As usual confusion as to when Ramadan begins this year is abound. IT really does surprise me as to how a LOT of people cannot get their heads around basic astronomy and continue to ignore facts – oft blaming those using facts of being ignorant themselves.
Islam uses a Lunar calendar. From one new moon until the next is called a Lunar month and is usually 29.5 (29 and a half) days. So please understand clearly that a Lunar month doesn’t fit nicely into the category of exactly 29 or exactly 30 days, it is squarely in between.
Getting to the point. Sighting of the new moon (‘hilal’) for the beginning of any Lunar/Islamic month is NOT a religious matter. It is a scientific one. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, the month preceding is called Shabaan.
So when does Shabaan end and Ramadan start?
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said: “Observe fast on sighting it (the new moon) and break (fast) on sighting it (the new moon), but if the sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of 30).” Sahih Muslim; Hadith No 2379a
So the Islamic tradition is to attempt to observe the new moon yourself on the 29th of Shabaan, failing that because 1) it is not there to observe or 2) your view is obscured (cloudy evening/night) you are to complete 30 days of Shabaan and begin the 1st of Ramadan straight after. Hence why I stated that the observation of the moon is a purely scientific matter.
Was the new moon even visible?
Let’s get some visibility FACTS for the UK. For the evening of Sunday 5th June 2016 – was the new moon actually there to be seen?
The chart above clearly shows that it was NOT visible from the UK. In fact, it wasn’t visible from ANY of the traditional Islamic countries in the Middle East, Asian Subcontinent and eastern Asia. So it would be impossible to report a sighting from anywhere in Saudi Arabia, therefore you should be completing 30 days of Shabaan and starting 1st of Ramadan on Tuesday 6th June 2016. However interesting to note is that it WAS visible from the continent of South America, and possibly visible from the far West of Africa using an optical aid (i.e. not with just your eyes).
Now lets look at the chart of Monday 6th June 2016:
Now the new moon is clearly visible from the entire world, for the first time for this new moon it includes the whole of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. So tonight it should be easy to spot the new moon BUT it is also the 30th day of Shabaan – so you would start Ramadan on Tuesday 7th June 2016 anyway!!! You don’t need to go out and find the new moon.
Just to validate this further with scientific fact:
So why are there so many announcements for 1st of Ramadan for today, Monday 6th of June when very clearly scientifically is WRONG. There are 2 possible reasons
1. Someone somewhere follows the principal of Global Sighting and accepts a sighting from South America (Sao Paulo in Brazil?) as valid for them in Europe, Africa, Asia or the Middle East. This position is actually valid but not many people follow it.
2. Someone saw something and mistook it for the new moon e.g. Venus, Saturn, a satellite or other object in space. Yes, this has actually happened before. But it is 2016. An age of science, of HD and 4K cameras, of advanced astronomy and astrophysics, advanced photographic capability. Yet not ONE single institution or government that declared Ramadan for today Monday 6th June 2016 has provided an iota of photographic or direct evidence. Not one. Says something doesn’t it?
Well onto reason 3. I did say 2 possible reasons, I know! But reason 3 is my conspiracy theory (sort of). A while ago Saudi Arabia adopted a standard calculated (yes calculated, NOT observed) Lunar calendar. This calendar goes by the name of the Umm al-Qura calendar, it contains key Lunar dates for the next 10+ years. Here it is in all its glory:
My personal belief is that there is a single-minded decision to stick to these dates as much as possible, regardless of observation/visibility of the new moon. Why? Simply because of the headache of having to update many dependent systems both Financial and IT related which interact with global systems using the solar calendar. The headache is immense in having to do this every few months, but no excuse really.
Chaos in the UK
OK, so the Saudis make a decision to fit in with their calendar requirements. So why the big argument in the UK about the start of Ramadan repeated each year? Well the primary reason is the number of Saudi funded mosques in this country, adherents who never question the decision made, never seemingly ask for any proof and refuse to debate claiming it is a religious matter for higher authorities when clearly is purely a scientific matter. Is it that hard to ask for photographic proof from the religious ministers?
In fact the Director (no less) of the Astronomical Observatory at Majmaah University, Abdullah Al-Khudairi, actually claimed the day before (Saturday 4th June 2016) that the new moon will appear the next day for “20 minutes after sunset”. How on earth did he know this, and then if this was fact why not announce 1st of Ramadan as Monday 5th June 2016? Did they capture any photographic evidence on the Sunday to share with the world? See where this gets totally confusing. Here is the article as proof:
Anyway a cool new site (WebSurf 2) for technical data can be found here:
Interestingly, it contains a section on Islamic Prayer Times as well as the Crescent Moon Visibility which is the important factor in selecting the 1st of Ramadan for the Islamic Year. I salute the organisation providing this information.
Some more reading: http://www.moonsighting.com/soomu-hadith.html
A positive attempt by Wifaq ul Ulama to unite on moon sighting issues in UK: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://www.wifaqululama.co.uk/images/pdf/Unified.pdf
And a very interesting and highly relevant approach to calculating Fajr time in Birmingham, UK: OpenFajr which has been accepted by Birmingham Central Mosque.
More about Umm ul-Qura: http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/islam/ummalqura.htm
Good Luck, God Bless and Ramadan Mubarak – whenever you decide to do it!