint in this hot weather and Insha Allah, with the passage of years, you will be fasting in the short cool winter days. May Allah make fasting easier for all of you, as you are young and for me and the people of my age, accept our good deeds in this holy month and forgive our sins. Ameen.

Published in Dawn, Young World, June 2nd, 2018