Tuesday, August 10, 2010

About Determining the Start of the Holy Month of Ramadan

From the Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya:

Dear Respected Believers

Salam Alikum - Peace & blessings upon you

As the Holy Month of Ramadan draws near, it is important for all Muslims to understand the basics of how this month is determined. Months in the Islamic calendar follow a lunar system, meaning that the months are determined through observation of different phases of the moon. As the moon revolves around the earth, it reflects different amounts of sunlight, so that we see only parts or the entire moon. At the end of every month, the moon fades away and a new moon is born. At that phase, the moon cannot be seen in the night sky. With passing time, the moon changes its position so that it reflects more and more of the sun's light. When the new crescent moon is seen in this phase, a new month begins.

On the 29th of the month, Muslims around the globe observe the night sky and try to sight the new crescent moon and determine the beginning of the month. If the new crescent moon is sighted on that night, the next day will mark the beginning of the month. If the moon is not seen on the 29th, the 30th day is considered the last day of the month. The following day will then be the first day of the next month.

Our Grand Jurists have different opinions on some of the particulars of moon sighting, therefore we will briefly address the following topics:

How the moon is sighted?
Whose testimony do we rely on?
The validity of astronomical data.
Sharing the curve of sighting

How the moon is sighted?

The first issue is in regards to how the new crescent moon is sighted. Jurists, including His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Al-Sistani, hold that the possibility of observing the new crescent moon by the naked eye needs to exist, without the use of any optical aid.

Whose testimony do we rely on?
Because most individuals cannot observe the new crescent moon themselves, Islam gives individuals other methods for confirming the beginning of the lunar month. The individual can rely on the testimony of two just men who sighted the new crescent moon in their area. A general consensus among the people as to the beginning of the new lunar month can also be used to verify a sighting, if it is in line with the opinions of the jurist one emulates.

The validity of astronomical data

Our jurists have also addressed the question of the validity of astronomical data in determining the new lunar month. Based on the experts who provide astronomical data, they emphasize that their data does not predict the visibility of the moon with certainty (Source: http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/astronomical-information-center/cres-moon-islamic); they can only calculate with high precision the time of birth of the new moon. Therefore, it cannot be relied on with certainty in determining the sighting of the new crescent moon. In addition, we can rely on astronomical data to verify where the new crescent moon cannot be seen.

Sharing Curve of Sighting
A sighting of the new crescent moon in a city can be used to determine the beginning of the new month in that city and its vicinity. According to the view of His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Sayid Ali Al-Sistani, if the new crescent moon was sighted in one area, the sighting can also be used to determine the beginning of the month in areas sharing the same curve of sighting. In such areas, the altitude and size of the new crescent moon is close to one another. (To find out altitude and size of the new crescent moon at any location, please refer to the following site: http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/astronomical-applications/data-services/alt-az-us)

In conclusion

Based on the astronomical data there are no possibilities of the new crescent moon to be sighted in North America at sunset August 10th, 2010 (please refer to this site: http://www.crescentmoonwatch.org/assets/F2010Aug10.pdf).

The Crescent Committee of the Council of Shia Muslims Scholars in North America will be announcing the details of the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan soon insha Allah.

We ask the Almighty God to bless you in this Holy Month, and to shower you with His Mercy and advance you further in your work.

Salam Alikum

Perhaps people who follow a different marja such as Sayyid Fadlullah will be starting fasting on a different date; there is no need for concern or alarm over different dates being observed as long as each person exercises due diligence. Even in one family people might have different starts and different 'Eid dates, which has concerned people in the past but there is no need for such concern. It is not disunity if there is more than one 'Eid prayer or more than one night of Laylatul Qadr amaal - we can be unified by supporting each other in the differences in our observances which are done with due diligence.

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