November  25, 2020

by James Smart

A fancy magazine from the Muslim world
Newspaper columnists often get put on the subscription list of magazines, and that’s why I receive the bi-monthly “Aramco World.” It’s published by Aramco Americas in Houston, Texas.
          Saudi Aramco, officially the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, is a multinational petroleum and natural gas company based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and owned mostly by the Saudi government.  It’s perhaps the largest company in the world, with about 76,000 employees and annual revenue of about $329 billion.
             The eight by ten inch, 40 page magazine is always full of lavishly illustrated articles about Muslims in America and in their home countries, past and present. The current issue includes articles about a sitar player in Maryland, and Syrian-Lebanese teenage baseball players in the 1930s.
              Along with the current issue came a calendar for 2021. It’s the usual Gregorian calendar we are all familiar with, except that in the upper left corner of each day is a little number. On January first, the little number is 17.
              That’s because it’s the 17th day of the Hijri calendar, used by Muslims around the world to determine the dates of religious events. It is based on 12 lunar months.
               Traditionally, a new month begins when a new moon is sighted. The beginning of each month is contingent on the visibility of the moon at the end of the previous month. Once the moon is sighted, the new month commences.
               All sorts of people have been messing with the calendar for centuries. The Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in what most folks now call 46 B.C., was improved by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, with 365 days per year plus a leap day every four years.    
                It was also Gregory who first moved the start of a new year from March 25 to January 1.
               The Gregorian Calendar has three fewer days in every 400-year period than the Julian Calendar. Some Eastern Orthodox churches continue to use the old Julian calendar for religious observances
                Though most of the world had abandoned the Julian calendar, Great Britain didn’t officially change to the Gregorian calendar until 1752, under King George II, which must have caused a lot of confusion. As an example, George Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1732, but the calendar change made his birthday Feb. 22.
                  The Islamic lunar calendar year is not designed to match up with the length of a solar year, so it does not have a correction factor like the leap days in the Gregorian calendar. For each year that passes, Islamic dates fall on earlier dates in the Gregorian calendar.
                   And the “Aramco World” magazine keeps coming, offering free subscriptions to what it calls “a limited number of readers worldwide.” I’m glad I’m one of them.
                    It takes 33 years until the Hijri year has cycled around through a full Gregorian year, and a given Islamic date again falls on the same Gregorian date.The Gregorian year, though, is 25.96 seconds ahead of each solar year. That will add up to a full extra day -- in the year 4909. I can’t wait.


​​​​Of All Things

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​   James Smart's Philadelphia