Sunday, 31 October 2004

Ramadhan Id crescent: Muslim scholars continue to differ on sighting of the new moon

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 31: With the Id-ul-Fitr just a few days away, Muslim religious scholars are once again divided over the methods they should adopt for the sighting of the new moon.
The Id-ul-Fitr falls on the first day of Shawwal, the 10th month of Islamic Hijra calendar which follows the fasting month of Ramzan. While orthodox Muslim scholars argue that the crescent should be visible to the naked eye without the aid of any equipment like telescopes, those with modern outlook feel that meteorological and scientific help should be sought to sort out the controversy.
Moulana Peerzada Shabbir Naqshbandi, president of All-India Religious Leaders' Association, says there should be a hilal or moon-sighting committee at the national level with representation to hilal panels of all States. "Ours is a vast country with the second largest Muslim population in the world. Yet we do not have a centralised hilal committee. In the absence of such a panel, there are occasions when Id is celebrated on different days in different States. I feel Muftis and meteorologists should sit together and discuss the issue," he observes.
The Moulana put forth the proposal before Central Minister for Wakf Meera Kumar recently and she had reportedly agreed to consider a Central hilal committee. State Wakf Boards and State governments should work in coordination with the Central panel so that there's a uniformity in the Id celebrations all over the country.
All-India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary-general Abdul Rahim Qureshi told this correspondent that the University of Science, Penang, Malaysia, which is carrying out a research on the universalisation of Islamic Lunar Calendar, had stated that the possibility of the formation of the new moon could be considered based on meteorological observations.
Rahim Qureshi, however, adds that it cannot be taken with a finality unless the crescent is seen with an unaided eye. He suggests that for a uniformity of the Id celebrations in the Indian sub-continent, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh should be considered as one "matla" (common zone). If a moon is sighted in any place in any of these countries, it should be considered as if the moon had been seen all over.
Stating that some Muslim countries have been following "Imkane-Ruhiyat" (possibility of moon sighting) system, Rahim Qureshi argues that telescopes could not be used at all. "Binoclulars are OK," he points out. New moon or black moon forms on the day of Amavasya but it takes about 24 hours or more to become a crescent depending on the altitude.
Islamic scholars in India insist that the crescent should be sighted with the naked eye and not the new moon with the help of meteorological calculations. However, scholars in Saudi Arabia follow a fixed lunar calendar based on meteorological calculations.
Says Hafiz Shujath Hussain, for the moon to be visible to the naked eye, it must set after the sun has set. Many Muslims use this condition to define the start of the lunar month, no matter how small the time interval between the two settings. However, this method will depend on one's position on the earth and could be open to doubt regarding the degree of accuracy of the calculation.
"There is an important factor which has to be taken into account for the lunar crescent to be visible. The sightings of the moon younger than 20 hours are rare, and the sightings of the moon older than 24 hours are not uncommon, although its visibility may at times require it to be more than 30 hours old," he clarifies.
According to astronomer Adel Al-Saadoun, the scientific or astronomical method is based on physical conditions when the earth, the moon, and the sun, are in the same vertical plane but not necessarily in the same line, and the moon is between the earth and the sun.

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