Will you give information about the dates of Ramadan and holy nights changing every year?

Details of the Question

The month of Ramadan comes ten days earlier every year and hence the date of the Night of Power (Laylatul-Qadr) changes; so does Ramadan. In that case, is every day not the Night of Power and is every month not Ramadan? How can we know the exact days of those holy nights and days?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

These dates change in terms of the solar year. They never change in terms of the lunar year. Holy days and nights are based on the lunar year; therefore, they are always on the same date in terms of the lunar year. Besides, the day of every new year is not the day of the other year. Allah creates each time separately. As a matter of fact, we are not the same as we were in the previous year.   

The exact dates of those nights and days are known based on the lunar year and are stated in some calendars.

Let us start the issue with a luminous incident that took place in the Era of Bliss:

Muadh bin Jabal and Hz. Thalaba came to the Prophet and asked him:

"O Messenger of Allah! What is this state? The crescent appears as thin as a thread first; then, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes full moon; then, it gradually decreases and returns to its previous state."

Upon this question, the following verse was sent down:

"They ask thee concerning the New Moons. Say: they are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for pilgrimage. It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back; it is virtue if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors and fear Allah that ye may prosper."1

Since the Prophet (pbuh) did not have an astronomy book related to the moon, those who asked the question attracted attention to the aspect of the issue that people needed to learn; the Prophet (pbuh) mentioned the wisdoms behind it and eliminated the customs that remained from Jahiliyyah one by one by giving the lesson of good manners.

As it is clearly understood from the verse, an important wisdom of the crescent is to inform people about time and times of worshipping, primarily hajj. For, in deeds of worshipping like hajj, fasting and zakah, the concept of time is an important principle; it also has an important place in the other daily activities.  

This wisdom is stated more clearly in verse 5 of the chapter of Yunus:

"It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light (of beauty), and measured out stages for it: that ye might know the number of years and the count (of time). No wise did Allah create this but in truth and righteousness. (Thus) doth He explain His Signs in detail, for those who understand."

The same fact is expressed in verse 12 of the chapter of al-Isra, too. The importance of the calendar in the life of people is indicated in verse 36 of the chapter of at-Tawba by being stated that the year is divided into twelve months. 

As for the issue of the lunar months moving around all seasons, it can be explained as follows: A lunar month starts with the first appearance of the crescent and the second month starts when the crescent appears again. There are about 29,5 days between two appearances of the crescent; therefore, the lunar years is about eleven days shorter than the solar year. Thus, the seasons start eleven days earlier in the lunar calendar every year compared to the previous one.  

According to this calculation, some lunar months have twenty-nine days and others have thirty days. There are many wisdoms behind it. One of them is as follows: As it is known, fasting in Ramadan and hajj are based on the lunar year. That is, fasting is performed in the lunar month of Ramadan and hajj is performed in the lunar months of Shawwal, Dhul-qada and Dhul-hijja.

These months move about all seasons in thirty-three years. For instance, Ramadan corresponds to both the longest and hottest days in summer and the shortest and coldest days in winter. The same thing is valid for hajj season, too. 

Thus, a believer faces a test in the worshipping of fasting and hajj. That is, he performs fasting in both the shortest and coldest days of the year comfortably and easily and the longest and hottest days of the year. Thus, he tries to fulfill his duties of servitude to his Lord under all circumstances.  

Muhammad Hamidullah explains the issue as follows:

"We all know that the months of the year change in the lunar calendar. For instance, Ramadan sometimes comes in winter, sometimes in spring, sometimes in summer and sometimes in fall. The solar year was known by Arabs before Islam. Why did the Quran replace it by the lunar year?

The seasons of the year have different effects. Man is affected by too much cold and he is disturbed by too much heat. Cold and heat change from place to place. For instance, the winter season is mild in Makkah. Is it like that in the countries near the poles? People living in the countries near the poles look forward to summer but those living near the Equator do not want it. In the center and south of India, there is nothing like the season of spring. There are summer winter and rain seasons. 

It is seen from the examples above that what is mercy for a region is pain for another. It is not fit for a universal religion to be mercy for some of its believers, that is, residents of some regions, and pain for others all the time. Fasting is something difficult. Changing of the season of Ramadan every year eliminates such a complaint. 

The same season is not seen in all places of the world at the same time. I am writing these lines in January. I heard on the radio yesterday that in some parts of France it was minus forty degrees Centigrade. On the same day, it is plus forty degrees in Argentina, South America. Allah, the Creator, is so lofty that while it is winter in the countries in the north of the Equator, it is summer in the countries in the south of the Equator. If the Prophet (pbuh) had ordered his ummah to fast, say, in winter, the people in North America would fast in January and the people in South America would fast in July. If a person who fasted up to the Night of Power in New York went to Buenos Aires after that, he would be able to celebrate eid six months later in winter. If a person left Buenos Aires at the end of the month of Shaban, which corresponded to June and arrived in New York the next day, he would not be able to fast in Ramadan. For, Ramadan would be in January, not in July, in New York. If a person moved from the north of the Equator to the south and from the south of the Equator to the north in certain moths, he would not fast at all in his life. The religion would be something ridiculous and chaotic.

It is seen in this short writing that the order of Islam about fasting to be performed in Ramadan is a sign of Allah's mercy and grace to His slaves. There are several material and spiritual benefits in it. These orders are reasonable and beneficial."2

Footnotes:

1. al-Baqara, 2/189.b
2. Muhammad Hamidullah. "Niçin Oruç Tutarız?" Diyanet İşleri Reisliği 1960 Yıllığı, p. 12-14.

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