Moon Sighting: Islam and Science


By Ahmad Hamid

Every year for the past thirty years in NYC, the beginning of Ramadan and the observance of Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha are enveloped in controversies. Muslims are confused with the citation of “authorities” with regard to the interpretation of the laws.

All Muslim jurists despite their school of thought (Madh-Hab) and organizations use the same collection of ahadith on moon sighting, but arrive at different conclusions. Despite international conferences and discussions at the highest levels, theologians (Ulama) have been unable to reach a consensus. (i) Should we adhere to global sighting? (ii) Is it sound to use scientific calculation to determine the crescent? (iii) Should we follow Saudi Arabia in the declaration of the crescent?

The difference of opinions among the Ulama has created difficulties and tension in every community – Caribbean is no exception – with regard to the observance of Eidul Fitr, Eidul Adha, and the beginning of Ramadan. The Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Chinese use a lunar calendar, but do they experience the divisions and indecisions as the Muslims? Examine how the Christians set the date of Easter and the Jews the Passover.

A lunar month has 29 days, 12 hours, and 44 minutes. A lunar month is 29 or 30 days. A lunar year is less than 11 days than a solar year. This is the reason why each year, an Islamic observance moves forward by 11-12 days. The new moon is called a black moon. A new moon does not give light. In its movement around the earth, a portion of its surface by degrees will be seen from earth. This is the crescent that heralds the beginning of a month.

The crescent is not seen by the entire world at the time of “birth”. At times it is impossible to see the crescent with the naked eye. This leads to another questionable practice according to the Ulema of using a scientific instrument to see the crescent.

Many Muslim countries use scientific calculations to determine the beginning of a month and do not depend on an actual visual sighting, e.g., Turkey. At a conference in Europe, it was agreed to begin a month based on scientific calculations.

Those who object to scientific calculations must be reminded that we use scientific calculations to determine the time for each Salaah. At the breaking of the fast there is a fanatical approach with the agreement of time stated for sunset (calendar, cell phone). Here the Prophetic traditions of climatic conditions are forgotten. I have witnessed many instances when the eastern horizon is red yet the Adhan is given and Muslims quickly break the fast.

This year was no different. For some Wednesday May 16 (FCNA) was then first day of fasting and for others Thursday May 17 (Saudi Arabia). The Fiqh Council had declared in advance that the first day of fasting would be on Wednesday May 16 based on scientific calculations. In the event we adhere to astronomical calculations, the source that gives the information must be authoritative.

The beginning of Ramadan may go unnoticed but Eidul Fitr will be a big issue involving the schools, Mayor, Governor, and the entire community of Muslims. The declaration of Eidul Fitr to be on Friday June 15 as a school holiday will be tested. Maybe this will be a unifying issue that since the city will declare Eid a school holiday, Muslims will follow. The city must receive authoritative guidance in advance on the declaration of the date.

This is a statement on Eidul Fitr 2018: “The Astronomical New Moon is on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 at 19:43 Universal Time. On that day there is no place on earth where at sunset the elongation is 8 degrees and moon is 5 degrees above the sun. Therefore, Shawwal cannot start the next day. Hence, first day of Shawwal 1439 is on Friday, June 15, 2018.”

No matter what information is given, Muslims have a mind set. They will continue to insist on a particular position: local sighting versus global; physical sighting versus scientific calculations. This division will be here with us for a very long time. The best approach is to follow the instructions of the Imaam or the executive committee who are the real authority. Their decision is aimed at unity and to avoid problems. A Masjid cannot afford to have division among its members. Which day is Eid… Friday or Saturday?


The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.