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Religion Library: Islam

Sacred Time

Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka

Sacred time is a "time out of time," when the community's sense of the sacred interrupts ordinary experiences of time. Like its sister religions, Judaism and Christianity, Islam marks the moments of sacred time in an annual calendar. The calendar is divided into twelve months, each with 29-30 days. The months are further divided into weeks of seven days each. As in Judaism, the days last from sunset to sunset. The calendar marks annual times that are particularly sacred to Muslims, such as the Night of Power. Celebrated on the 27th of Ramadan, this was the night when Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran. The entire month of Ramadan is also sacred and is a time in which the powers of evil are diminished by the sacred event of the original revelation. Daily life is also punctuated by moments of holiness, signaled by the call of the muezzin to prayer.

Islamic Calendar

Islamic Calendar

In 622, the Muslim community emigrated from Mecca, where they were persecuted, to Medina, where they were welcomed. This event, called the Hijrah or emigration, marks the beginning of the time of Islam. It marks a break from the former time, or the time before Islam, called al-Jahiliyya. This significance is reflected in the Islamic calendar, called the Hijrah calendar, in which 622 is year one, or 1 A.H. (after Hijrah).

The Hijrah calendar is a lunar calendar. It has twelve months of 29 or 30 days each, for a total of 354 days. Muslims use the solar calendar for non-religious purposes, and the lunar Hijrah calendar does not adjust to keep pace with the solar one. In any given 33-year cycle, annual observances like the Ramadan fast and the hajj will occur in each of all four seasons. The week has seven days, and the days begin and end at sunset. Fridays are set aside for communal prayers in the mosque, often accompanied by a sermon. Many businesses will close to allow people to attend the midday Friday prayers.

The Hijrah calendar includes many sacred days. There are days that commemorate important historical events, such as the Miraj, which celebrates Muhammad's miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem. Other days remember anniversaries of Muhammad's birth and death, and those of his daughter Fatima. There are also days and months set aside for participation in religious observances and festivals, such as the month-long Ramadan fast and the season of the hajj. The main festivals and holy days are as follows.


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