The dates for Ramadan depend on the moon’s cycles. Interestingly, these dates differ.
Rabat – Muslims across the world are preparing for Ramadan—a month of fasting; spiritual reflection; and connecting with friends, families, and communities. However, the start date of Ramadan is not fixed. Muslims may start Ramadan on different days, with divisions arising not only between Muslim countries, but within Muslim communities.
Ramadan is celebrated in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, but its start date changes every year. This is because the start of the Islamic month is based on the birth of the new moon.
The answer to when Ramadan starts depends on how the start of the moon’s cycle is determined.
Two methods exist: The direct observational method or astronomy. They may yield different results.
The observational method
Some Muslim scholars argue that Ramadan begins when the moon’s first crescent can be seen by the naked eye. This is the observational method.
This approach is based on a hadith (a saying of the prophet Muhammed), which states, “Fast when you see the crescent and break the fast when you see it; if it is not apparent, then make the month of Sha’ban thirty days.”
Following this observational method, on the night when the moon is expected to be visible, religious committees look to the sky to confirm a sighting of the crescent.
Another way of determining the beginning of Ramadan is through astronomical calculations. Ramadan starts when the crescent technically exists, though it may not have been sighted.
The start of Ramadan in Morocco is officially based on the observation method, though astronomers also provide an estimate of the date.
Moroccan astronomers have predicted that the first day of Ramadan fasting will be on Tuesday, May 7. However, the Moroccan Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs will confirm the date through observation of the moon as early as Sunday, May 5.
Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, and Sudan will follow a similar approach, observing the moon’s visibility on the night of Sunday, May 5.
Saudi Arabia has called on Muslims to look for the moon one day earlier, on Saturday, May 4, meaning Ramadan might for them begin on Sunday.
In France, the Grande Mosquee de Paris announced that the mosque will be observing the new moon on Saturday, expecting the holy month to start on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia’s moon observations have been criticized.
Adnan Qadi, a Saudi astronomer, argued that 87% of Saudi Arabia’s moon observation between 1961 and 2004 were inaccurate. In 63% of the cases, it was actually impossible to observe the moon on the day Saudi Arabia claimed to have observed it.
The astronomer found that in 29 of 46 cases, while Saudi Arabia had declared sighting the moon, it was in fact scientifically impossible to observe that day. The “sighting” was before the first lunar phase had occurred, or the moon was technically impossible to see.
Mohammed Shawkat Awda, an Emirati astronomer, observed in contrast that Morocco and Oman registered “not even one error” in their astronomical calculations from the year 1984 to 2007.
The different start dates of Ramadan can cause divisions within the Muslim community. Some people believe that regardless of geographical location, Ramadan starts when announced by Saudi Arabia.
While Ramadan does bring people together, it also causes some tension in relation to when exactly it begins.