HomeCalendars, measures and rhythms of time: associations and conflicts

Calendars, measures and rhythms of time: associations and conflicts

Calendriers, mesures et rythmes du temps : associations et conflits

Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée

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Published on Monday, November 26, 2012 by Elsa Zotian


La Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée lance un appel à propositions pour un numéro thématique consacré aux calendriers, aux mesures et rythmes du temps. Ce numéro voudrait être l’occasion de donner un premier inventaire des techniques de mesure du temps, et des rythmes qu’elles induisent, replacés dans leur contexte social et historique. La réflexion s'articule autour de trois axes principaux : La mesure du temps ; les circulations, emprunts et conflits ; les rythmes du quotidien.



The history of time, as established by historiography, focuses mainly on Western experience. In his pioneering work, David Landes (Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of Modern World, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983) argues that "it is the mechanical clock that enabled, for better or for worse, a civilization which is sensitive to time, and therefore to productivity and performance.” When Norbert Elias (Du temps, Paris, Fayard, 1996)  rightly emphasizes that the notion of time is not transcendental, preceding or independent of experience, but a socially and historically constructed phenomenon, the time to which he refers and which requires a "high-level of synthesis”, is the time of the West. When Europeans began their colonial exploration and conquests, they were well aware of the idea that controlling time was an indicator of modernity and that it must be spread by the work of civilization.

Today, although seemingly cohesive with the physical definition of a Universal Time and the widespread use of the Gregorian calendar, the notion of time should not necessarily be assessed using linear or evolutionary approaches, but rather with consideration for the complexity of events, given the specific historical contexts in which they take place. Thus, the Western chronology of the history of time and of the transformations of the awareness of time (e.g. going from the ‘time’ of the Church to the ‘time’a of the merchant in the late Middle-Ages, Industrial Revolution, etc.) finds little in common with the history of North Africa and of the Middle East. In this region, characterized by an already complex situation in which multiple notions of time are intertwined, as influenced by the Greeks, Arabs, Turks and Persians, the arrival of Islam, with its new time and new religious calendar, the politico-religious wars, or even the particular conditions of modernization – all contribute to punctuating the history of time. To understand the specificities of the history of time and its measurements in the Arab and Muslim world, it is important to first carefully observe a chronology of history.

This region, in which the first calendars come into existence, is characterized on one hand by the depth of its history, which resulted in a stratification of measures and concepts of time, and on the other, by its ethnic and religious diversity which produced a simultaneous juxtaposition of these measures and concepts. The history of time in the Arab and Muslim world is far from linear, but rather, includes episodes of competition or even of conflict, opposing political and religious powers, or even just religious powers amongst themselves. And when in the 19th century the West introduces the ‘time’ of the clock and the Gregorian calendar (itself in a colonial situation, or elsewhere, less drastically, through modernizing states), it is just a new function that is added to many others already in place.

Despite the complexity of the notion of time in this region, until now, the subject has never been analyzed from a long-term perspective taking into consideration multiple levels and borrowed and exchanged components. Some research has been done on these issues, including on ancient calendars and on the concept of time in Islam. Les Ottomans et le temps (Georgeon François et Hitzel Frédéric, Brill, Leiden – Boston, 2012) recently offered a number of answers; but the debate should be continued and regional specificities questioned. This edition of REMMM would like to provide an opportunity to give an initial inventory of techniques for measuring time, and of the rhythms they induce, reconsidered within their social and historical context. This is an essential preliminary work which addresses issues related to the transformation of the awareness of time and of the idea of time as an experience.

The study may be approached from three angles, separated in the list below, but potentially brought together and evolving around one theme:

  • The measurement of time

Here, the history of time from a tangible, quantifiable, and systematic point of view would be studied, based on the calendar and on clock time. Evolving from the hegemony of the Julian calendar (which coexists nonetheless with other calendars, including Coptic, Jewish, Persian and Armenian), the Muslim lunar calendar is adopted by a majority, but it does not become universal. It does not replace previous calendars and it leaves room for the emergence of new ones. For practical reasons, Muslim authorities, followed by Abbasid and then Ottoman ones, adopted a fiscal calendar similar to the Julian calendar. The Catholic Reformation, followed by colonization and Westernization, then introduced the Gregorian calendar. Almanacs and Ottoman Rûznamés mention the complexity of these calendar references. This angle also allows for the study of the broader issues of dating, determining eras and the role of events. The definition of clock time also has a long history. This brings the research back to astronomy and to gnomonics, the art and science of sundials, including the 'ilm al-Miqat (the determining of prayer times). These disciplines have been addressed so far only as matters of science, and must now be considered within their social and political contexts, and confronted with modern physics. The question of civil time, which up to World War I reads in two different ways (in Turkish and Frankish), must also be considered in the context of regional diversity, along with the process of time unification, starting in the nineteenth century, driven by the tools of modernity (telegraphs, railways, ...) and international requirements.

  • Elements borrowed, exchanged and subject of conflict

Just like the definition of clock time, calendars are results and instruments of power. The institutional organization of time is a distinct sign of domination which various powers, political and/or religious, have always fought over. The simultaneous stratification and juxtaposition of measures, as exposed here above, is overlapped with multiple conflicts. It was not without difficulty that the Hijri Calendar was imposed at the beginning of Islam, and astronomers therefore had to abandon the planets as an explanatory principle, in favour of God. Persian Shiism, however, has its own solar calendar. The question of adopting the Gregorian calendar, claimed by Rome from the Eastern Catholics, caused many conflicts, even scissions, within this community in the nineteenth century. Orthodox churches in the region in turn adopted it, during the twentieth century, with the exception of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In 1874, the triumph of secular time, now counted, rational and “modern”, happened in Egypt at the cost of the removal of the Coptic calendar, even though the latter continued for a long time to rhythm agrarian life. Conflicts and compromises which mark the history of time in the Arab and Muslim societies must be thoroughly documented.

  • Daily rhythms determined by these different measures

It is based on these measures that individuals and groups manage their activities. While rural rhythms have long been punctuated by natural elements and structured using the Julian calendar (solar), cities require the presence of more subtle markers of time to organize their complex activities. It is also in cities that conflicts of time and of counting time, which oppose different segments of society, are more visible. At the level of everyday life, the succession of day and night, once rigorously marked by the opening and closing of markets and neighbourhoods, but also by Muslim prayers, remains influential, resulting in the existence of two distinct worlds to analyse at different times, leading up to today. The weekly rhythm of different communities is influenced by the liturgical and cultic time and marked by non-work days (Friday vs Sunday). The annual calendar also follows the rhythm of religious events (festivals, fasts, pilgrimages...), as well as political ones (tax collection, ceremonies and commemorations...) and seasonal ones (summer breaks). Competition for imposing one dominant time, or at least a legitimate one, is reflected in a city’s space, particularly through sound markers (calls to prayer, bells, cannon shots, etc.). The analysis of these different rhythms up to current times and the identification of moments of rupture or transformation, may provide valuable clues for the construction of a proper chronology of the history of time in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Submission guidelines

Proposed abstracts (4000 characters maximum) can be sent by email to Sylvia Chiffoleau : sylvia.chiffoleau@gmail.com

 before March 29th, 2013.

Selected papers must be submitted before September 1st 2013.

Scientific board

Fariba Adelkhah (Ceri/Paris), Denise Aigle (Ephe/Umr Islam médiéval/Ifpo, Damas), Elisabeth Allès (Umr Centre d’études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine), Ahmad Beydoun (Université libanaise, Beyrouth), Larbi Chouikha (Ipsi – Université de la Manouba), Nathalie Clayer (Umr Centre d’histoire du domaine turc), Jocelyne Dakhlia (Ehess, Iismm), Jean-Claude David (Gremmo-Mom, Lyon), Stéphane Dudoignon (Cnrs, Paris), Paul Dumont (Université Marc Bloch, Strasbourg), Iman Farag (Cedej, Le Caire), Philippe Fargues (Institut européen, Florence), Leila Fawaz (Tufts University, USA), Andrée Feillard (École française d’Extrême-Orient, Jakarta), Halima Ferhat (CNR, Rabat, Maroc), Marc Gaborieau (Centre d’études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du sud), Jean-Claude Garcin (Université de Provence/Iremam), Michael Gilsenan (New York University), Nilüfer Göle (Ehess, Paris), Denis Gril (Université de Provence/Iremam), Masachi Hanéda (Center of Oriental Studies, Todei University, Tokyo), Abdelhamid Hénia (Université de Tunis), Bernard Hourcade (Umr Monde iranien), Robert Ilbert (Université de Provence/Mmsh), Baber Johansen (Ehess, Iismm), Gudrun Krämer (Freie Universität, Berlin), Françoise Lorcerie (Cnrs-Iremam, Aix-en-Provence), Denis Matringe (Centre d’études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du sud), Sabrina Mervin (Umr Monde iranien), Abdelwedoud Ouldcheikh (Université Marc Bloch, Strasbourg), Alexandre Popovic (Ehess), André Raymond (Université de Provence/Iremam), Christian Julien Robin (Laboratoire d’études sémitiques anciennes, Paris), Alain Roussillon (Genèse et transformations des mondes sociaux CNRS-EHESS), Jean-Louis Triaud (Université de Provence/Iea), Jean-Pierre Van Staëvel (Université de Paris 4), Gilles Veinstein (Collège de France/ Centre d’histoire du domaine turc), Mercedes Volait (Citeres/Emam, Tours), Thierry Zarcone (Centre d’histoire du domaine turc, Paris)



  • REMMM-MMSH, 5 rue du Château de l'Horloge
    Aix-en-Provence, France (13100)


  • Friday, March 29, 2013


  • calendriers, mesure du temps, monde musulman


  • Sylvia Chiffoleau
    courriel : sylvia [dot] chiffoleau [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • François Siino
    courriel : siino [at] club-internet [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Calendars, measures and rhythms of time: associations and conflicts », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, November 26, 2012, https://calenda.org/229400

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