Rabat – As Ramadan draws to a close, the Muslim world begins its yearly debate about when Eid el Fitr truly begins. The holy month, in which Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual relations before sunset, is determined by the position of the moon.
Islam uses the lunar calendar, which changes relative to the solar calendar by 11 days each year. Because of this secondary measure of time, there is no international standard concerning the end of the new lunar month. This creates uncertainty about when Ramadan concludes and Eid el Fitr celebrations can begin.
There are two main ways to mark the closing of the lunar month: moon sightings by the naked eye, and astronomical calculations. Many nations consider only physical sightings to be valid, while others consider astronomy to be a viable method. Saudi Arabia’s lunar announcement is often considered a standard to other Islamic nations.
The Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), however, relies on astronomical calculations to set the date. In 2006, the FCNA assembled a joint council of Muslim scholars, imams, and astronomers who decided that there was nothing inherently more devout in sighting the moon with the naked eye than using astronomy. They argue that the Prophet Mohammad used physical observation because science was not yet advanced enough to accurately predict the moon’s appearance.
Now that knowledge has advanced to this point, relying on astronomy to sight the moon is actually more reliable than the naked eye, since it prevents false sightings. It has the added benefit of determining the date far in advance, which allows for planning and standardization from Muslims across the world.
More traditional Muslims criticize this use of astronomy as less divine, since it does not emulate Prophet Mohammad’s practices and is less natural.
Morocco relies on sightings by the eye, and has observatories across the country to determine the date of Eid el Fitr. In Morocco, Ramadan began on the 6th of June, so Eid el Fitr will likely be celebrated this coming Wednesday on the 6th of July. This aligns with the FCNA’s calculations, although they rely on different means to determine the conclusion of Ramadan.