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Moon Sighting for Ramadan and Eid

Updated on July 15, 2012

Beginning of Lunar Month - Invention of Global Islamic Calender (GIC)

Muslims around the globe adhere to the prophetic hadith that orders Muslim to start fasting during the month of Ramadan by seeing the new moon of Shabaan and stop fasting by seeing the new crescent for the month of Shawwal and celebrate Eid. Compliance with this ruling had been in existence from the early days of Islam but its interpretation has been taken differently by some to apply local moon sighting or across the spectrum of Muslim Ummah, around the world.

Though, aherence to the above prophetic hadith had been in practice for centuries but there had always been confusion and uncertainties in declaring the moon sighting due to many variables including weather & atmospheric conditions, air density, birth/conjunction of moon and its latitude etc. Often it becomes difficult to see the moon clearly but people come forward proclaiming that they have seen the new moon and there is no way of verification due to lack of ascertaining methods with the exception of proclaimed witnesses.

Controversies so created, compels people to start Ramadan fasting on different days and have two or more days to celebrate the Eid in the same city. The decisive polarization based on individual perception on this subject is so high that even members of the same family celebrate Eid on different days.Though Muslims firmly believe & adhere to the requirement of moon sighting locally but they are not well aware of the orbital cycling of it around the earth and are not willing to upgrade moon sighting process. Their hesitance in adopting a different line of approach in determining the new moon is jeopardizing the unity of Muslims in West, North America and around the globe, depicting disarray in their lines while celebrating religious days together. This is a very challenging issue Muslims are facing today. It has not been address effectively to adopt a unified solution for predicting the moon sighting due to lack of ascertaining means. The only confirming source is the witnesses that could be false and erroneous and often not challenged by the general public.

Need of a unified method:

Eid festival is a time when people would like to be with their respective family members and for that they may have to make necessary travel arrangement, take time off from their respective employers and make preparation for the day rather than waiting to the last minute announcement by the Mosques or the religious organizations. Assertion of new moon based on observation is a difficult process for areas with prolonged rain and cloudy weather.

Muslims who reside in the western world suffer lots due to uncertainties associated with moon sighting and late announcement by the jurist. It causes lots of inconvenience to Muslims and their respective employers, reflecting our inability to synchronies and resolve uncertainty in moon sighting process.

Currently we live in 21st century where time has changed drastically. We are well versed with the advance scientific & Astronomical knowledge that can be used to address this issue.

Moon Sighting-Conventional or Scientific Way

Adherence to moon sighting indirectly relates to the birth of moon first and then in due courses of time its probability of being seen if all governing parameters are favorable for the observation.Unless this requirement is met, moon could not be seen. For that month of Shabaan where new moon is not seen on 29th day of the month due to cloudy weather, Muslims are advised to use common sense & do enumeration and complete 30 days. Enumeration itself is counting/calculation that Muslims do by rational wisdom and reasoning to justify 30th day of fasting due to prevailing uncertainty.

Discourses on this subject have increased due to this re-cycling issue and people have approached jurists to take corrective action and chalk a unified line of approach in predicting the religious days well in advance so that people can plan the event properly.Presumably it was the duty of our Muslims Jurists to do ijtihad utilizing scientific knowledge and find a viable alternate method of moon sighting, acceptable to all Muslims around the globe. It required selection of an artificial location or time line and use that as a reference for declaring the start of the new month for Muslims to follow. This approach is the pre-requisite for unification of Muslims Umah on this issue.

In response to public demand, there had been many debates and conferences on this subject to solve the problem and Muslim Jurists around the world, came up with various proposals; dividing globe in different parts & regions with respect to the probability of moon sighting. Uni and Bi-Zonal approaches as well as Ikhtilaf Al-Matale (local moon sighting) vs. Ittihad A-Matale (Global moon sighting), were discussed emphasizing pro & cons of the proposals but their classification may not be acceptable to all concerned as disputes in moon sighting by necked eye will persist no matter whatever approach we take. Whether this requirement is a necessity or recommendation, is another issue that occupies our mental domain. These debates and discourses will not serve the purpose of synchronizing the event, unless we find an alternate method that overrides the physical aspects of seeing the moon and we agree to use the birth of moon as an alternate way of declaring the new moon. Though there may still be concerns not covered by this approach, but it may unify a vast majority of Muslims around the globe or at least those who live in the northern hemisphere. With this approach we are moving from seeing the moon to the time of conjunction and using it as a reference for predicting the day. If accepted & followed it will enable the Muslims to celebrate religious days together without jeopardizing our adherence to the prophetic hadith, except that we are opting birth of moon over seeing the moon.

Global Islamic Calendar

It may be necessary to understand moon, earth and sun basic configuration & orbital moves before coming to the required (GIC) that could be used in resolving uncertainties in moon sighting as these aspects were not known to our elders during early days of Islam.

One should know that moon does not die or take birth as generally being quoted. Often we use this notion to represent the new rotational cycle of moon which is a satellite of earth & revolves around the earth whereas earth and the moon together revolve around the sun. Its orbit and the orbit of earth around the sun is such that when moon comes in between the earth and the sun, moon’s surface facing the earth becomes dark as the sun rays that fall on moon and illuminate it, are blocked and do not get reflected for mankind to see that from the earth; but this phase does not last for long due to the rotational movement of the moon in its orbit. The moment sun rays get reflected from the surface of moon, depending on its rotational position; we say that the conjunction of moon has taken place. It takes about 14-24 hours from this time that the moon could become visible from earth.

Compliance with prophetic hadith implies that moon is seen and it could only be seen if its conjunction has taken place. Out of these two pre-requisites, Muslims were not aware of date line or birth of moon during early era of Islam. They were not well informed & equipped with the scientific knowledge and Astronomical calculation to think & predict the position of moon in its orbit in comparison to the orbit of earth and sun. Compliance with hadith was entirely based on mere observational aspect that was & is not free from uncertainty. Often falls sightings are reported contrary to the scientific calculation that dictates the probability of seeing the moon is zero in certain area. For example, in 2011 scientific probability of seeing the moon in the northern hemisphere was nil but contrary to that there were 10 witnesses in Peshawar Pakistan to verify moon sighting that compelled jurist to declare Eid on Aug 30, 2011 while the rest of Pakistan celebrated Eid on Aug 31, 2011. These were false sighting and clergy has no way to confirm except using Astronomical Data’s. Moon sighting will always remain an issue if we continue to rely on witnesses. Both false witnesses and environmental varying factors may impact on visibility. This creates kayos that need to be rectified for Muslims unity in celebrating religious events.

Proposal based on zonal approaches may not resolve the issue on long terms basis and it won’t be possible to reconcile and synchronize unverifiable moon sighting unless we adopt an artificial reference timeline with respect to UT/GMT or a specific timeline, mutually agreed upon by the Islamic Jurists.

Considering the contentious nature of moon sighting, Muslim Scholars around the globe have tried to address the issue during the last few years by dividing the globe in different zones, however; zonal approach does not solve the problem. In the continuing process, consultation were made with various religious authorities, Shura/Fiqh Councils, centers and organizations including ISCNA, ICNA, ISNA etc. and collectively jurist came up with different approaches based on date line consideringconjunction of moon before and after a set time relevant to the line which has been accepted and agreed upon by most of the religious organizations to follow in declaring moon sighting across the globe or at least in northern hemisphere.

It is known that International Date Line is used for setting date and time. Contraryto UT/GMT Muslims Scholars have opted to fabricate Makkah as reference location and date line passing through it as a reference time line for comparing the birth of moon before or after a set time that correlates to 0:00 GMT/UT and use that as an artificial means to declare the day for the beginning of Ramada and Eid-ul-Fitr.

Umm-ul-Qura Calendar was created as Global Islamic Calendar (GIC) using Makkah dateline as a reference point in order to standardize and unify Muslim Ummah regarding beginning of Lunar Months. As 3:00 pm of Makkah time relates to 0:00 (midnight) UT/GMT, it was decided to use this as a reference line to follow. Collectively it was decided that if the conjunction of moon has taken place before 3:00 PM Makkah Time, then the new month begins at the sunset of that day (same day) everywhere in the world; however, if moon is born after 3:00 PM deadline, then the new month start on the sunset of next day. GIC also follows the same convention of the day so that whole world can start Ramadan or Eid on the same day. This in fact is the right approach in right direction as it complies with the birth of moon and set a standard for Muslims to follow and unify themselves. It does not defy the prophetic hadith and fulfill our requirement at this juncture of time to unify our system.

It is quite unfortunate to see that even today with all scientific advancement, Muslims generally have adopted modern life style and are using planes for transportation, waves for propagation of signals for TV, Telephone; Microwave for cooking; automobile for transportation; x-rays, CT scan & MRI for health care etc. but when it comes to use scientific calculation in predicting birth of moon & use it as the starting point, some Muslims have resentment in accepting and complying with the GIC. They do not want to get over the frustration of waiting till midnight for the confirmation of moon sighting in spite of Muslim scientists having expertise and access to the technology to understand and calculate the birth of moon and predicting the probability of moon sighting, around the globe.

Note: Now days there had been a move to set Mecca time as a reference standard time line to replace Greenwich Mean Time which was established in 1884 during International Meridian Conference. It is being claimed that Mecca Time that uses the line of longitude that passes through Mecca, Saudi Arabia (39 deg, 49 min, 34 sec East of Greenwich Meridian, should be used as Prime Meridian. Muslims argue that Greenwich Meridian was imposed by Britain and Western government during the colonial period..

Conclusion

Muslims have two options to follow. One to follow the traditional method of moon sighting considering it wajib or obligatory, though this method is full of uncertainty and ambiguous or use a modified method that is in compliance with the prophetic hadith indirectly and unify the community by rectifying all uncertainties and ambiguities in declaring the beginning of the month of Shabaan and Sahwwal.

The new method adopted by North American Muslims Organizations and many Muslim countries, is not defying the hadith but is in support of it indirectly. Here we have taken into consideration the birth of moon with respect to an artificial date line that passes through Makkah at a certain time and use this as a reference for declaring the new moon.

Jurists have taken into consideration of moon set before and after sunset and concluded that conjunction of moon before 3:00 MT will decide the same day for the commencement of the new month and if it after 3:00 MT, the month will start the next day. It may appear to be over riding the necked eye observational aspect of the moon but it is in line with the conjunction of moon which would eventually be seen after 14-24 hrs. Rather than waiting for many hours to see the moon, scholars have moved to the origin of new moon and based on the calculatedtime, are predicting the birth of moon and deciding for the beginning of Ramada and Eid day.This is a very sensible and rational approach that Muslims should accept to modify our traditional way of determining the beginning of Ramadan and Eid day.

Mohammad Ashraf

Winnipeg. MB Canada

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      Nure Siddique 4 years ago

      Very useful topic but need high level sponsor to pass the message to all lead scolars around the world so that people in the same country observe Eid on the same day.