This year Ramaḍan will be extra special to those other than Muslims because the Jewish week-long holy days of Passover (Pesach), as well as the Christian holy days of Good Friday and Easter Sunday fall during the Muslim holy month of Ramaḍan.
Holy Books Revealed in Ramaḍan
A Hadith declares that Ramaḍan was the month when the three Abrahamic Religions received their Books of revelation. According to this Hadith cited by Ibn Kathir in elucidating Qur’an 2:185, Ramaḍan is a very special month because this one month of the annual twelve in the Islamic lunar calendar was the same month during which four of God’s books of revelations were sent down to four special Prophets: Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.
Ibn Kathir states:
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Imam Ahmad reported Wathilah bin Al-Asqa` said as saying that Allah’s Messenger said: “The Ṣuḥuf (“pages”) of Ibrahim were revealed during the first night of Ramaḍan. The Torah was revealed [to Moses] during the sixth night of Ramaḍan. The Injil was revealed [to Jesus] during the thirteenth night of Ramaḍan and Allah revealed the Qur’an [to Muhammad] on the twenty-fourth night of Ramaḍan.” (Ahmad 4:107 and Musnad 177025).
Now let us see how the above convergence of original dates of revelation, falling within Ramaḍan, would work out since these four events of holy Book revelation did not occur within the same historical year but appeared centuries apart. To complicate our understanding further, Jews, Christians and Muslims each use a different time-keeping method for calculating years. (See the Appendix at the end of the article.)
The Jewish holy day of Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Prophet Moses and Banu Israel, and it falls each year on the sixth day of the Jewish month of Sivan. Thus, in the same year when the Quran was revealed, the Jewish month of Sivan would have coincided with the lunar month of Ramaḍan (which regularly advances by 11-12 days each solar year). In our times it is not so obvious that these four revelations, which came at century-long intervals, actually could have occurred, all during the same lunar month of Ramaḍan, and that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all equally share an original sacred calendar month of revelation.
In 2018, Shavuot was celebrated by Jews throughout the world on a day (May 20) during which Muslims throughout the world were celebrating Ramaḍan (May 16 through June 14); also, that same year Christians celebrated their Pentecost on May 20. And, this year (2022) is also very special because all three Abrahamic Religions will celebrate important Holy Days during the course of Ramaḍan —expected to begin April 2 and to end May 1. Jews will celebrate Passover from April 15 until April 22. As for Christians, Roman Catholics, and other Western Christians, will mark Good Friday and Easter on April 15 and 17 and the Eastern Orthodox a week later, on April 22 and 24, respectively.
More than the Month of Revelation is Shared
This tri-faith overlap of holy days happens only a few times within a solar century; so I offer a Jewish teaching that is also referred to in the Qur’an —showing an overlap also in teaching among the two religions. The Mishnah (an early third century compilation of the oral Torah), states,
“Adam was created as an individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as if he had destroyed the whole world.” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)
And the Quran states,
“One who kills a human being, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, would be as if he slew the whole people, and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [Quran 5:32]
Academics explain the similarity of the two statements by assuming that since the Jewish statement is four centuries earlier than the Qur’anic one, Muhammad must have heard it from a Rabbi or other educated Jew in Medina. I disagree because I believe Muhammad was a prophet of God who confirms the Torah of Prophet Moses. Prophet Muhammad had no need to learn this statement from another human being.
Alternatively, academics might reply that the statement is not found in the written Torah; instead, it appears in the oral Torah written by the Rabbis in the Mishnah about 1,400 years after Prophet Moses. But the Rabbis maintain that the Mishnah is part of the oral Torah that was passed down from Prophet Moses through many generations, just as ahadith have been passed down orally through the generations. Indeed, the Quran itself introduces this statement as follows,
“It is because of this that We ordained for the Children of Israel, “One who kills a human being … [Quran 5:32]
No prophet of God needs to be informed by another human what should be written in Holy Scripture. God is the source of all Divine inspiration. There are several verses in the Qur’an that mention things also found in the oral Torah. My perspective is that prophets and Holy Scriptures cannot in reality oppose one another because they all come from one source. Prophets are all brothers to each other; it is as if they have the same “father” (God) and different “mothers” (motherlands. mother tongues, nations, cultures and historical eras), as indicated in the following hadith:
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3443)
All of these factors produce different rituals and legal systems, but their theology can differ only in small and unessential details. Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; rather, they cast additional light on each other.
Revelation Transcends History
Both Islam and Judaism share the outlook that although God’s revelation exists beyond space and time, it does in fact actually come into human possession during a specific time and place. A recurring feature of Ramaḍan, the Night of Power (Laylat Al-Qadr) commemorates the beginning of the Qur’an coming down to Prophet Muhammad; each year the peace and blessing of this Night is to be experienced anew and its fullest experience is to be searched for during the last third of the month of Ramaḍan fasting. Thus, Laylat Al-Qadr is more than just the anniversary of the specific night during Ramaḍan when the Qur’an’s revelation began. In fact, that trans-historical nature of the Night is suggested by the variety of different Traditions about the unfixed date of the Night of Power.
For example, according to one tradition The Prophet said: “Whoever wants to search for [this year’s occurrence of] this Night should search in the last seven nights [of Ramaḍan].” Yet in another tradition the Prophet is reported to have said: “Look for the Night of Power when nine, seven or five nights remain in Ramaḍan (i.e. from among the 20th to the 25th of Ramaḍan, inclusive).” But it is also said, “Search for it on the 29th, 27th and 25th” of Ramaḍan.
All these Hadith are from Bukhari. Add traditions from other Hadith collections, and the variety increases to seven different possible dates for the Night of Power: the 17th, 21st, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 27th or the last day of Ramaḍan. Prophet Muhammad certainly would have known the exact date of the first Divine revelation he received. So why did neither the Qur’an nor the Prophet reveal the date?
It is for the same reason that the exact date of the revelation of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai (Ṭur) is unknown to us, although this was a momentous historical event marking when the covenant was made between God and Banu Israel: sometime in the third month after God rescued the Jewish People from Egypt. That unknown precise date likewise marks the trans-historical, timeless natural event of revelation —whose impact is more like falling in love than celebrating the event mechanically on its historical date. How so?
Falling in Love?
Consider this comparison. I know the exact day when I and my wife were married. I do not know the day, the week or even the month, when I fell in love with her. A wedding is a specific event that can be commemorated. Forming a loving commitment is a natural ongoing process that must be experienced to be solidified. This is why the only two Jewish holy days that do not have a proscribed specific date [by month and day] are the weekly Sabbath and the once-a-year Shavuot. Shavuot is the Jewish holy day commemorating the beginning of the partnership commitment to the Covenant between God and Banu Israel).
Being chosen is an event; choosing is a process. One day, propelled by my growing love for my beloved, I proposed marriage. Two weeks later, she finally said ‘Yes.’ Four months later, on December 25, 1966 we were married. I may not know the exact day I fell in love enough to propose marriage, but I know it did happen, and that is really all that is important to our relationship.
During 55 subsequent anniversary celebrations our love has continued to grow. Experiencing each additional anniversary is more significant than our original wedding day. The consequences of the choice to marry seem more important than the original choice itself —provided, of course, the choice was the right one. Yet without the choice to make the commitment, the natural desire to love and be loved, would be unexpressed and unrequited: a terrible loss for both partners.
Experiencing even a small aspect of God’s revelation is, like love, an ongoing process for each generation. Thus both the Jewish Holy Day Shavuot and Muslim Holy Day of Laylah al-Qadr each have more than one “fixed date” on our yearly commemoration calendar. Very important things can have a varying “fixed date” because they are recurring reminders of original events with a trans-historical impact.
Divine Mercy Comes with Renewing One’s Closeness to Revelation
Because Shavuot and Laylah al-Qadr recur annually, this means that some doors of divine mercy will always remain open, even though prophetic revelation has come to a conclusion. This lack of a single fixed anniversary date shows us that it is not ultimately so important on what dates God’s revelation occurred historically, but rather do you live your daily life, now, as directed by God’s revelation. On the other hand, a community commemoration date brings believers together and intensifies their common experience.
All believers can, and do, receive power, knowledge and enlightenment from the same Holy One. After all, the Night of Power stands for salam and barakah, as the Qur’an says:
“Salam! This ’till the rise of dawn” [Quran 97: 5]
“We revealed it in a night of barakah.” [Quran 97: 1]
Salam (peace) and barakah (blessings) are best realized by those who have a traditional, communal date to renew their closeness to God’s revelations: for Jews this is Shavuot, for Christians this is Pentecost, and for Muslims this is Laylah al-Qadr.
If we all can live up to the ideal that religious pluralism is the will of God, then we will help fulfill the 2,700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah:
“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”… (Hebrew Bible, Isaiah 19:23-5)
In closing, let me suggest the following: Knowing Ramaḍan as the divinely chosen month for the major revelations to Abraham, Moses, Jesus —as well as to Muhammad, this should stimulate Imams, Rabbis, Priests and Ministers to include in their sermons during this Ramaḍan some positive thoughts that offer insight into each others’ Sacred Scriptures —especially relevant during this year when Jewish and Christian major holidays fall within the Muslim’s celebration of the month of Ramaḍan.
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TIME KEEPING METHODS
Mankind has always observed the position of the sun and the moon in their day and night skies and have used both solar (sun) and lunar (moon) observations and calculations in measuring the passage of time.
Unfortunately, the complete yearly “circuit” of the sun around the earth (365.256363051 days in 2000) and the complete monthly “circuit” of the moon around the earth (an average of 29.530588 days) do not easily inter-relate: Years and months are measured in fractions of days, not in whole numbers.
Today’s three “Abrahamic” religions differ from each other in their methods of calculating time —needed by each religion for working out the date of their communal holy days:
- Jews modify the length of the twelve-month lunar year with a “leap” month [added] seven times in every nineteen year cycle, so as to always keep the harvest pilgrimage festival of Hajj Sukkot in the Fall harvest season. This allows Jews to have a solar year calendar January 1 through December 31, as well as to keep some of the other holy days fixed on a recurring month and day-of-the-month for each year.
- Christians using a Western (Gregorian) calendar have a solar year of 365.2425 days with a “leap” day of February 29 intercalated [added] every fourth year; their calendar months last 30 or 31 days (except for the 28/29 day-month of February). They have a solar year January 1 through December 31. Their lunar calculations are needed only to determine a unified date for Easter on the Church calendar, and to keep Easter in the Spring season each year. Using their method, for any given year, Easter ranges from March 22 to April 25 for Roman Catholics.
For Eastern Orthodox Christians (using the older Julian calculation with a solar year at 365.25 days) the date of Easter for any given year ranges between April 4 and May 8.
- Muslims are prohibited from intercalating any day or month (or year) into their calculation of time (Quran 9:36-37); the Muslim year consists of twelve lunar months (each about 29.53 days per month), totaling about 354.36707 days for each 12-month lunar year. Each cycle, this leaves a further 11 or 12 days to complete the solar year (January 1 through December 31). Thus, the Muslim twelve-month cycle begins 11-12 days earlier each solar year, and with it Ramaḍan also moves forward by 11 or 12 days on the yearly calendar of roughly 365.25 days which make up one solar year.
Accordingly, the Muslim calendar is strictly a lunar-based year consisting of twelve months (354-1/3 days), without trying to align itself with a 364-1/4 day solar year.
The Muslim daily cycle, however, is solar-based— dependent on the position of the sun, as it is for Jews. One day ends and the next day begins at sundown.