By Rabbi Allen S. Maller
According to a Hadith cited by ibn Kathir in elucidating Qur’an 2:185; Ramadan is a very special month because this one month in the Islamic lunar calendar was the same month when four of God’s books of revelations were sent down to four special Prophets: Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.
Ibn Kathir states: Imam Ahmad reported Wathilah bin Al-Asqa` said that Allah’s Messenger said: “The Suhuf (Pages) of Ibrahim were revealed during the first night of Ramadan. The Torah was revealed during the sixth night of Ramadan. The Injil was revealed during the thirteenth night of Ramadan and Allah revealed the Qur’an on the twenty-fourth night of Ramadan.” (Ahmad 4:107 and Musnad 177025).
I do not know how Christians would understand the revelation of the Injil on the thirteenth day of Ramadan, but the Jewish holy day of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses and Banu Israel, falls on the sixth day of the Jewish month of Sivan, which in that year must have coincided with the month of Ramadan.
Christians use the solar calendar of the Roman Empire to calculate the birthday of Jesus, but they do use a lunar date for Good Friday and Easter. Jews, who do use the lunar calendar for all their religious dates, modify the length of the year with a leap month seven times in every nineteen year cycle, so as to always keep the harvest pilgrimage festival of Hajj Sukkot in the fall harvest season.
Thus, it is not obvious that these four revelations, which happened so many centuries apart, actually occurred in the same lunar month, and thus Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share a sacred month of revelation. “He has ordained for you of religion what He enjoined upon Noah and that which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what We enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus – to establish the religion and not be divided therein…” (Qur’an 42:13) The statement ‘not to be divided therein’ applies both to internal division within each religion and to external division between the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Allah could have made the beginning of each revelation start at the same time by using the same calendar: “It is God who made the sun a (steady) radiating light; and the moon a reflecting light determining for it phases – that you may know the number of years and the count [of time]. Allah has not created this except in truth. He details the signs for a people who know.” [Qur’an 10:5]
But Allah didn’t: “To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but (He didn’t in order to) test you in what He has given you; so strive (compete) as in a race to do good deeds. You all will return to Allah; then He will inform you about that in which you used to differ.” [Quran, 5:48]
For more than 1.000 years all the world’s major calendars have included the year as well as the month and day.This seems normal to us but for most of recorded history calendars only recorded the month and day. The year was counted from the start of a king’s or a dynasty’s rule. When a new king or dynasty came along, a new count was started again.
Only major religions that last for many centuries produce an epochal calendar that can outlast political states and empires. Thus, all the world’s major calendars today are based on a religious epoch.
Christians know their calendar starts its epoch from the birth of Jesus. Muslims know the Muslim calendar begins its epoch with the flight of Muhammad from Makka to Medina. Buddhists know that their epochal calendar starts with the enlightenment of Siddhartha under a Bodhi tree. But most Jews would be hard pressed to explain what happened 5,781 years ago to begin the Jewish calendar.
By analogy to the Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist calendars one might expect that the Jewish calendar starts with the birth of Abraham or Sarah (the first Jews), or from the Exodus from Egypt (the trans-formative experience of the Jewish people), or from the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (the enlightenment of the Jewish people).
But the second century Rabbis who made up the calendar Jews currently use, chose to begin the Jewish calendar with Adam and Eve i.e. the beginning of human written history and civilization.
The word Adam in Hebrew means mankind/Homo Sapiens– the species. The exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden symbolizes the transition of humanity from a nomadic stone age society of hunter-gatherers, to a more advanced metal working, copper age, society of farmers and village dwellers.
By starting the Jewish epoch calendar with a historical transition that would eventually have a universal impact on all of human society, the second century rabbis followed the lead of the Torah which also begins not with Judaism, but with the rise of the world’s earliest urban civilizations and the beginning of written history and revelation.
The Qur’an marks the same spiritual transition from polytheism to monotheism when it proclaims Adam as the first prophet of monotheism. For the first 2,000 years none of God’s prophets succeeded in establishing an ongoing monotheistic community that lasted long enough to leave a recorded history.
“And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah, confirming what was with them, a party of the people who were given the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if they did not know it!” (2:101)
And “Those who disbelieve are steeped in arrogance and defiance. How many generations have We destroyed before them? They cried out when it was too late to escape. And they marveled that a warner had come to them from among them. The disbelievers said, “This is a lying magician.” “Did he turn all the gods into one God? This is something strange.” The notables among them announced: “Go on, and hold fast to your gods. This is something planned. We never heard of this in the former faith. This is nothing but a fabrication. (Qur’an 38:2-7)
Finally, Prophet Abraham, his two sons, and the six hundred Jewish prophets among Abraham’s descendants, changed that situation and this is why the three Abrahamic religions have each produced their own religious epoch calendar which is ongoing to this very day.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 400+ articles in some two dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. He is the author of two recent books: “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms’ and “Which Religion Is Right For You? A 21st Century Kuzari”.