Sunday, October 14, 2007


Eid al-Fitri fell officially on Saturday 13 Oct. 2007 this year. But there was always controversies on the actual day.

Why Idd is pegged on the sighting of new moon

By Athman Amran

Some Kenyan Muslims celebrated Eid on Friday before the official announcement by the Chief Kadhi, Sheikh Hammad Kassim.

But the majority marked the day on Saturday following an official statement from Kassim.

Prophet Muhammad commanded his followers to "start and end the fast (Ramadhan) with the sighting of the moon. Picture: Tabitha Otwori
Year in year out, controversies mar the start and end of Ramadhan, when Muslims fast and pray.

Ramadhan falls in the ninth month of the Muslim calendar.

It is the time when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. It is followed by Eid-Ul-Fitr holiday, which was officially observed on Saturday. Ramadhan is also the month of prayers when Muslims believe the holy Koran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

Because Ramadhan is the most revered event in the Muslim calendar, the day it starts and ends is important to the faithful.

In recent years, controversy has erupted over when the event should start and end.

The controversy is because it has been impossible to predetermine when a new month begins, as this can only be known when the New Moon is spotted.

It is only when the Crescent Moon is seen that Muslims mark the new month.

The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar with 12 months (354 days) in a year. It is about 11 days shorter than the ordinary calendar (Gregorian calendar), making Islamic holidays shift each year.

The Islamic calendar is also called the Hijri calendar. This is because the first year was during the Hijra, when Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina, fleeing persecution from Meccans who were against his new religion.

The calendar is used to date events in many predominantly Muslim countries. It is also used by Muslims to determine when to celebrate holy days.

This strict observation of the moon, to start the month has made it impossible to know the exact date when Ramadhan begins and ends to usher in Eid-Ul-Fitr.

This scenario has brought controversy not only among Kenyan Muslims but others worldwide.

Muhammad stressed the strictness of observing the New Moon more than 1,400 years ago.

The prophet is quoted as saying: "Start and end fast (Ramadhan) with the sighting of the moon and if the moon cannot be sighted on the 29th, then count the days to 30".

The New Moon, in astronomical terms, is the lunar phase that occurs when it lies between Earth and the Sun in its monthly orbital motion around the Earth.

The illuminated half of the moon at this time faces the sun and its dark portion faces earth. The moon would thus be invisible from earth.

National Council of Crescent

The first visible crescent moon appears over the western horizon briefly between sunset and moonset. The precise time and date of the appearance would be thus influenced by the geographic location of the observer.

Most Muslims check with local mosques or other members of the community to see if leaders have sighted the moon.

The National Council of Crescent has been put in place to observe the New Moon and ensure that Kenyans begin and end fast simultaneously. The council was created on September 9 after a meeting of 41 Muslim scholars.

Chairman of Majlis Ulamaa Sheikh Khalfan Khamis chairs the Nairobi panel while the Chief Kadhi chairs the Mombasa panel. The Nairobi panel liaises with the Mombasa panel, as it is the Chief Kadhi who officially announces the beginning and end of Ramadhan.

"We want to ensure that the confusion on days to start and end Ramadhan is a thing of the past," Khamis told The Sunday Standard.

Khamis says scholars from Tanzania and Zanzibar are in the Mombasa panel as the two countries co-operate in ensuring that Muslims mark Islamic holidays concurrently.

But Uganda has opted to follow the Saudi calendar, which depends on "astronomical" calculations.

The Chief Kadhi and other kadhis all over the country usually provide their telephone numbers to be contacted by any Muslim who observes the New Moon from any part of the country. This information has to be strictly verified to ensure it is not a hoax before the Chief Kadhi makes an official announcement.

Kassim says that there is now less confusion among Kenyan Muslims as to when to begin and end Ramadhan.

The council has representatives on the ground who get information and confirm when the New Moon is sighted in their respective regions.

The representatives are from Majlis Ulamaa, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya among other Islamic organisations.

"We got information from all the regions on Thursday evening that the New Moon was not sighted. In majority of Muslim countries they had also not sighted the New Moon on that day," the Chief Kadhi told The Sunday Standard.

He said they even received reports from Tanzania and Zanzibar that the New Moon was not sighted on Thursday.

He said Uganda was the exception as they follow Saudi Arabia since the days of former president the late Iddi Amin Dada.

Other Islamic countries, too, have committees for observing the New Moon, for purposes of observing important Islamic days.

At times, there have been regional differences in the exact date of Eid, with some Muslims fasting for 29 days and some for 30 days.

In Malaysia, they use sighting of the moon and astronomical calculation to verify the date. But the calculation is only used to verify the sighting of the moon (the exact time the moon is spotted).

Saudi Arabia has adopted a calendar based on astronomical New Moon, which has been controversial. The calendar has been adopted to create a predictable structure of dates linked to spotting of the moon. The Saudi authorities, knowing that this would be against the command of the Prophet, insist that the calendar is only for administrative purposes and has no role when it comes to determining religious dates.

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