Maldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Maldive Calendar: Feedback from el-Azhar

The Saudi Paradox

Many informed readers are able to identify stark similarities between the situation in the Maldives and that in Saudi Arabia in an article by Michael Scott Doran, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Summary: Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis, but its elite is bitterly divided on how to escape it. Crown Prince Abdullah leads a camp of liberal reformers seeking rapprochement with the West, while Prince Nayef, the interior minister, sides with an anti-American Wahhabi religious establishment that has much in common with al Qaeda. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad -- but at home Nayef casts a longer and darker shadow. read on >>


A Maldive correspondent at the el-Azhar Seminary in Cairo has kindly provided feedback to our recent article on the Maldive Calendar. El-Azhar is the premier Islamic centre of indoctrination in the world and the oldest of its kind. Several very senior individuals in the current ruling entity in the Maldives undertook their mullah indoctrination in that institution.



"Nice work, but there is a question bedevils my mind. As you know in both the Bible and the Koran religious festivals are regulated by the lunar calendar. Jews and Muslims have kept to these regulations which they believe to be from God. I wonder why does Christianity follow a solar calendar?

Mosque of the el-Azhar Seminary, Cairo, Egypt

Our reply

Julius Caesar

The Jews, like the pre-Islamic Arabs have a luni-solar calendar. That is to say that the months are determined by the lunar cycle and any discrepancy with the solar year is made up by leap months. This was pretty much standard practice in the ancient world. The Egyptians, the Chinese and the Romans (before the Julian reform) had similar arrangements. In some cases the leap month was as long as the other months and occurred about every third year. In other cases the leap month was 10-11 days long and occurred every year. As I have indicated in the article, the insertion of the leap month was arbitrary at least in the case of the Arabs and this led to exploitation by the priests and the sheikhs. This was what led to the abolition of the leap month by Mohamed.

Given this, it is obvious why ancient festivals such as the Rosh HaShanah (Ra-es el-Sanah), Yom Kippur (Yowm el-Kaffaarah), Passover (Yowm el-Faseeh), the Chinese new year and so on are observed according to lunar months subject to a relative position in the solar year. In other words, unlike the Islamic festivals these other festivals, based on the lunar calendar, do not move around the year even though they may vary over about a month within the solar year.

There are only 3 Christian festivals that are determined by the purely solar year, namely Christmas, All Saints and Epiphany. Christianity, as you may be aware, originated in the Roman Empire and these festivals were fixed after the calendar reform of Julius Caesar. Christianity was formalised nearly 400 years after the adoption of the Julian calendar in the Roman Empire.

Nevertheless the remaining eight Christian festivals are determined according to the lunar cycle. They are: Easter, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. The last seven are fixed relative to Easter. Like the Jewish festivals and unlike the Islamic ones, Easter (which more or less coincides with the Jewish Passover) is luni-solar. Easter occurs on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon (which could be a day out from the astronomical full moon) following the ecclesiastical vernal equinox (which again could be a day out from the astronomical equinox). It is the vernal equinox that makes it solar and the full moon that makes it lunar.

Jewish festivals
Pesach (Passover)
Shavuot (Pentecost)
Rosh HaShanah (New Year)
Yom Kippur
Simchat Torah

It is, therefore, not correct to say that the Jews and the Muslims on the one hand have kept to divinely prescribed festivals determined by the lunar calendar while Christians have not. Muslim festivals are determined by a purely lunar calendar, while Jewish and eight out of the eleven Christian festivals are determined by a luni-solar calendar.

When the Jewish festivals (including Passover which coincides with Easter) were fixed, the civil calendar was luni-solar. When the immovable Christian festivals (e.g.: Christmas) were set, the relativity of the civil calendar to the lunar cycle no longer existed.

The Islamic festivals were set according to a calendar which, for the first time in civilised human history, removed the relativity with the solar cycle. A simple formula could have been devised such as what the Chinese, the Hebrews, the Romans and others had done before, to settle the leap month or leap days, instead of resorting to the knee-jerk solution of removing the relativity of the year to the solar cycle.

That way the Islamic calendar could have remained a sensible one that could be observed in practice.

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