By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Oct 4: Ramadhan is round the corner and so is the controversy over the sighting of the new moon.
A group of Islamic scholars gather at Husaini Building, the office of the Ruhiyat Hilal (Moon-sighting) Committee in the city, after the Maghrib prayers to decide whether the Crescent of the holy month of Ramadhan has been sighted. Holding telescopes and powerful binoculars the Muslim elders scan the sky and after an hour of discussions and arguments they decide that there's no trace of the Ramadhan moon.
And to be doubly sure, they make a number of calls to local Ruhiyat Hilal committees in Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, Kochi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Chennai. After a cross check with the Islamic scholars from around the country, the Hussaini Building puts out an announcement that Ramadhan will begin on Thursday and the Taraweeh prayers will be held from Wednesday night in all mosques. Scores of people gather outside eagerly waiting for the announcement.
The Muslim clergy in Hyderabad, Deoband, Rai Bareli, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow are aware that the holy Islamic month had already begun in Saudi Arabia, which houses two of the holiest Muslim shrines. But they do not want to follow Saudi Arabia or any Arab nation "blindly".
"Do not believe the Saudis. They do not follow the traditional Islamic lunar calendar. They have evolved a fixed calendar based on astronomical calculations. We have not sighted the moon in India. Even Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Malaysia have not reported the sighting of the moon. For us Ramadhan will begin only after we spot the new moon," says Abdur Raheem Qureshi, secretary of All-India Muslim Personal Law Board.
The Islamic calendar is based on lunar months, which begin when the thin crescent Moon is actually sighted in the western sky after sunset within a day or so after new moon. The Islamic dates begin at sunset on the previous evening and end at sunset the next day.
These dates may or may not correspond to the evenings on which the crescent moon is first visible, and it is the visibility of the crescent moon that determines when the religious observance begins. The moon's visibility at these times varies with location; generally, the visibility increases to the west, and locations in the tropics are favoured over those in middle or high latitudes.
"For Islamic calendar purposes, the sighting must be made with the unaided eye," argues Moulana Syed Yusufuddin Al Madani, president of Sunni Ulema Board. There are two opinions on the sighting of the moon. The first is Ittehadul Matale (unity of the crescent). According to this opinion, when a new crescent moon is declared as sighted, in any part of the world, that declaration could be used as the basis of local declarations for the start of the Islamic month, at other parts of the world. The other equally valid opinion is Iktelaf-ul-Matale (different crescents) which acknowledges that there could be different days on which the crescent moon is first sighted in different parts of the world and consequently the start of the Islamic month could be on different days, he points out.
"We do not follow Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or any other country. If the moon is sighted in any part of India, we will start our new month. Our report is that there has been no moon sighting on Tuesday," says Moulana Qubool Pasha Shuttari, secretary of Ruhiyat Hilal Committee.
What these Islamic scholars overlook is that the visibility of the young lunar crescent depends on sky conditions and the location, experience, and preparation of the observer. The moonrise in Hyderabad was at 6.40 am on Tuesday and so there's no scope for its sighting.
Denying the charge that the Muslim clergy in India do not follow scientific system of moon calculations, Siasat Urdu daily editor Zahid Ali Khan, says "how can the Mullahs hide the moon to postpone the holy month. If it is visible it will be visible for all. Sighting of the moon by naked eye is a must."
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