When does it actually start?
Ramadan (pronounced "rom-a-don"; a.k.a. Ramazan) is the
holiest period in the Islamic year. It extends over the ninth lunar month, which is also called Ramadan. It commemorates events during the
year 610 CE when Muslims believe that revelations began from God to the Prophet Muhammad, via the angel
Gabriel. These revelations were memorized by Muhammad and
were later written down as the Qur'an.
There is currently no consensus among Muslims around the world about the precise method by which
the first day of Ramadan is to be determined.
Determining the starting date of Ramadan:
Ramadan begins at the time of the
new moon -- a.k.a. the time of conjunction of the Earth, Moon,
and Sun, when they are lined up in that order.
The beginning of Ramadan has traditionally been based on Hilal Sightings. This is
the first detection of the crescent new moon by the human eye without benefit of an optical
aid. For Muslims around the world the start of Ramadan may be based on:
- The first sighting of the crescent moon by observers in Saudi
- A crescent moon sighting in their
own country, or
- Sighting of the crescent moon anywhere in the world, or
- Astronomical calculations of the time of the conjunction that can be made well in advance. 5
Hilal Sightings are complicated because the visibility of the crescent moon varies across the Earth. For example, the Hilal Sighting Committee of North America produced a map showing the "First visibility lunar crescent for Ramadan 1438 AH." 7 The astronomical calculations had predicted that the new moon would occur on 2017-MAY-25 at 19:45 UTC according to the Gregorian Calendar. The Committee's map shows that on the next day, MAY-26, the crescent moon was:
- Easily visible to the naked eye throughout the main population centers in Canada, and everywhere in the United States including the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, Central America, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa.
- Visible, if viewing conditions were perfect, in the rest of Alaska, Northern Canada, Spain, much of the Mediterranean, and Northern Africa.
- Easily visible with a small telescope in Canada's far north, Southern France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Western Australia.
- Visible with a small telescope under perfect viewing conditions in Southern Ireland, Southern England, Northern France, Northern India and Eastern Australia.
An increasing number of countries are now using astronomical calculations to determine
the actual timing of the new moon independent of human eyesight. These calculations can be peformed months or years in advance so that the date of the start of Ramadan can be scheduled like other seasonal day of observance or celebration.
As a result of this lack of standardization, during the Muslim year 1429 AH
(2008 CE), Ramadan began on:
- AUG-31 in Libya and Nigeria.
- SEP-01 in 52 countries, including Australia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, UK, and
- SEP-02 in 8 countries, including India, Iran, Morocco, Oman and Pakistan.
- Canada was unique because no
consensus could be attained. 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 during future years. 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.
- Some Muslim jurists at the time refused to accept astronomical calculations
because "astronomy and astrology were not quite distinct sciences" at the time. They
suspected that the predictions might have been based partly on magic and
- During the 20th century, an increasing number of Muslim jurists have
accepted the astronomical calculation. This is a reliable and accurate method of determining the dates of
the start of Ramadan and of the end of the month at Eid, as well as the start and ending of the remaining 11 lunar months in the Muslim year.
- Adopting this method would:
- Eliminate the problem of erroneous sightings of the crescent moon.
- Allow dates to be determined far in advance;
- Simplify planning of future events;
- Facilitate having Islamic holy days recognized by governments;
- Facilitate the scheduling of work holidays;
- Encourage development of a world-wide Islamic calendar for all Muslims; and
- Improve the unity of Muslims worldwide.
The Fiqh 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 includes all 12 lunar
months in the year.
During 2013-MAY, the French Muslim Council (CFCM) agreed to start using astronomical calculations to establish the future dates of Ramadan and other Islamic holy days in that country. 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
During 2017 in Saudi Arabia, the Institute of Astronomical & Geophysical Research of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), used astronomical calculations to set Ramadan as beginning in the year 1438 AH on 2017-MAY-27 and ending on JUN-25. The same calculation is used by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), in Turkey, and in various Muslim communities in the U.S., Europe, Australia, etc.
However, religious leaders in Saudi Arabia still waited until the first sighting of the lunar crescent after the new moon. They determined that Ramadan would began on the same date -- MAY-27, as the astronomical calculations had predicted.
A total of 37 countries from to Afghanistan to Yemen confirmed that Saturday, MAY-27 would be the first day. Meanwhile Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Shia Muslims in Iraq declared that Ramadan would begin on the next day, Sunday May 28. 6
Observances during, and immediately after, the month of 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
- EId al-Fitr (a.k.a. "EId") 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:
The abbreviation "H" or "AH"
is used after dates in the Islamic calendar. They stand for "Hegira" or "Anno
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 12 days
earlier each year. Thus, about every 35 years, it goes through all four seasons. 3
Observing Ramadan in the far North:
Approximately every 35 years, Ramadan occurs in the summertime over an interval of about ten successive years in the Northern Hemisphere. This can make fasting from liquids more challenging from sunrise to sunset because of the heat. It also provides a special challenge to Muslims living in the far North, above the Arctic circle, where the sun does not set during part of the summer. The last time that Ramadan occurred in Summer was in the 1980's, when relatively few Muslims lived there. However, many Muslims have left the Middle East since then and have settled in Sweden, Norway, Finland, etc.
One place to which Muslims have moved is Tromsø, a city in the North of Norway. It is about 350 km (215 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. A refugee center was established there. Today, the city's Muslim population is about 1,000. Hassan Ahmed is a Muslim resident from Somalia who works at the Islamic Center of Northern Norway. He said:
"... the sun doesn't set. For 24 hours it's in the middle of the sky. We have a fatwa [a clerical decree]. We can correspond the fast to the [schedule used by the] closest Islamic country, or we can fast [in synchronism] with Mecca."
Muslims in Tromsø, now observe Ramadan according to the timetable used in Mecca. If the sun rises in Mecca at 5 AM, at their local time, Muslims in Tromsø being their fast at 5 AM Tromsø time.
The same difficulties happen in wintertime when the sun disappears for days at a time. They use the Saudi Arabian schedule year round. 9
A Related essay on this web site:
The fast of Ramadan Overview, purposes, discipline, health concerns, activities, etc.
- "Ramadan 1429," Moon Sighting, at:
- "New Way for a New Moon," Islam City, 2006-SEP-22, at:
- The beginning of Ramadan from 1357-1460 Hijri," Ksulaiman1, 2012-AUG-17, at:
- Tom Heneghan, "French Muslims look to science to determine start of Ramadan," Reuters, 1013-MAY-09, at: http://www.reuters.com/
- "The Islamic Calendar," IslamiCity, 2013, at: http://www.islamicity.com/
- "Ramadan: Saudi, 33 countries declare Saturday first day," Aljazeera, 2017-MAY-27, at: http://www.aljazeera.com/
- "Hilal Sighting Committee of North America," 2017-MAY-25, at: http://www.hilalsighting.org/
- Chart was provided by a visitor to our web site. Its origin is unknown.
- Marya Hannun, "How to Fast for Ramadan in the Arctic, Where the Sun Doesn't Set," The Atlantic, 2013-JUL, at: https://www.theatlantic.com/
Copyright © 2001 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2001-NOV-10
Latest update: 2017-JUN-01
Author: B.A. Robinson