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Islam

Determining the dates of Ramadan

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Overview:

Ramadan (pronounced "rom-a-don"; a.k.a. Ramazan) is the holiest period in the Islamic year. It commemorates the ninth lunar month in the year 610 CE when revelations began from God, via the angel Gabriel, to the Prophet Muhammad. These revelations memorized by Muhammad and were later written down as the Qur'an.

There is no consensus among Muslims around the world about how to determine the first day of Ramadan.

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Determining the starting date of Ramadan:

Ramadan is the ninth lunar month of the year. It begins at the time of the new moon -- a.k.a. the time of conjunction. This happens when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are lined up in that order.

The beginning of Ramadan has traditionally been based on Hilal Sightings -- the detection of the crescent new moon by the human eye without benefit of optical aids. For some Muslims around the world, the sighting of the moon in Saudi Arabia marks the start of Ramadan. For others, it is the moon sighting in their own country. For others, sighting of the new moon anywhere in the world triggers Ramadan at their location. 5 Still other countries use astronomical calculations to determine the actual timing of the new moon.

As a result of this lack of standardization, Ramadan began during 1429 AH (2008 CE) on:

  • AUG-31 in Libya and Nigeria
  • SEP-01 in 52 countries, including Australia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, UK, and the USA.
  • SEP-02 in 8 countries, including India, Iran, Morocco, Oman and Pakistan.
  • Canada is not included in the above data. The country was unique in that no consensus was possible. Ramadan began for some Muslims on SEP-01 and for others on SEP-02. 1

During 2006-JUN, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) held a meeting of Muslim jurists, Imams, astronomers and other believers to discuss whether to use astronomical calculations in the place of visual sightings. They determined that:

  • Sighting the Hilai (the crescent moon) is not an act of 'ibadah (worship).

  • Muhammad used ru'yah (sighting of the crescent moon) because most Muslims at the time lacked the knowledge to calculate the timing of the new moon

  • Originally, many Muslim jurists refused to accept astronomical calculations because "astronomy and astrology were not quite distinct sciences." They suspected that the predictions might have been based partly on magic and conjectures.

  • During the 20th century, an increasing number of Muslim jurists have accepted astronomical calculations.

  • Calculations are a reliable and accurate method of determining the dates of Ramadan and the two Eids.

  • Adopting this method would:
    • Eliminate the problem of erroneous sightings of the crescent moon.
    • Allow the dates to be determined far in advance;
    • Simplify planning of events;
    • Facilitate having Islamic holy days recognized;
    • Encourage development of a world-wide Islamic calendar for all Muslims; and
    • Improve the unity of Muslims worldwide.

The Council decided that "The new Islamic Lunar month begins at sunset of the day when the conjunction occurs before 12:00 Noon GMT." 2 This definition covers Ramadan and the other lunar months in the year.

On 2013-MAY-09, the French Muslim Council (CFCM) agreed to start using astronomical calculations to establish the date of Ramadan and other Islamic holy days. Reuters reported:

"Council President Mohammad Moussaoui said the old method played havoc with French Muslims' schedules for work, school and festivities. France's five million Muslims are the largest Islamic minority in Europe.

"Now all this will be simplified," he said, and promptly announced the Ramadan fast would begin on July 9 this year. ..."

"This is historic. Now all Muslims in France can start Ramadan on the same day," said Lyon Muslim leader Azzedine Gaci." 4

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Observances during Ramadan:

  • Ramadan has traditionally started at the first visual sighting of the 9th crescent moon of the year by the unaided eye. It lasts for 29 or 30 days, a full lunar month.

  • Lailat ul-Qadr (a.k.a. Night of Power) is the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God. Muslims believe that this occurred on one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.

  • Id al-Fitr (a.k.a. "Id") is the day which follows the month of Ramadan. It is pronounced "eed-al-fitter."  It is the first day of the 10th month -- Shawwai. It is a time of rejoicing. Houses are decorated. Muslims buy gifts for relatives. On this feast day, Muslims greet each other, saying "Eid mubarak" (eed-moo-bar-ak), meaning "blessed Eid," and "taqabbalallah ta'atakum," which means "may God accept your deeds." Many Muslim communities hold bazaars following prayers.

The approximate dates of Ramadan are listed below from 1938 to 2038. Dates, as observed in various countries, may be a day or two offset from the following:

List of datas for Ramadan

In the above table, future dates are estimates.

The abbreviation "H" or "AH" is used after dates in the Islamic calendar. They stand for "Hegira" or "Anno Hejira". The base of the Islamic calendar is 622 CE, the year of the Hegira, when the Prophet Muhammad traveled from Mecca to Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Because Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, it is observed about 11 days earlier each year. Thus, about every 35 years, it goes through all four seasons. 3

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Related essay:

The fast of Ramadan Overview, purposes, discipline, health concerns, activities, etc.

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References used:

  1. "Ramadan 1429," Moon Sighting, at: http://moonsighting.com/
  2. "New Way for a New Moon," Islam City, 2006-SEP-22, at: http://www.islamicity.com/
  3.  The beginning of Ramadan from 1357-1460 Hijri," Ksulaiman1, 2012-AUG-17, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. Tom Heneghan, "French Muslims look to science to determine start of Ramadan," Reuters, 1013-MAY-09, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  5. "The Islamic Calendar," IslamiCity, 2013, at: http://www.islamicity.com/
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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

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Copyright © 2001 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-NOV-10
Latest update: 2013-JUL-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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