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Volume 60, Number 6November/December 2009

In This Issue

Six Decades | 2010 PDF

Aramco World / Saudi Aramco World 1949-2009

“Preference for cooperation and … deep respect for Saudi Arabia’s heritage marked Aramco’s philosophical break with an era of one-sided resource exploitation in the Middle East.”
—William Tracy, “Aramco World Turns 50,” Nov/Dec 1999

globeThe story of Aramco World—predecessor publication of Saudi Aramco World— begins in November 1949 in New York, at Aramco’s headquarters, then at 505 Park Avenue. The company was 16 years old; World War II had been over for four years. In Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, oil production was soaring to 40 times its wartime levels. To the Americans, “it was as if a new frontier were opening:

Seemingly unlimited resources were being discovered in an unknown land,” wrote former Aramco World assistant editor Bill Tracy. “Following so closely the horror of two World Wars, the boom was exhilarating, easily understood as a sign of a brighter future.”

The company had grown to more than 1000 employees, and every year, more and more of them were moving to work in Dhahran. Before departure, each new employee received a handbook containing not only the company’s rules, but also advice to help bridge what Tracy called “the natural but enormous cultural gaps” between America and Saudi Arabia. As the workforce grew, in 1949 Aramco’s executives launched a newsletter that, in its opening paragraph, announced its intention to “break down walls of isolation so that our people in America will be helped to see beyond their immediate surroundings.”

But that first issue lacked something essential—a name on the front page. The winner of the naming contest turned out to be the college-sophomore daughter
of Aramco comptroller Bill Trust. Today, Anne Trust Daly is a retired middle-school teacher and mother of five grown children.

Listen to Anne Daly’s story.

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Aramco Newsletter - Volume 1, No. 1

“My dad had come home and said that the in-house paper was going to be published and needed some names. And he said, ‘If you are interested, it is a fifty-dollar prize.’ Well, of course, I was in school, and that sounded really quite good,” she recalls from her home in Connecticut. Until this year, when Saudi Aramco World contacted her, she had lost touch with the magazine she named. “I’m very impressed with it, and when I was teaching, it would have been a wonderful addition to the information we had in the classroom. At the time, we had nothing to compare with it.”

In this photo published in January 1950—the date of the first issue to carry the name Aramco World—Anne Trust receives her $50 prize from Aramco president William F. Moore. Anne Trust Daly
Carl Von Hoffman; Owen Oxley
Far left: In this photo published in January 1950—the date of the first issue to carry the name Aramco World—Anne Trust receives her $50 prize from Aramco president William F. Moore. In college and on a tight schedule, “I didn’t even consider asking to leave class five minutes early,” she recalls. “I had to really tear down there. I was a couple minutes late, and my father was very upset because the president was waiting.”

Patterns of Moon, Patterns of Sun

Written by Paul Lunde

It is he who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light (of beauty), and measured out stages for her, that ye might know the number of years and the count (of time).
—The Qur’an, Chapter 10 (“Yunus”) Verse 5

The hijri calendar

In AD 638, six years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s second caliph ‘Umar recognized the necessity of a calendar to govern the affairs of the Muslims. This was first of all a practical matter. Correspondence with military and civilian officials in the newly conquered lands had to be dated. But Persia used a different calendar from Syria, where the caliphate was based; Egypt used yet another. Each of these calendars had a different starting point, or epoch. The Sasanids, the ruling dynasty of Persia, used June 16, AD 632, the date of the accession of the last Sasanid monarch, Yazdagird III. Syria, which until the Muslim conquest was part of the Byzantine Empire, used a form of the Roman “Julian” calendar, with an epoch of October 1, 312 BC. Egypt used the Coptic calendar, with an epoch of August 29, AD 284. Although all were solar, and hence geared to the seasons and containing 365 days, each also had a different system for periodically adding days to compensate for the fact that the true length of the solar year is not 365 but 365.2422 days.

In pre-Islamic Arabia, various other systems of measuring time had been used. In South Arabia, some calendars apparently were lunar, while others were lunisolar, using months based on the phases of the moon but intercalating days outside the lunar cycle to synchronize the calendar with the seasons. On the eve of Islam, the Himyarites appear to have used a calendar based on the Julian form, but with an epoch of 110 BC. In central Arabia, the course of the year was charted by the position of the stars relative to the horizon at sunset or sunrise, dividing the ecliptic into 28 equal parts corresponding to the location of the moon on each successive night of the month. The names of the months in that calendar have continued in the Islamic calendar to this day and would seem to indicate that, before Islam, some sort of lunisolar calendar was in use, though it is not known to have had an epoch other than memorable local events.

Though they share 12 lunar cycles—months—per solar year, the hijri calendar uses actual moon phases to mark them, whereas the Gregorian calendar adjusts its nearly lunar months to synchronize with the sun.

There were two other reasons ‘Umar rejected existing solar calendars. The Qur’an, in Chapter 10, Verse 5, states that time should be reckoned by the moon. Not only that, calendars used by the Persians, Syrians and Egyptians were identified with other religions and cultures. He therefore decided to create a calendar specifically for the Muslim community. It would be lunar, and it would have 12 months, each with 29 or 30 days.

This gives the lunar year 354 days, 11 days fewer than the solar year. ‘Umar chose as the epoch for the new Muslim calendar the hijrah, the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad and 70 Muslims from Makkah to Madinah, where Muslims first attained religious and political autonomy. The hijrah thus occurred on 1 Muharram 1 according to the Islamic calendar, which was named “hijri” after its epoch. (This date corresponds to July 16, AD 622 on the Gregorian calendar.) Today in the West, it is customary, when writing hijri dates, to use the abbreviation AH, which stands for the Latin anno hegirae, “year of the hijrah.”

Because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar, it is therefore not synchronized to the seasons. Its festivals, which fall on the same days of the same lunar months each year, make the round of the seasons every 33 solar years. This 11-day difference between the lunar and the solar year accounts for the difficulty of converting dates from one system to the other.

The Gregorian calendar

The early calendar of the Roman Empire was lunisolar, containing 355 days divided into 12 months beginning on January 1. To keep it more or less in accord with the actual solar year, a month was added every two years. The system for doing so was complex, and cumulative errors gradually misaligned it with the seasons. By 46 BC, it was some three months out of alignment, and Julius Caesar oversaw its reform. Consulting Greek astronomers in Alexandria, he created a solar calendar in which one day was added to February every fourth year, effectively compensating for the solar year’s length of 365.2422 days. This Julian calendar was used throughout Europe until AD 1582.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian liturgical calendar was grafted onto the Julian one, and the computation of lunar festivals like Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, exercised some of the best minds in Christen­dom. The use of the epoch AD 1 dates from the sixth century, but did not become common until the 10th. Because the zero had not yet reached the West from Islamic lands, a year was lost between 1 BC and AD 1.

The Julian year was nonetheless 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long. By the early 16th century, due to the accumulated error, the spring equinox was falling on March 11 rather than where it should, on March 21. Copernicus, Christophorus Clavius and the physician Aloysius Lilius provided the calculations, and in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII ordered that Thursday, October 4, 1582 would be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582. Most Catholic countries accepted the new “Gregorian” calendar, but it was not adopted in England and the Americas until the 18th century. Its use is now almost universal worldwide. The Gregorian year is nonetheless 25.96 seconds ahead of the solar year, which by the year 4909 will add up to an extra day.

Converting Dates

The following equations convert roughly from Gregorian to hijri and vice versa. However, the results can be slightly misleading: They tell you only the year in which the other calendar’s year begins. For example, 2010 Gregorian includes all but the first 14 days of AH 1431, and it includes the first 25 days of AH 1432.

Gregorian year = [(32 x Hijri year) ÷ 33] + 622
year = [(Gregorian year – 622) x 33] ÷ 32

Alternatively, there are more precise calculators available on the Internet: Try www.rabiah.com/convert/ and www.ori.unizh.ch/hegira.html


Paul Lunde Paul Lunde ([email protected]) is currently a research associate with the Civilizations in Contact Project at Cambridge University.

This article appeared on pages 17-32 of the November/December 2009 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 2009 images.