Every community has a number of ceremonial rituals and methods of paying homage to God. Though their intent and content would differ widely from each other the one common element in all of them is the dependence on TIME. They are performed at different times of the day or night, on different days or months or years. All the known religions of the world use lunar calendar or a combination of lunar and solar calendars to fix the date and time for the observances. Christians all over the world observe Christmas on the 25th of December or 7th of January. These dates are artificial and sun dependent and pose no problems in fixing. But the Easter depends on the moon as well as the position of the sun in its north-south route. Passover of the Jews is also determined on the basis of the moon. Good Friday falls on the day following the Passover Thursday. Budha Pournami falls on a full moon day in Vaisakh, a solar month. Sivarathri occurs on the night of a new moon day. They are defined by the limit of the zodiacs and constellations. They do not fall on the same day of the calendar every year. The correct dates are determined, in advance, years in advance, by mathematical computations of the various aspects of the movement of the moon and the earth with or without reference to the stellar constellations. They are so complicated that their computations call for a high-level mathematical skill and knowledge of all the celestial bodies. This is not an easy job for the lay man particularly the uneducated and the uninitiated. Consequently, it creates a great amount of dependency on the knowledgeable class even for the day-to-day devotions.
Islam decries over-dependence on the clergy, which all along constituted the knowledge class and was able to push people into religious slavery, detaching them from their creator by posing themselves as mediators. Tenets of Islam, dogmatic though, are very simple and can be followed easily even by the most un-educated. No great knowledge of astronomy or involved calculations is required to ascertain the occasion for prayers and feasts. We are asked to use the phases of the moon to know the ages - days and months. Moon is very close to us and its position and movements can be easily measured by anybody with a little amount of dedication and least efforts. It is susceptible to calculation and advance estimation. Qur’aan in unequivocal terms states that the sun and the moon are with calculation - i.e. their motions and positions are ascertainable by calculation. In other religions time is reckoned with greater sanctity and preciseness. It may be for the purpose of religious offerings or special services or other rituals. Be it for the solemnization of social events like marriages, commencing long journeys, constructions activities, house warming (entering new houses) or anything of a serious consequence in life. Either the people themselves are serious about the influence of the stars or the governing gods on them and look for auspicious time to please the star and the ruling deities: or the clergy will make them serious by threatening of unpalatable consequences. And the common man and the priests will go to any extent to ensure that the time factor is sanctified.
Islam with definite theme of avoiding clerical hierarchy and freeing the layman from the kind of dominance that the Jews and Christians and others imposed on them, made every moment of his life - religious and social - as simple as one can imagine. All major issues are codified through Holy Qur’aan and wherever necessary, explained through Hadith and Sunnah, the care of the theme remaining in Thouheed-Unity-oneness of God. Primarily it prescribes one deity -Allah- but dictates uniformity in every rule of life. With the unity of Ummah in focus various concessions and margins are allowed. But none of them should divide the Ummah on any ground. Unfortunately, today we find factionalism ruling the Ummah. Any system of reckoning time must therefore conform to these two principles - unity of Ummah and submission to the rule of the Holy Qur’aan.
Let us look for a while at the times prescribed for various observances in Islam. We are required to perform Salah five times a day within the prescribed time slots. It must be noted that it is not a fixed point of time nor is it prescribed by the confluence of celestial or terrestrial bodies. It is simply a time interval that can be determined by observing the sun. The Dhuhar prayer is performed when the sun has passed the zenith- i.e. an angle of 90 degrees with reference to the surface of the earth. The time for Dhuhar expires after the sun has ‘traveled’ 45 degrees and attained 135 degrees position when it is time for Asar. Magrib prayer is offered after the sunset after the sun has moved another angle of 45 to 180 degrees. Isha becomes due when the glare of the setting sun disappears. This gives an interval of 22.5 degrees. Isha has the span of the entire night ending with the appearance of the first glare of the rising sun from 202.5 degrees to 337.5 degrees when the time for Fajr begins. Fajr has 22.5 degrees like Magrib, to complete the cycle by the time the sun’s beams arrive.
Prayers can be offered within the span for each, which is very liberal. They must be performed within the same day and cannot be postponed to the next day or pre-poned to an early day. Before the discovery of clocks, the length of the shadow of a vertically held stick determined the time span for Salah. Time for Dhuhar started when the stick gave no shadow and ended when the length of the shadow equaled the length of the object. Other times could be fixed visually by observing the state of sunlight.
Clocks here replaced our dependence on the stick and the shadow. We have thus accepted the alternate means of measurements like many technically advanced facilities. One of concepts we have already accepted is that of standard time. The standard time measure at a given geographical point is made applicable to an entire region, although the actual time on the sun’s rising and setting could be different. With the movement of the sun between the points of equinox, the exact time slots also vary. Normally, the standard time does not make any allowance for this variation. As times of prayers are determined on the basis of natural time at every station we have to make adjustments to the standard time. Reckoning the sunrise and the sunset in terms of standard time does this. Particularly none observes the rising or setting of the sun before offering prayers. The times ascertained in advance as the times of sunrise and sunset are accepted as correct. They are by calculation and not by physical observation. The point emphasized here is that Islam and Muslims do accept calculation as a means of determining time and time related matters of significance. Of course when the Holy Qur’aan testifies that the sun and the moon are with calculation there is no reason why we should reject calculation.
The Prophet (saw), the teacher of the Qur’aan has fixed dates for the five important observances. Since they are mandatory we have no authority to change them. The dates are:
Commencement of obligatory fasting First day of Ramadhan
End of obligatory fasting Last day of Ramadhan
Date of Eidul Fitr First day of Shawwal
Date of Eidul Adha Tenth day of Dhul Hajj
The date for standing at the Arafah Ninth day of Dhul Hajj
Dates of Ayyamut thashreeque Eleveth, twelfth and thirteenth, Dul Hajj
A few quotations from the Holy Qur’aan will not be out of place here.
“Establish regular prayers at the sun’s declines till the darkness of night and the Morning Prayer and recitation for the prayer, certainly recitation in the morning carry the testimony” (17:78)
We have already seen in the earlier part of this chapter how the prayer timings are set from Dhuhar to Fajr. The Qur’aan further states “The sun and the moon are with calculations” (55:5) and that “He has appointed Manazil (stages) for the moon so that you may know the count of the ages and the calculations” (10:5) it then explains “And for the moon we have appointed Manazil (stages) till it returned like the old date stalks.” (36:39). The sun, it is not possible for it to catch the moon and the night is not the fore-runner of the day and everything floats in an orbit”(36:40) “they ask you about the phases of the moon. Tell them they are dates for the people and for the pilgrimage” (2:189) “Certainly the number of months with Allah is twelve ever since He created the heavens and the earth. Of these four are sacred. That is the right religion. And do not do injustice to yourselves in them” (9:36) This is a very clear statement about the division of the year into 12 months and identifying four of them as sacred in which doing any kind of injustice is prohibited. This includes war and blood shed. The Prophet (saw) explained that the four months referred are Dul-Qada, Dul-Hajj Muharram and Rajab. People fast, prepare and travel for Hajj and perform Hajj and return home in these months.
Let me conclude this chapter with a quotation from the Holy Prophet (saw) “We are (Ummiy). We do not write or read. Our month is like this or like that (meaning 29 or 30). Fast at the appearing of the crescent and celebrate Eid at its appearance. Do not fast without observing the crescent, and do not celebrate Eid ul Fitr without observing it; fast at its appearance and celebrate at its appearance; if it becomes dubious complete 30 days”.