The Moon that Divides – an individual’s observation

The Moon that Divides – an individual’s observation

It has become a common place to find the debates raging amongst Islamic leaders in deciding the beginning and end of the holy month of Ramadan and the subsequent two Eids that follow. We are in the Gregorian 21st century and even after 1432 years of Hijri we could not come to a conclusion regarding this debate. It seems to be the same story year after year and we do not seem to keep track of any lessons learnt from previous years to justify any improvements in our decision making process regarding the sighting of the moon. In my 35 years of living in Canberra for the first time the local Canberra Mosque having officially announced that Eid-Ul-Fitr would occur on Wednesday 31st August 2011 on the evening of Monday 29th, made a change to their decision for the Eid to occur on Tuesday instead at Fajr time on the same day based on decisions made in Indonesia and Malaysia creating a sense of disunity in the small Canberran Muslim community. Why do we have to continue this debate each year ? What are some criteria of seeing the Hilal Moon? Can we not use Science to assist us in making a credible decision? In this article I examine the issues that divide us on moon sightings.

The Crescent sighting simulation below from clearly show that the Shawwal moon will only be seen on 30th August from most part of the world including Aus (see Green Band below for 30th August cf. Green Band above for 29th August).

An overcast nite in Canberra on Monday 29th August provided little chance of seeing the moon even though astronomers at Canberra’s Mount Stromlo observatory pointed out that it was impossible to sight the moon on that day based on lunar data and their past experience. Never the less few brothers tried to observe the moon from the observatory but failed to do so. According to the Sunnah we were advised by the Canberra Imam to fast the following day anticipating 30 days for Ramadan and yet a decision at Fajr takes place the following morning to reverse this, based on sittings in other countries .

Reuters reported that the Indonesian government declared Eid for Wednesday. The Ministry of Religious Affairs in Jakarta said the decision was made after consultations with astronomers, Muslim scholars and other experts who determined that Eid al-Fitr will fall on August 31. In Indonesia at least two criteria are used in determining moon birth: Hisab, which is based on mathematical calculations, and Rukyat or direct observations of the lunar cycle. Both methods are used to determine the emergence of the first crescent moon at the beginning of Hijriah months, known as Hilal.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) indicated fair chances for sighting the moon of Shawwal, 1432 Hijri on the evening of August 30 and Eid-ul-Fitr was likely on August 31 (Wednesday) subject to confirmation by the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee. The astronomical data indicated the chances for sighting of moon on the basis of astronomical parameters which are essential for sighting the new moon of Shawwal.

The Associated Press of Pakistan reported that the age of the new moon should be more than 31 hours at the time of twilight for its sighting, whereas this time, it will be more than 34 hours in most parts of the country. The minimum duration for the new moon after sunset should be more than 41 minutes, whereas, at this occasion, it will be more than 40 minutes in coastal areas of country. Also the positions of new moon and its angles at the time of sunset will also be favourable for sighting of the new moon in coastal areas. Since conditions for sighting the new moon of Shawwal on August 30 were consonant with the prescribed criteria, therefore, first day of Shawwal will be on Aug 31 in the country. reported that Bahrain was expected to start its Eid Al Fitr celebrations on Tuesday, according to a leading astronomer. Dr Al Nasser said the declaration was based on several criteria, including the birth of the moon at Mecca (signalling the start of a new month in the Islamic lunar calendar) before sunset, for it to be seen after sunset and the sighting of the new moon to be confirmed by witnesses. “As we take Mecca as the central location where the moon will be born on Monday at 6.05am, this means that the lunar month will begin on Tuesday and Eid will start on that day,” he told the GDN. The astronomer added Ramadan moves 11 days forward each year, so with Eid expected to fall on Tuesday, Ramadan should begin on July 20 next year. reported that Malaysia uses two methods of sighting of the new moon (Kaedah Rukyah) and calculation based on the expected visibility (Imkanur Rukyah) criteria to determine the first day of Shawwal or Eid Ul Fitri, Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim) director-general Othman Mustapha said. reported on Tuesday 30th August amongst others that Dr. Shabbir Ahmed (MCW member) Imam of Rooty Hill Mosque Sydney, NSW reported: On August 30, the Hilaal of SHAWWAAL 1432 has been sighted in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra. In each place more than 10 people have seen the moon. Therefore, the Hilaal Committee and Majlisul Ulamaa’ of Australia declared that the month of SHAWWAAL 1432 will commence from Wednesday, 31st of August 2011.

It seems obvious that many countries are relying on astronomical data to support the lunar sitting and even Saudi Arabia uses the Official Ummul-Qura Calendar based on calculations to determine commercial dates for the purposes of business and banking and alter this calendar accordingly after a positive moon sighting is carried out later indicating the beginning of the month. I called a mosque in Jakarta to confirm the Eid on Monday nite for my sister who is visiting Bali and the mosque confirmed the same as the government for a Wednesday Eid. In the past Perth was often consulted for a sighting but Perth has a two hour time difference with Canberra, although we are in the same continent. Should we then not wait two hours before making a decision in Canberra?

Did you know that the new moon (at birth) or the Conjunction as it is known cannot be seen even by the most powerful telescope The astronomical new moon happens when the moon comes between earth and sun and this cannot be seen as it is completely dark.

According to my research the general criteria for sighting the moon are:

* The “new moon” is not visible.

* The minimum age of a visible crescent ever reported was 14 1/2 hours after the conjunction (new moon) at sunset.

* A difference of 20-40 minutes between the sunset and the moonset is needed for crescent sighting.

* Until 7 degree angular separation of moon from sun, no light of sun reflected by the moon can come to the earth, because of the mountains and the craters on the surface of the moon that block the sun light.

* Unless the crescent altitude above horizon is above the glare of the sun (8 degrees), crescent can not be sighted. []

The critical piece of the puzzle here is the sun-earth-moon angle as the sunlight falling on the surface of moon is not reflected to the earth until about the angle of sun-earth-moon becomes 7° because the mountains on the surface of the moon block the sunlight until the angle becomes 7°. It takes about at least 13 hours after “new moon phase” to see the crescent even from telescopes. For naked eye this time is about at least 15 hours or so. It does not mean the a 13 hour or 15 hour old moon will always be visible. In some months moon is not visible from any place on earth until it becomes 23 hours old []. So just by taking the moon birth time and whether the moon is still up after the sunset from our newspapers is not enough a measure to sight the moon as noted above.

The Qur’an says: “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed and the stars and trees – both (alike) bow in adoration.” (Al-Rahman:5). By all means site the moon according to the Sunnah but use scientific data to backup or guide your sightings and as this article shows it is a complex environmental combination of light and angle to view that golden crescent. On the issue of using observations in other countries eg. KSA, well Saudi is 7 hours behind Canberra. When it is Dhohr time in KSA it is time for Maghreb or Isha prayer in Canberra, would we pray Dhohr at Maghreb time by following KSA time? Why then should we follow KSA sighting as we are living in Canberra? Does not make any sense! These days we carry Smart Phone technologies in our hands that have more computing power than computers that put men on the moon 42 years ago and yet we do not use this technology in the practice of Islam. I am hoping for the next Eid we can be proud of asking our public servant bosses for leave confidently knowing when Eid is to occur Inshah Allah.

[Note: This article is based on my own research and interest in this issue and I have used other articles from the Internet. Any errors are unintentional and corrections are welcome]

Articles referred to for information source:

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