Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Based on Astronomy, Ramadan Is on Sept. 13
P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 12 July 2007 — Based on astronomic calculations, Sept. 13 (Thursday) will be the first day of Ramadan while Dec. 19 (Wednesday) will be Arafat Day during Haj this year, according to Sheikh Abdullah ibn Munie, a member of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars and the Umm Al-Qura Calendar Committee.

Sheikh Munie, however, pointed out that the new crescent of Ramadan and Shawwal should be sighted by witnesses to determine the beginning and end of the fasting month, in accordance with Shariah regulations.

He was apparently referring to a Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), which says: “Do not fast until you see the crescent, and do not break the fast until you have seen the crescent, but if the sky is overcast then enumerate for it.” (Bukhari)

Munie said this year’s Ramadan would have 30 days as it would end on Oct. 12, adding that it was impossible for Ramadan to start on Wednesday, Sept. 12. “The problem with sighting the crescent for Ramadan and Shawwal this year is that the crescent will disappear before sunset,” Munie said. The crescent of Ramadan will appear at 3.44 p.m. on Tuesday (Shaaban 29) and disappear at 6.24 p.m. five minutes before sunset.

He also announced the beginning of the months Rajab, Shaaban, Shawwal, Dul Hijjah and Muharram, after consulting astronomers in Kuwait and Egypt in addition to those in the Kingdom.

Islamic scholars around the world are divided on whether the beginning and end of Ramadan could be determined on the basis of astronomical calculations in the light of the Hadith recorded by Bukhari. While one group says modern technology could be used for the purpose, their opponents say sighting of crescent by naked eye is a must in the light of the Prophet’s instructions.

Syed Khaled Shaukat of the Islamic Society of North America believes that it is high time for Muslims to reach a consensus on the issue. “In the present era of scientific and technological advancement, some Muslims are still avoiding the use of scientific knowledge for making an Islamic calendar that makes people wait till midnight for a confirmation of moon-sighting,” he said. He stressed that calculations made with the support of modern technology are far more dependable than the claims of sighting. The most misunderstood question is whether the sighting is a means or a requirement of ascertaining the beginning of an Islamic month. The Fiqh Council of North America is of the view that physical sighting must go hand in hand with scientific calculations.

“Islam is a strong proponent of using reasons. Astronomy can accurately establish the time of birth of the new moon, and the time interval when it is impossible to see the crescent. Thus, there is no harm in using this astronomical basis to reject a claimed sighting which cannot possibly be correct,” one expert said.

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