RAMADAN AND EIDAIN IN MODERN TIMES

In determining days of Ramadan and Eidain, many countries, especially the gulf states such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, and Jordan adopt a casual approach in sighting the crescent moon within their own frontiers and instead rely upon the declaration of Saudi Arabia. For this reason, it is submitted that Ramadan and Eidain in the Middle East is more of a political issue than a religious one. On the contrary, the religious scholars of countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Morocco etc. have always treated the Saudi announcement with scepticism and to date have relied more strongly on the actual sighting of the crescent moon within their own countries.

The experience of the past 26 years has shown that in Saudi Arabia the declaration of Ramadan and Eidain is usually one or two days and sometimes even 3 days before the declaration made on the basis of "True Ru'yah" in the rest of the Muslim world. Many people including some religious scholars, due to their emotional and sentimental links with Saudi Arabia have started to claim that the Ru'yah in Saudi Arabia which occurs one or two days ahead of anywhere else is not just a possibility but a certainty. Their ignorance only goes to show that people are willing to accept something which is wholly improbable and a figment of their imagination. This complex paradox is explained in some detail in the following paragraphs.

THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR

The Islamic legal system includes the administration of the Islamic calendar with appropriate machinery. The Islamic State places a special emphasis on Astronomical Research and it becomes a standard element in formal religious and legal education. Dr Mohammed Ilyas, Head of Astronomy and Atmospheric Research, University of Science, Malaysia, describes the following general rules in his recent publication[1].

  1. Maximum number of consecutive months of one type:
    30 days-months: 4
    29 days-months: 3
  2. Length of month:
    not less than 29 days
    not more than 30 days
  3. Length of year:
    not less than 354 days
    not more than 355 days
  4. (a) Each new month begins with the first moonlight of the new crescent on the western horizon after sunset.

(b) Try sighting on the 29th but if cannot be sighted (even due to cloud), then complete the month as of 30 days.

(c) The sighting report must be supported through a witness report according to Shari'ah rule.

(d) The person must be reliable, adult, truthful, sane with good eye-sight (implied).

(e)  The sighting report should not conflict with basic scientific understanding and natural laws; indeed, a professional scientist's involvement is essential to ascertain the reliability of the reported sighting. The scientific test would include a check on related parameters: the shape of the crescent position in sky and altitude time of observation sky conditions

(f) Sighting must be carried out in an organized way for each month.

(g) There is an inherent strength in the Islamic system, which helps avoid the accumulation of an error. Shari'ah also allows for the correction of a mistake; suppose on the 28th of an Islamic month, the new moon has been sighted, a correction will be made to the beginning of the month since a month should have 29 or 30 days only. Suppose the concerned month is Ramadan, then an extra fast would have to be completed after Eid.

The Islamic lunar month commences at the time of sunset upon sighting of the crescent moon and ends on the first sighting of the next crescent moon which can be after 29 or 30 days. In his book "Bidayat-ul-Mujtahid", Allama lbne Rushd (renowned Muslim scholar and jurist) has quoted the unanimous opinion of the Ulema that the Islamic month has 29 or 30 days and that the basis of its start and finish is upon the physical sighting of the crescent moon. Furthermore, the sighting has to occur after the period (2 days) when the moon is hidden because of its conjunction with the sun; one day before the conjunction and one day after. Revered Muslim scholars also maintain that the Islamic month is never 28 or 31 days. Islamic Shari'ah states therefore, that the beginning and the ending of the Islamic month depends on the physical sighting of the crescent moon. This will only occur on the 29th day of the on-going month after the MAHAAQ (CONJUNCTION TIME, Astronomical New Moon), when the moon has moved such a distance out of the sun's rays that it can be seen by the naked eye m the form of a crescent after sunset. From this it is also clear that one cannot see the moon (in the form of a crescent) before or immediately after the Astronomical New Moon. A claim of sighting at or around this time would be termed extremely dubious if not completely false.