Ramadan a sacred month determined by a secular calendar? Beware!

Despite the usual reticence towards time in the Caribbean, we need to at a minimum acknowledge that it is critical that the sacred days be properly determined.  Is the searching for the “Night of Power” in the last ten days  of any meaning if the beginning of the month of Ramadan was not properly determined?

The essential texts from the Qur’an and Hadith are the following:

1. Therefore, whoever of you sights the month, let him fast it. (Qur’an, 2: 185)
2. Fast at its sighting, and break (end) the fast at its sighting. (Muslim)
3  Do not fast until you sight the crescent and do not break (end) the fast until you sight it. (Bukhari)
4. If you sight(ed) it, then fast; if you sight(ed) it, then break (end) the fast; and if your vision is obscured then. (Bukhari, Muslim)
5. Complete the counting to thirty (days). (Bukhari, Muslim

It has become standard for those who seek “certainty” to use calculation to determine the beginning and end of the Islamic lunar month as it is an inconvenience to stay up late to await news of the possible sighting of the moon or to provide advance notice to employers etc.  The civil has overcome the sacred and the dunya considerations the akhira.  “Saudi” Arabia the land of the two holy cities uses what is called the Umm al-Qura calendar for its civil purposes.  There is no argument with the state using whatever method it deems fit to govern its territory.  Its the concern of its government and citizens to do as they wish.  The problem arises when this secular or civil need is being used to determine the sacred days of faith that brings about the confusion and controversy.

The issue as articulated by the experts throws the timely religious observation into disarray as much as the reformists wish to so called certainty to the debate.  Here is an extract of the facts as written in an explanation of the Umm al-Qura calendar.

Strictly speaking, the Umm al-Qura calendar is intended for civil purposes only. Their makers are well aware of the fact that the first visual sighting of the lunar crescent (hilal) can occur up to two days after the date predicted by the Umm al-Qura calendar.


“Since 1419 AH (1998/99 CE) several official hilal sighting committees have been set up by the government of Saudi Arabia to determine the first visual sighting of the lunar crescent at the begin of each lunar month. However, the religious authorities of Saudi Arabia also allow the testimony of less experienced observers and thus sometimes announces the sighting of the lunar crescent on an evening when none of the official committees could observe the lunar crescent or even on an evening when the lunar crescent actually set before sunset.


This often leads to confusion when the dates of important religious events in the month of fasting (Ramadan) or the month of pilgrimage (Dhul-Hijja) are changed. In nearly all of these cases, a retrospective analysis indicates that these extremely early reports of the lunar crescent are impossible and are based on false sightings. A recent study (Kordi, 2003) of 42 reports of observations of the Ramadan new moon, as announced by the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia  between 1962 to 2001, confirms that most of these were too early and based on false sightings (probably of a planet, a bright star or an airplane contrail).”


An analysis of the last eight years for the Umm al-Qura dates for the begin of the months Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhul-Hijja with the dates announced by the Supreme Judicial Council of Saudi Arabia (source: Fatwa-Online): Shows that “only in one case (Ramadan 1424 AH) was the lunar crescent first sighted on the evening after the evening predicted by the Umm al-Qura calendar. However, in seven cases (Shawwal & Dhul-Hijja 1425 AH, Ramadan & Dhul-Hijja 1427 AH, Shawwal-Hijja 1428 AH and Shawwal 1429 AH) the lunar crescent was supposedly first sighted on the evening before the evening predicted by the Umm al-Qura calendar with moonset occurring just before or even well before sunset.”


“In some cases the advancement of the month can result in a month length of 31 days which is awkward as Islamic tradition only allows month lengths of 29 or 30 days. In such cases one of the days in the month is reckoned twice. For instance, both Friday 28 December and Saturday 29 December 2007 were reckoned as 19 Dhul-Hijja 1428 AH. “

It is advisable therefore to be cautious and take heed of how sacred months and days are determined.

 More Reading:
Islamic Moon
Understanding the Controversies Regarding Moonsighting

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