The Quran is unrivalled in its literature and within the thousands of verses revealed, there is one that describes the months of the (Hijri) year in a way sacrosanct only to the words of Allah s.w.t. In Surah At-Taubah, verse 36:
إِنَّ عِدَّةَ ٱلشُّهُورِ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًۭا فِى كِتَـٰبِ ٱللَّهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضَ مِنْهَآ أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌۭ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلْقَيِّمُ ۚ فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا۟ فِيهِنَّ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ وَقَـٰتِلُوا۟ ٱلْمُشْرِكِينَ كَآفَّةً كَمَا يُقَـٰتِلُونَكُمْ كَآفَّةًۭ ۚ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلْمُتَّقِينَ
“Indeed, the number of months ordained by Allah is twelve—in Allah’s Record since the day He created the heavens and the earth—of which four are sacred. That is the Right Way. So do not wrong one another during these months. And together fight the polytheists as they fight against you together. And know that Allah is with those mindful (of Him).”
(Surah At-Tawbah, 9:36)
In this verse, one can see that the mention of ‘twelve months’ is coupled with the creation of the heavens and earth, which display Allah’s creation of the universe and with it, ordained the laws of time. The enormity of this statement is then linked to Humanity and the forbiddance of oppression, which signifies the sacredness of these months and religion. The verse is then ended with a call to piety, a virtuous trait that is sought in all circumstances.
These four months are what masters of Quranic exegesis like Imam At-Tabari, Imam Ibn Kathir and Imam As-Sa’di elaborate much on. They hold a special place in Allah’s act of creation and therefore, should hold a special place in our hearts as well.
In a hadith recorded by Imam Al-Bukhari, the four months were mentioned by name. The Prophet s.a.w. said:
"The division of time has turned to its original form which was current when Allah created the Heavens and the Earths. The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: Three are in subsequent Zulkaedah, Zulhijjah and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab of (the tribe of) Mudar which comes between Jumadith-Thaniyah and Sha’ban."
The Prophet s.a.w. concludes for us that the four sacred months in Islam are Zulkaedah, Zulhijjah, Muharram and Rejab. These months were known to be sacred even before the day that Rasul s.a.w. relayed the hadith. Even in pre-Islamic Arabia, wars were forbidden in commemoration of the four months and the Arabs respected these months. One could also observe that the months coincide with the time where Muslims can do the pilgrimage.
Upon the wisdom of our Muslim scholars, they have theorised that the meaning to the names of the sacred months is as follows:
Despite these insights, the sacredness of these four months is not ultimately based on the reverence for the seasonal rituals in them. Instead, it is Allah s.w.t. The Exalted who had pre-ordained their sanctity in which everything else may fall into place. Our daily practices and religious rituals are bounded to the greatness that Allah s.w.t. has woven into our daily lives and only He holds the ultimate wisdom and knows the true virtue of all things.
We can uncover some of the virtues of the sacred months through studying our treasury of knowledge, the Quran and Sunnah. Why are the four months sacred and to be revered? Why should a believer maximize his time in these months? The following are some lessons from our scholars:
1. Allah s.w.t. claimed the greatness of these months
There is an excerpt in Imam Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir in which he says:
“Allah has chosen the chosen ones from His creation; He chose messengers from the angels and Messengers (prophets) from mankind; and He chose Zikr (words of remembrance) from the many words; and He chose from the surface of the earth places to make worship (mosques); and He chose Ramadan and the Sacred Months from the months (of the year); and He chose Friday from amongst the days (of the week) and the Night of Power from all the nights (of the year). So glorify what Allah has glorified, because glorifying that which Allah has glorified are amongst the matters of the learned and those of intellect.”
In Islam, there is a principle that whatever Allah s.w.t and the Prophet s.a.w. acknowledge as good, are also acknowledged by Muslims faithfully with conviction. In the months of the year, Allah s.w.t has claimed that the four mentioned are the greatest and because it is a decree from Allah s.w.t, surely there are merits to honouring these months. For example, when one does worship in these four months, their rewards will be multiplied simply because it is observed in it.
2. Blessed times and occurrences
Allah s.w.t has made it so that the four months contain many significant dates and events. In Zulhijjah, we have special days that entails bountiful rewards for pilgrims and non-pilgrims alike. They are such as the day of Arafah, the three days of Tashriq and Hari Raya Aidiladha.
One should also take advantage of the first 10 days of Zulhijjah, which are considered to be the best days of the year. In Rejab, it has been narrated that the Prophet made the journey of Israk and Mikraj to meet Allah s.w.t. beyond the heavens. In Muharram, fasting becomes worship which ranks amidst the highest order which one can perform. The Prophet s.a.w. said:
أَفْضَلُ الصِّيَامِ بَعْدَ شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ صِيَامُ شَهْرِ اللَّهِ الْمُحَرَّمِ
“The most excellent fast after (fasting) in the month of Ramadan is the fast in Allah's month: Muharram.”
These are but some of the blessed times and occurrences in the sacred months, which if we were to reflect on it, is more than what we can ask for.
Knowing the importance of the four sacred months can be useful, only if one were to act upon it. The following are some guidelines to be in tune with the sacredness of it all:
1. Avoid the bad
The mentioned verse 36 of Surah At-Taubah earlier on emphasises the prohibition to wrong the other: “So do not wrong one another during these months.”
Oftentimes it is easy to identify the bad that others do but it becomes a challenged to recognise our own misdeeds. Rather than trying to justify the acts that we have been doing, avoiding these acts in the four sacred months could be a game-changer that we have been looking for.
A person can perform ‘muhasabah’ to reflect on the errors done, be it to friends, family or even to strangers. These months can be an opportunity to stop being unfair to oneself. A person can be used to committing acts that will have to be answered for later on The Judgement Day. Putting an immediate stop to the bad that we do might be hard but the four months are good options to start with in a blessed time for abstinence.
2. Maximise your acts of worship, especially on these special days
There is a popular saying in Arabic which states: “Knowledge without practice is like a tree without fruit.”
We know now that Zulkaedah, Zulhijjah, Muharram and Rejab are truly blessed and each good deed will entail multiple rewards. This knowledge will only prove to be useful if it is acted upon. Throughout the four months, one can have a schedule for fasting, giving charity and increasing supererogatory prayers.
If these acts might seem a bit too ambitious for a start, one can begin a gradual momentum of doing good deeds with simple acts such as saying zikir, praying on time and giving gifts with the intention to spark joy in others. Simple forms of zikir that can be repeated easily time and again are such as:
سُبْحانَ اللَّهِ وبِحَمْدِهِ، سُبْحانَ اللَّهِ العَظِيمِ
Subhanallah wa bi hamdihi, subhanallahil azim
One can also look out for special dates during the four months and act accordingly. It could be the case where these deeds eventually save us from hellfire and grants us the ticket to the highest Paradise.
3. Gear up for change
One interesting trend about the four months is that three are subsequent to one another while the fourth (Rejab) stands by itself a few months away from the other three. Allah s.w.t. has set it so and is in no way arbitrary. A pearl of solemn wisdom that can be extracted from this particular arrangement is that it presents to a person a period for change. Let us take a look at this scenario:
Upon entering the blessed month of Zulkaedah, one can work towards changing for the better, in the span of three months, till the end of Muharram. After trying to rid of all the bad practices and inscribing new habits in these three sacred months, one will tend to feel more inclined to make the change more seriously. It would seem like a waste to return to who one was and to see all those efforts go down the drain.
Therefore, one can continue to put in the effort for the change made and get accustomed to it till the sacred month of Rejab comes, signalling again for a time to change, especially for the preparation of Ramadan. The cycle then continues two months after Ramadan with the three sacred months again.
Due to the three sacred months occurring in succession, it could also be an opportunity to embark on a benevolent quest (other than trying to change for the better). One can attempt to achieve resolutions in these three months. For example, one may try to write a book or even take up a healthy diet. The months are blessed and so are the actions of a person as long as it does not infringe on Allah’s restrictions.
At the end of the day, be it within the sacred months or in other months, the message of having piety/taqwa is clear. Allah s.w.t. reminds the believers that He is with those who are pious. Allah s.w.t. will aid and support those who abide by His commandments and abstain from His prohibitions, whenever and wherever the person may be.
One should know, as a deterrent, that sins committed during the sacred months will be multiplied the same way rewards will also be multiplied, making the four months an even greater focus for piety/taqwa.
We want an ending for our days in heaven and it doesn’t happen by chance. Therefore, it is only fitting that we try to embrace the sacred spirit of the four months. We can never tell which week we go through will be our last. Therefore, let us look towards making the best of the years that Allah s.w.t. has determined for us.