Once again it is that time of the year again where Muslims all over the world begin fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan. As exciting of a period it is for Muslims, it seems that every year there seem to be some controversy as to when the new month should begin. Even though the past few years had gone well, it is back to business as usual this year with not only Canada and the United States differing on opinion but various states with the US observing it on two different days as well.
Islamic months follow the moon to determine when the new month will begin but it should not be confused or mislabeled as a lunar calendar. The Islamic calendar has months which either have 29 or 30 days and the length of each month vary from year to year. Traditionally, the first day of each month is the day (beginning at sunset) of the first sighting of the new crescent moon (or hilal as it is called) shortly after sunset.
If the hilal is not immediately visible after the 29th day of a month which could be because either the sky was too bright or the night was far too cloudy when the moon sets, then the following day is the 30th month. Whenever such a sighting is claimed, it is usually verified by a couple of reliable eyewitnesses before being generally accepted by the entire community. Determining the most likely day that the hilal could be observed was a motivation for Muslim interest in astronomy, which put Islam in the forefront of that science for many centuries.
There are a few problems that arise with the paragraph above. Since there were no modern technology at the time lunar observation first started in Islamic history, there are some schools of thought that claim that only when the moon is visible by the naked-eye should it be claimed that is a new moon while others on the other hand state that with the development of such technologies, the Muslim community should be able to easily come together and adapt scientific advancements with religious traditions in order to simplify the matter. The problems don’t end there as mass communication was slow during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that local communities only observed the new month once the moon was visible in their locale. However now with instant communication worldwide, there are some who say that since there is only one moon that if it is verified that a moon was visible in South America or Asia, that it should be good enough for all Muslims worldwide to accept it.
Due to modern advancements in science it is very easy to say that Muslims should just begin using lunar calculations in determining the new date of the month but you would be hard pressed to find a unanimous consensus amongst 1.2 billion people around the world. There however should be some sort of compromise available allows all the people of this faith to observe Ramadan or any other start of the month in complete unity in order to better present it to the rest of the world.
Some on the more conspiratorial side claim that it is the local Muslim leaders who refuse to come together and develop a method that could be observed by all in unison. They say it is because they refuse to give up their stake of power in the current setting and by compromising on a method that would make it simple but would require them to give up their decision making powers since almost everything would be determined scientifically.
Hopefully there will be a time soon enough with maybe the upcoming generation where there will be development in terms of having less and less occasions with Muslims observing Ramadan and celebrating Eid on different days but that day can’t come soon enough.