Moon sighting in the 21st century
By Duraid Al Baik
Every year Muslims wait patiently for a committee to sight the moon for Eid to be declared. And most often there is confusion. Now religious scholars say the traditional ways of moon-sighting must be stopped and scientific methods adopted. The new moon will be detected with pin-point precision with the aid of modern technology.
This year the confusion has come a bit earlier – on Ramadan 28. The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia decided to meet yesterday evening to decide whether Eid would be today. As you read this the confusion may be sorted out, but if Eid has not been declared, you will have to brace yourself for another round of suspense. Will Eid be on Thursday or Friday?
The question religious scholars ask is why do Muslims put themselves through this confusion every year. Science and technology can detect the birth of the new moon.
Dr Ahmad Al Qubaisi, an expert on Islamic Sharia, told Gulf News that he has been calling upon the Muslim world to adopt scientific methods instead of depending on a committee to sight the moon. The committee faces a tough task which is made even more difficult if conditions are cloudy or hazy.
“We need to implement the achievements of science and perform our rituals. Development has been achieved by humanity. I have been calling for an end to this confusion – first at the start of Ramadan and then the declaration of Eids for years, but I admit that I have not succeeded,” he said.
“The Islamic Sharia encourages us to implement science in our lives whenever possible. Those who refuse to implement the spirit of Sharia and stick to the words of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) are not helping in unifying the celebrations of Muslims around the world.
“I understand the reason behind some refusing to adopt scientific methods. Muslims have great love and respect for Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) sayings which they call Sunna. Prophet Mohammad said: ‘You [Muslims] have to fast when you see the moon of Ramadan and end your fast when you see the moon of the following month or complete fasting for 30 days if you cannot see the moon.’ Those who believe in implementing what the Prophet ordered as a way of showing their respect and love for him will stick to moon sighting. The rest who prefer to use logic will adopt scientific calculations,” Dr Al Qubaisi said.
Dr Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, Grand Mufti and Director of the Fatwa Department in Dubai, said this year, the beginning of the fast was based on the fact that the Ramadan crescent was not a confirmed sighting. Hence, Muslims completed 30 days of Sha’baan according to the instructions of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said as narrated by Ibn Omar (a companion of the Prophet): “The month [can be] 29 nights, and do not fast till you see the moon, and if the sky is overcast, then complete Sha’baan as 30 days.”
The Prophet said, as narrated by Abu Huraira (another companion of the Prophet), “Start fasting on seeing the crescent [of Ramadan], and give up fasting on seeing the crescent [of Shawwal], and if the sky is overcast [and you cannot see it], complete 30 days of Sha’baan.”
He said instilling doubts in people’s minds on whether the fast had begun on the correct day was not necessary because the decision was made based on Sunnah and consensus of the Ummah (nation). Most Muslims began their fast on the same day this year. Dr Al Haddad was referring to Saudi Arabia’s decision to sight the moon yesterday, which meant that the fast had begun one day late.
He said the moon-sighting should not take place on Tuesday considering that Ramadan would not have been completed. Ramadan has to be a minimum of 29 days.
He said if it is possible to sight the Shawwal crescent on Tuesday night, then every Muslim will have to fast a day after Eid in compensation, because the month would have only completed 28 days. Today, Wednesday, will be Ramadan 29, not Ramadan 30 as published by some sections of the media.
“This error was not intentional. The day which Muslims began their fast was correct,” Dr Al Haddad stressed.