In the name of Allāh, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

THE CONTINUING PROBLEM OF MOON SIGHTING IN THE U.K. : A SOLUTION ON THE HORIZON?

بِسۡمِ اللهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِ

THE CONTINUING PROBLEM OF MOON SIGHTING IN THE U.K. :  A SOLUTION ON THE HORIZON?

 

The Saudi authorities have announced that the new moon crescent (Hilāl) for Ramadan 1443 AH, has been sighted in Saudi Arabia on the evening of Friday, 1st Of April 2022. So, once again, this means that there are two start dates for the month of Ramadan 1443 for Muslims in the U.K.  How frustrating!

All the scientific data was clear-cut, on this occasion,  that it was impossible to sight the new moon crescent (Hilāl) anywhere in Asia or Europe on Friday evening, 1st April 2022, even with the use of an optical aid. The scientists who calculate the new moon crescent visibility maps are also the ones who calculate our prayer times which we follow without question. If someone did indeed see the actual hilāl on Friday evening in Saudi Arabia then that would break the world record for sighting the new moon crescent. 

Some individuals including scholars have vocally denounced the Saudi moon sighting announcement in very strong words. Before criticising the Saudis on this issue, it is important to understand the Saudi Hijri calendar and their moon sighting announcements. It should also be stressed that the Saudi scholars have repeatedly told Muslims around the world to follow their own local moon sightings rather than the Saudi moon sighting announcements. Re-iterated here by Mufti Menk. Despite this, some organisations in the U.K. insist on following only Saudi moon sighting announcements for religious months based on following the fiqhi principle of global moon sighting (ittihad al-matali).

Many Muslim groups in the U.K in a coordinated effort have gathered data of hilāl sightings in U.K. only over a period of four years plus. This data shows that it is possible to establish a Hijri calendar for U.K. Muslims based on local U.K. hilāl sightings only. The original reason for importing moonsighting from a nearby local Muslim country (Saudi Arabia or Morocco) was based on the assumption that the hilāl cannot be seen in the U.K. This assumption is no longer valid, the number of Muslims over he past 4-5 decades has increased, many Muslim goups make an effort to see hilāl every month, many people have been trained in how to look for the hilāl.  Because they look for the hilāl every month they look for the hilāl on the correct day, i.e. the 29th, of the lunar month. Local moonsighting is the Sunnah which has been practised for over 1400 years throughout Islamic history, and since it has been proven that the hilāl can be sighted in the U.K. to establish U.K. based Hijri calendar then the U.K. Muslim community should follow such a path.

 

Eid-ul-Fitr 1443 (2022)

Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court has called on all Muslims in the Kingdom to look out for the crescent moon of Shawwal on Saturday evening, April 30th, 2022 (Ramadan 29th according to the Saudi HIjri calendar). If the moon is observed over the Kingdom on Saturday, Eid-ul-Fitr, 1st Shawwal 1443 Hijri will fall the next day on Sunday, 1st May, 2022. If it cannot be observed, Eid will fall on Monday, 2nd May, 2022, as reported by The National News on April 29.

The Astronomical New Moon (conjunction) is on Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 20:28 UT. The sunset time in Makkah on Saturday, April 30, 2022 will be at 18:45 UT. So the Saudi citizens will be looking for the hilāl before the conjunction of the moon, i.e. before the moon is even born. The physical evidence that the moon birth (conjunction) will be after sunset in Makkah is that there will be a partial solar eclipse visible in South America after the Saudi citizens have attempted to sight the hilāl in their own country. The only logical conclusion is that the Saudis and those following them started Ramadan 1443 a day early.  

Those countries, such as Turkey, France, Germany, Ireland and others, who follow a Hijri calendar based entirely on astronomical calculations will declare Eid-ul-Fitr to be on Monday, 2nd May 2022. (Criteria: elongation > 8° and altitude > 5° anywhere in the world)

For those U.K. Muslims who follow Morocco, South Africa and local U.K. moon sightings they will look for the new moon crescent on Sunday, evening, 29th Ramadan, 1443, and their Eid-ul-Fitr, 1st Shawwal 1443 could possibly be on Monday, 2nd May, 2022, but more likely to be on Tuesday, 3rd May.

Happy Eid whichever day you celebrate it on.

 

 

Understanding the Saudi Hijri calendar

1. The Saudi Hijri calendar is an amalgamation of eight months from the Umm-ul-Qura calendar based on astronomical data that the new moon crescent is above the horizon at sunset time in Makkah (since 1423 A.H.) combined with four months (Muharram, Ramaḍān, Shawwāl & Dhul-Hijjah) based on the testimony of a local Muslim that he has seen or not seen the new moon crescent(Hilāl). This superimposition of four months based on the testimony of local moon sighters on top of the pre-calculated Umm-ul-Qura calendar causes certain problems. The root cause is that the pre-calculated Umm-ul-Qura calendar is effectively based on the birth of the moon and hence is usually 1 day ahead of actual Hilāvisibility. Supporters of the Saudi system will point out the Umm-ul-Qura calendar is only for civil purposes. Yes, that is true but it determines which day the Saudi public are told to look for the Hilāl for the religious months (such as Ramadan and Dhul-Hijjah), and that can, in reality, be on the 28th of the Hijri month.  

 

2. Some people state that the Saudis adhere to the pre-calculated Umm-ul-Qura calendar and manufacture evidence if need be. This is a very serious allegation without any concrete evidence. These kind of allegations are likely to be false because there are several occasions where the Saudi authorities have deviated from the pre-calculated Umm-ul-Qura calendar based on the testimony of local Muslims. Furthermore, there are regional official hilāl sighting committees in Saudi Arabia who do look for the hilāl every month but the official sighting of hilāl (positive or negative) is only made for the four religious months and announced on the official government website وكالة الأنباء السعودية (spa.gov.sa). Research publications to suggest that the Umm-ul-Qura Calendar does psychologically bias the witnesses to claim a sighting when the moon is not visible to the human eye (Kordi, 2003).

In the following cases the announcement of moon sighting by the Saudi authorities was on the evening after the evening predicted by the Umm-ul-Qura calendar, Ramaḍān 1424 AH, Ramaḍān 1434 AH, Ramaḍān 1435 AH, Dhul-Hijjah 1436 AH, Dhul-Hijjah 1437 AH and Ramaḍān 1439 AH.

In the following cases the announcement of moon sighting by the Saudi authorities was on the evening before the evening predicted by the Umm-ul-Qura calendar, Shawwāl & Dhul-Hijjah 1425 AH, Ramaḍān & Dhul-Hijjah 1427 AH, Shawwāl & Dhul-Hijjah 1428 AH and Shawwāl 1429 AH.

3. Some organisations in U.K. who follow Saudi Hijri calendar have stated in their literature that the Saudi moon sighting announcements are based on naked eye sighting of the crescent moon (Hilāl). This is not true the Saudi scholars have stated that "Observatory instruments may be used in sighting the new moon but astronomical sciences cannot be relied on." Observation of the new moon crescent (Hilāl) by a trustworthy individual is to be acted upon according to fatāwa of Saudi scholars.

4. The Saudi scholars have consistently advised Muslims in other countries to follow their own local moon sighting to determine days for religious purposes including determining the days for fasting on the 9th Dhul-Hijjah and Eid-ul-Adha. 

 

Is the Saudi system flawed from a scientific and logical perspective

5. We know that

i) The birth of the moon (New Moon Conjunction) can be calculated very precisely.

ii) The crescent moon after the birth (conjunction) is invisible to the naked eye for 18-24 hours at least (but sometimes 30-40 hours). 

iii) The earliest visibility location of the new moon crescent starts from a different location on the Earth. And this location is not repeated for many years.

iv) Once the crescent moon (Hilāl) has been sighted at a particular location in the East e.g. Saudi Arabia then it must become visible in countries located to the West of Saudi Arabia on a similar latitude such as Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco. As the moon becomes bigger, brighter, higher and hence easier to sight. This fact is stated on the official Umm-ul-Qura website.

 

6. How is it that the new moon crescent is always seen first in Saudi Arabia rather than any other country?

7. Why is it that on many occasions when the Saudi authorities announce the moon being sighted in Saudi Arabia but it cannot be seen later the same evening in countries to the West of Saudi Arabia such as Morocco which has 278 designated moon sighting locations?

8. The astronomical moon visibility charts have been proven to have a high degree of accuracy and match actual observations in various countries over several years except for Saudi Arabia. The Saudi moon sighting announcements defy these astronomical moon visibility charts again and again.v 6 g cup

9. On many occasions the official Saudi moon sighting committees consisting of experienced moon sighters, a scholar, local government official and an astronomer equipped with modern technology, telescopes and binoculars all fail to sight the new moon crescent (T. Alrefay, 2018) yet the Saudi authorities announce that the new moon crescent has been sighted based on the testimony of a layperson. How is it possible for all the official Saudi moon sighting committees with all their experience to fail to see the new moon crescent yet the layperson does in the same location? As the Saudi astronomer, Dr. Ayman Kordi, from the physics and astronomy department at King Saud University in Riyadh, states what the layperson (crescent observer) saw was an illusion, but he cannot be refuted. The word of a layperson is accepted even if it is impossible to sight the new moon crescent, and hence an official announcement of the moon being sighted is made.

10. On occasions the Saudi authorities ask the local people to look for the new moon crescent before the moon is born as happened for the new moon crescent for Dhul-Hijjah 1442 (9th July 2021) or count the start of the month from the day of a solar eclipse, when the moon is invisible (eg start of Dhul Qaidah 1442 from 10 June 2021).

 

11. The ardent followers of the Saudi moon sighting system have been evasive over a number of years when invited to sit together with the opposing groups to discuss the issue.

12. Together these above points provide it would appear that the Saudi moon sighting system is flawed from a scientific perspective. The Saudi moonsighting announcements are based on the testimony of a Muslim. Whether or not it is possible to see the hilal according to science is irrelevant. Even if the moon is below the horizon, and someone bears testimony that they have seen the hilal, the testimony would be accepted. The system works well for the Saudis and countries where the whole country follows that system. The problem only occurs when we in the U.K. import that system to the U.K.

13. So rather than criticising the Saudis and their Hijri calendar and their moonsighting announcements, we in the U.K. need to all agree to follow one particular system. The only feasible system, to which everyone may be agreeable to, seems to be local moonsighting only rather than Saudi, Morocco or South Africa, or calculation based. Morocco is the nearest Islamic country but Saudi Arabia is much mo

 

A possible solution on the horizon

14. It is necessary to acknowledge that the Saudi moon sighting system although very convenient to follow is flawed and hence could have an effect on our acts of Ibadah e.g. missing on a Fard fast during Ramadan or fasting on the wrong day for 9th Dhul-Hijjah.

15. A number of individuals and groups have worked very hard and managed to collect data for 4 complete years for local U.K. moon sighting which shows it is possible for U.K. Muslims to have their own Hijri calendar based entirely on local moon sighting. It is the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad  and a communal obligation to try to sight the new moon crescent every month locally in order to establish a local Hijri calendar (Tafsir Mariful Quran 2:189). This system of having a U.K. Hijri calendar based entirely on local moon sighting although the best method does require local community support to be a success. This is probably the only solution which none of the various Muslim groups, organisations and denominations in the U.K. will object to. (Ref. moon sighting.org.uk)

16. It is the responsibility of the masjid management Committees to cooperate with one another and look into this issue in depth to determine the most suitable method for determining Islamic dates for their Musallees. 

 

Dr. A. Hussain, April 2022